Given his time over, Jamie Nietschke probably wouldn’t co-locate a dairy and a vineyard on the variable soils of the Moppa, but he’s not complaining – in fact, he’s counting his blessings.
“It gets quite waterlogged in winter because of the tight sub-soils – other areas are more economical and easier to manage – but you learn to farm where you’ve been placed, I suppose, and we feel we’ve been blessed,” says Jamie.
He’s referring to what has become one of the region’s most enduring and awarded mixed-farm enterprises – a place where dairy cows graze contentedly alongside 100 year-old vines against the backdrop of the Moppa.
Under the careful custodianship of Jamie and his wife Annaliese, Nietschke Moppa Estate has both expanded and diversified.
“Since I’ve been home (on the farm) we’ve nearly doubled the area of land and the area of vineyard, and gone from 90 milking cows to 270,” says Jamie.
If dawn-to-dusk days weren’t enough, the couple has also dedicated parts of the property to native vegetation conservation and viticultural research trials in conjunction with Barossa Vine Improvement Group, and also recently opened a heritage-listed bush retreat.
But Jamie takes nothing for granted, including the foundation stones laid by his parents, John and Neadra.
They bought the property in the late 1960s and ran it as a traditional mixed farm of apricots, sheep, dairy cows and vineyard.
“My parents were always looking forward to the next generation being able to succeed, so when they retired they didn’t take all the equity out of the business,” says Jamie.
“I’m respectful that this is where they came from and they gave us a good start, and we understand we wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have without that.
“As much as I think sometimes it would be nice not to have dairy cows, dad reminds me that’s what built the farm and has been an important part of our business – and continues to be.”
By Jamie’s own admission, some of the hand-reared cows endear themselves more than others, such as Bella, who took her time to calf.
“We looked past her flaws for a bit longer,” laughed Jamie. “It’s not really economical but sometimes you do these silly things!”
All things considered, the growth of Nietschke Moppa Estate has been nothing short of transformational.
It’s one of only four South Australian dairies supplying raw milk to Woolworths under the regionally branded “Farmers’ Own Barossa Mid North”, ensuring the Barossa name and provenance is upheld.
Jamie also remains the sole supplier of cows’ milk for artisan cheese producer, Barossa Valley Cheese Company, more than two decades after his father met founder, Victoria McClurg.
“She was looking for milk, and we had milk,” says Jamie simply.
“We gave her some containers of milk to start trials in her kitchen and it’s now been 20 years.”
Jamie’s mixed herd of Friesian, Jersey and cross bred cows produce premium milk that’s perfect for cheesemaking, while Jamie ensures rigorous quality control in the dairy.
This results in unique styles such as Barossa Nietschke Hard Cheese, a semi-matured cheese produced in celebration of the ongoing relationship.
“We do maintain good levels of solids, fat and protein, which is important for making cheese,” Jamie explains.
“When you’re a sole supplier you can’t hide behind anyone else when something goes wrong, so we make sure things are right.”
And Jamie still marvels at the unexpected fortunes Covid bestowed on the dairy industry.
“We assumed when Covid hit that people wouldn’t spend money on luxury cheeses, but sales continued through that period and continue to rise – that was really amazing,” says Jamie.
“That uplift happened across the whole dairy industry. When supermarkets put restrictions on the volume of milk people could buy, people said ‘I’ll buy three litres instead of two’.
“People got into the habit and that’s been really good for the industry.”
Jamie and Annaliese have also been relatively buffered from the downturn in the wine industry, thanks to a longstanding partnership supplying Shiraz to Penfolds, and diversification into alternative wine styles such as Graciano, Durif and a very old Soviet Georgia variety called Saperavi.
Jamie says Moppa conditions can be tough, but rewarding.
“We have lower rainfall and harder growing conditions, but the vines are used to that,” he says.
“It’s possibly more work in the vineyard shoot training and bunch thinning, and there’s no guarantees, but that old-grown bush grenache – I sometimes think ‘is it ever going to stop growing!’”
Jamie and Annaliese’s latest venture is Moppa Bush Retreat, a bed and breakfast set on 30 hectares of bushland that combines their passion for environmental stewardship with their spiritual faith.
The retreat, which is home to endangered plant species and abundant wildlife, is also available as a place for Christian reflection, complementing their faith community at Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Neurkirch.
For Jamie and Annaliese, it’s the cornerstone of everything they do.
“Faith doesn’t necessarily bring perfection in this life, but it does change your focus, and we feel we’ve been blessed,” Jamie says.