Taste It For Yourself
There’s something special about a small-operation vineyard compared to a larger winery – a familiarity and friendliness that can’t be replicated in a more commercialised environment. Mongrel Creek Estate is one such vineyard. Here, Wineries of Western Australia’s Jacqueline Foy sits down with Larry Schoppe, owner, cellar door MC and self-proclaimed chief glass washer, to chat about the making and shaping of their small, family-run operation, and what makes them tick.
Any visit to Mongrel Creek will see either Schoppe, his wife Shirley, or if they’re lucky enough to be able to sneak off for a holiday, guests will meet their lovely neighbour Caroline at the counter. If all three of them aren’t available, the cellar door is simply closed. At 2.4 hectares, Mongrel Creek is a tiny operation compared to others in the area. In fact, they’re one of the smallest commercial wine-producing cellar door in the Margaret River wine region, which makes them pretty special. “I think people like the fact that it’s just us,” Schoppe says. The personal touch is something that just can’t be mass produced.
Putting Down Roots
In his distant wayward youth, Schoppe was a beer only drinker. Once he met his wife Shirley in 1980, she began the laborious task of slowly dragging him from
the dark side (beer) over to the lighter and brighter side of wine. “Although I’m sure she’s very sorry she ever did now,” he says. Schoppe’s not quite sure why they entered the wine industry, “it just seemed like a good idea at the time,” he says, “everybody else was doing it, so why not us?” he says by means of explanation. “Every year my accountant asks me the same question ‘why are you doing this’, and every year I just shrug my shoulders tell him it’s because I love it,” he says. “He just shrugs his shoulders and sighs. I think he knows best,” he follows up.
Despite his original disdain for wine, he’s now worked in the industry for twenty-seven years, starting with two years at Driftwood and thirteen years at Leston
Vineyard before Mongrel Creek was established. “All this time Shirley was at home raising our kids and helping out when she could in the vineyard,” he explains, “[Leston Vineyard was the] best job I’ve had and best colleagues I’ve ever worked with, only reason for leaving was a need to take Mongrel Creek from an occasional weekend thing to a proper cellar door and all that that entails,” he explains.
The Love Of the Craft
“I love being outdoors amongst ‘it all’. If you don’t know what ‘it all’ is, get yourself out to the country and find out, just head out anywhere,” Schoppe says, explaining his ever-developing love of his work. “Rain, hail, shine and everything in between. Winter, spring, summer, and autumn, every day is beautiful and different, working amongst the vines truly gives you an understanding and sense of the changing seasons and time,” he further explains. “It also gives me an opportunity to talk to my chickens and turkeys, and they always laugh at my jokes,” he says. Schoppe cites the freedom to be guided by the season and experiment with different varieties and blends, as they do with their sagrantino, as another thing he loves about being a smaller operation. “We are the only Margaret River cellar door to produce sagrantino, and we do it very well,” he says.
Being a small family owned and run operation, the Schoppes do almost everything related to the vineyard. They’ve been there since the first grapevines were planted twenty-seven years ago, to pouring the tastings today. “I wouldn’t have been able to create Mongrel Creek without the support and help of my amazing children, Jayne, Jack, and Clark. If not for their help in putting the bird netting over our 2002 grapes, I don’t think we’d be where we are today,” Schoppe laughs, admitting they told him to say that.
Make Up Your Own Mind
“Coming to Mongrel Creek is a bit like going to a Grateful Dead concert, it is always unique, different from the rest, and you never know what you’re going to get, except always great wine and a story or two,” Schoppe says. He explains that the tagline at Mongrel Creek is ‘NO PRETENCE, NO BULLS–T’, “it is on all our wine bottles and all our merchandise, it is not offensive, it just describes our approach to this industry,” he says, explaining that he believes it is a big part of what guests like about how they run things at Mongrel Creek. “They keep coming back, so we must be doing something right,” he says.
“There is no ‘hard sell’ at Mongrel Creek,” Schoppe explains, “we allow our visitors to taste our wines, have an honest chat, tell a few stories from both sides, and let them decide what if anything they would like to purchase – hospitality!” he says. Schoppe believes his business survives through storytelling, questions, and the associated banter and irreverent connection to his guests. As the main person at the cellar door, he’s gotten to know many people and made connections with countless Mongrel Creek visitors over the years. “We believe our return visitors like to be recognised. They liked to be welcomed by name, and a conversation should begin where it left off last time they visited, along with a catch up of all the events in each of our lives in between,” he says.
Schoppe and his family are so proud of the vineyard, wine, and cellar door they have created at Mongrel Creek. “We have no tasting notes and the last thing we talk about is our wine, other than to tell you the variety and style of wine you are tasting,” he says, “we credit our guests and visitors with enough sense to taste our wines and form their own opinion as to their liking or not,” he goes on, explaining the philosophy of Mongrel Creek once more. “Everyone has a different taste of all things, wine, food, clothing, cars, there is no one size fits all,” he says, “that’s it – taste and make up your own mind.”
Images courtesy of Mongrel Creek