“As long as it isn’t pink!” was the only rule Leon Koch insisted on when his family was deciding on a colour for their new tractor.
As a father of three daughters, he is clearly outnumbered. Yet, Leon considers himself lucky that his girls have all stepped up to keep the family’s Rowland Flat property running (and grateful they chose purple!)
He and wife, Carlene represent the sixth generation of grapegrowers in the family, after Leon’s three times great-grandfather, Friedrich migrated from Germany and settled on the land. His son, Gottlieb, continued what would eventually become known as “Koch Pilgrim Vineyards”.
“The oldest title that I can find dates back to 1842,” says Leon.
Whilst only two acres of that original mourvedré vineyard still exists today, the property continues to evolve with every generation leaving its legacy.
A rusty sign with Leon’s father, Ross’ name can still be seen by observant drivers travelling through Rowland Flat.
Childhood memories of working with his dad still remain, with Leon picking grapes for “three-pence” a bucket and “learning the ropes”.
Over the generations, Koch Pilgrim Vineyards has expanded, with the latest count being 150 hectares which includes 50 hectares under vines – all red varietals.
And once again, the family is working through a succession plan, but this time it’s a sister act.
“They wanted to keep the property going so I said if you want to keep it you have to learn how to work it – they’ve accepted the challenge!” Leon said.
Carlene enjoys seeing the competency of her vigneron daughters working in the vineyard and has to laugh as she recalls their childhood antics.
“They were out there with dirty faces and you knew they had a good, fun day. The dirtier they were, the more fun they had!” she laughs.
Eldest daughter, Kate Koch and middle sister, Erin (Turner) are “vintage babies”, whilst Tyla (Schulz) was “timed much better”.
As youngsters, Kate doesn’t think she saw helping in the vineyard as a chore; Erin admits she “didn’t always like it” and Tyla can’t remember doing much at all, apart from running around getting muddy and “doing concerts” on the ladder landing of the truck. Yet today, all have their distinctive roles, are skilled in what they do and love nothing more than working together as a team.
Leon is stoked.
“I guess the time that always sticks out to me is when Kate is operating the harvester, the girls are doing the catching and I might be delivering a load or running around; to think that this team of three sisters are doing it all!” Leon says.
“I don’t know if you’d get that very often – it’s great.
“Although, through vintage when there are two way radios going, I just shake my head!”
Kate laughs, “Yeah, it becomes the comedy channel.
“Sometimes we get some work done, sometimes we don’t,” she jokes.
“There are lots of laughs, lots of giggles, but we have been known to have a few little sisterly tiffs!”
Kate has been part of the family business for close to two decades, living nearby on the property with husband, Corey.
Erin has been working on the property for even longer. However, raising a daughter with husband, Brad means she now works four days a week.
Tyla is the most recent to join, returning to the farm five years ago after a stint working in pharmacy. Raising two daughters with husband, Clinton means she too works four days.
“It’s really flexible,” Tyla says of their hours. “I’ve grown a real love for it… I couldn’t picture doing anything else now, it feels right.”
Doting grandmother, Carlene looks after her granddaughters regularly and is in awe of her daughters. She knows how difficult it is for working mums – she was one too.
“I think they do an amazing job with their families and the dedication and hours they put in out here as well,” she says.
“It’s not easy because you go home and you don’t just get to put your feet up. You’ve got to prepare the meals, get the washing sorted…it’s ongoing.
“You don’t sit down because if you do, you won’t move, you’ll fall asleep! So you keep going until it’s done. I do appreciate what they do. It is a big job.”
“Thanks Mum” is the teary-eyed response from her daughters who are clearly touched by their mother’s words.
Both Leon and Carlene are confident the future of Koch Pilgrim Vineyards is in good hands, so much so that they’ve just acquired more Rowland Flat property, once owned by another branch of the Koch family.
“It’s actually part of our succession plan because it will bring Tyla and Clint and their family closer here… eventually three families will be running the property,” says Leon.
“One of the problems for the husbands though is having to be as good at reversing tractors and trailers as their wives!” he adds cheekily.
Meanwhile, the sisters are adding to their skills as part of this year’s cohort of Barossa Grape and Wine Association’s Next Crop leadership programme.
It’s something the girls say has helped them immensely as they navigate the changing landscape of the industry.
“The support network is really good,” says Erin.
“Sharing stories, life adventures and journeys. Learning what other people are doing and comparing it to what we are doing.”
The trio know they are entering a new era which offers a different set of challenges that their parents didn’t have to contend with.
“You girls have to learn it all, whereas we grew into it,” Leon tells his daughters.
“Even when it comes to teaching new things,” offers Carlene.
“The climate and weather has changed so much. Years ago it used to be a little more stable, but now every year throws up a different bag of tricks – how do you teach that? You go by feel and the knowledge of what has worked in the past.
“There are more frosts, there’s bushfires and you’ve got to think about smoke taint – we never thought vineyards could burn, but they do. It’s yet another challenge.”
“Even the timing of vintage has changed,” continues Leon.
“The girls are paying attention and picking up on those smaller details which is a great sign. They’ve all had to learn the old style rod and spur, we have bush vines as well and I want them to have the knowledge of all those things so then they have choices in the future.”
As the sisters continue to learn their trade and evolve, the fact they are the seventh generation has not gone unnoticed.
“You do get caught up in your work, but when you stop and think about it, it is actually pretty cool,” Kate says.
“You realise you are working on the same vine our forefathers did, they were standing right here too and it’s still the same family!” adds Erin.
Now with the arrival of an “all girl” eighth generation, they have come to terms with the Koch name disappearing from future branches of the family tree.
“Three granddaughters! Hey look, it’s what we do,” Leon laughs.
“We don’t do boys!”
Or, it seems, pink tractors.