9 April 2020

Resilience the key to Lake George Winery thriving despite a tough year

| Sharon Kelley
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Sign at entrance to Lake George Winery, with trees and hills in background.

Lake George Winery is open for business despite the adversity relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Supplied.

The devastating bushfires during Christmas in 2019 may not have threatened the Lake George Winery directly, but smoke affected 80 per cent of their crop, making it unusable for winemaking.

Undeterred, owners Sarah and Anthony McDougall put the smoke-affected grapes to good use, feeding sugar gliders and other native animals, and supplying buckets of grapes to the Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium as a treat to the animals.

Ryder and Eloise McDougall sitting among buckets of grapes.

Ryder and Eloise McDougall with buckets of grapes ready for donation to Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium. Photo: Supplied.

This year has been one of the toughest on record for the winery, with drought conditions that preceded the fires and the crop-ruining smoke followed soon after by excessive rain, which caused disease in some of the vines.

Sarah and Anthony bought the iconic Lake George Winery just two years ago and focused on changing the vineyard to chemical-free, sustainable farming practices, including relying on rainfall and not using irrigation, and the production of vegan wine. Their successes include Sarah winning Owner/Operator of the Year in the 2019 Australian Women In Wine Awards.

Sarah McDougall holding bottle of red wine.

Sarah McDougall won Owner/Operator of the Year in the 2019 Australian Women In Wines Awards. Photo: Fran Marshall.

Despite such a terrible year for wine production, Sarah and Anthony generously donated 12 cases of wine to local distillery Underground Spirits, which halted all commercial production and switched to producing hand sanitiser for Canberra’s medical staff to use in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sadly, these days, traffic on the Federal Highway consists mostly of semi-trailers, with very few tourists or people taking a day trip to the Lake George Winery’s cellar door or restaurant. With no visitor patronage, the winery has had to close its restaurant and wine tasting sessions under the new enforced measures to control the spread of COVID-19.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Sarah has found a way to bring the wine tasting experience into people’s homes by putting together a special offer in the winery’s online store.

“There’s no need to miss out on your favourite activity of wine tasting,” says Sarah.

“Our wine tasting pack can give you the experience in your own home, and it comes with an information sheet with details about each wine, your own wine tasting glass and a surprise bottle of wine as a little added extra.”

The wine tasting pack contains pinot gris, semillon, sauvignon clanc, Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo and shiraz. Contactless delivery is available in the Canberra region, within 24 hours, and the winery can ship to all other parts of Australia within three days.

Wine-tasting pack from Lake George Winery with bottle and tasting notes.

Lake George Winery’s wine tasting pack is available online. Photo: Supplied.

What separates Lake George Winery’s products from many wineries is that their wines are vegan friendly.

“Many people don’t realise that during the process of making wine, often albumen from eggs or a milk product is used,” says Sarah. “We don’t use either in our process – just a sulfate – so our wines are vegan and ideal for people with allergies to eggs or who are lactose intolerant.

“If by chance people are passing us on the highway, we’ve set up contactless ordering and payment at the cellar door,” adds said.

“They won’t even have to get out of the car. We’ll load their order into the boot.”

Sarah and Anthony both believe in buying local, and order as much of their supplies as possible from local businesses. Their generosity to the community in a time of pressure and restriction is a credit to them as business operators. They are not only running a winery, but raising five children who are currently being home-schooled.

Lake George Winery is one of the oldest vineyards in the district, established in 1973 and is a family owned and operated business.

Sarah and Anthony live at the winery with their children, and they have unique ancient lake bed soils which they do not irrigate, giving their wines a unique flavour. Their head winemaker is Nick O’Leary, but they are, perhaps unsurprisingly, very hands-on and make small-batch wines onsite. The wines are made with minimal interference, allowing full expression of the character of the vineyard.

Sarah and Anthony entered the wine industry eight years ago after meeting and having their first date at King O’Malley’s in Canberra City. The Irish pub later became their first customer of their winery’s sauvignon blanc. They must have done something right from day one – it sold out in six months.

If you would like to know more or order online, visit Lake George Winery’s website or call 0437 135 767.

Follow Lake George Winery on Facebook.

Original Article published by Sharon Kelley on The RiotACT.

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