On a cold August day, the darkening clouds laying heavy and low over the terraced orchards of Angaston threaten to spill over at any moment, but Rick Steicke’s not fooled.
As a man who lives his life by the seasons, he knows this wintry landscape is about to yield to the lush abundance of Spring.
In fact he’s already seen evidence of it in the family fruit orchard he’s known like the back of his hand since childhood.
“The first apricots are starting to try and flower now,” Rick observes, which means the peaches, pears, plums, nectarines and apples are not far behind.
For Rick and wife, Rosemary, regeneration is an intrinsic part of who they are and what they do at Gully Gardens.
In fact they’ve been on a journey of change since 2000, when they took over the 32 acre farm from Rick’s father, Les.
The hardworking couple has expanded and diversified the property, renovating the 1900’s homestead and adding a farm gate shop, café and animal farm to give visitors an authentic farmyard experience.
With 10 acres under vine including some heritage plantings, a dozen cattle, sheep, goats and poultry, the mixed property proves to not putting all your eggs – or fruits – in one basket.
With so many local orchards falling victim to more lucrative vineyard plantings, the Gawler Park Road property remains one of the few local examples of a viable stone fruit growing enterprise.
“The operation of fruit growing on this property spans 117 years – we still have some peach trees that are over 115 years old,” says Rick.
“Our property is a very traditional German settlement and one of the last, other than maybe the Waechter family.”
While Les and wife, Marlene sold their produce to Angas Park Fruit and other Angaston processors, in 2006 Rick and Rosemary “bit the bullet” and transitioned to an entirely paddock-to-plate enterprise.
“It was pretty game,” reflects Rick.
“We felt we wanted to prove we could achieve a goal and a future with the quality of our products.
“It was a massive gamble.”
And one, it appears, worth taking.
Their relatively small holding produces an astounding 40 tonnes of fruit each year.
Over 150 product lines are picked, processed and packaged largely by hand and sold almost exclusively on-site.
Rick says their traditional methods remain largely intact: “A machine to wash the fruit, scales, cash register and mincer – they’re still the tools of the trade!” he says.
Over time Rick and Rosemary have expanded into gourmet confectionery and preservative-free products to meet market demand and changing consumer preferences, and their choc-dipped dried apricots remain a best seller.
They have also pivoted in response to coronavirus, taking their products online and opening the gardens to the public to accommodate physical distancing restrictions.
Rick and Rosemary say they are grateful for the ongoing support of the local community in the wake of Covid-19.
The ‘shop local’ movement has boosted their sales at Barossa Farmers Market by as much as 50 per cent.
“People are looking to connect – they are coming back to their grassroots,” says Rosemary.
“We’ve gone online since Covid and during this last lockdown it’s all we had.
“It’s an extra trickle, and I guess that’s what we’ve been about all the time – taking little trickles from everywhere.
“Wineries, B&Bs and Foodland at Nuri, those outside sources (of income) have really helped.”
Rick agrees it’s been an epic year – one of almost Biblical proportions.
“I’m usually resilient but this past year I’ve been weakened a bit,” he reflects.
“We had an early start to the harvest, Covid, a horrific windstorm – we had peaches by the hundreds on the ground – and two fire scares.”
But like pressure forms diamonds, tough seasonal conditions create harvests to remember.
“Despite it being so hot before Christmas two years ago – and I could see my fruit burning on the trees, I’ve never seen anything like it – the fruit that came off those trees was stunning,” says Rick.
“The colour is still as good as the day we cut them; we had both quality and quantity.”
With the imminent arrival of budburst, and Christmas on the horizon, Rick acknowledges there’s no time for ruminating.
“When we see that first flower, that means work is on its way,” he laughs. “You definitely can’t stay in bed!”