There’s a sparkle of pride in the eyes of Peter Scholz when he talks of his family’s long history, but it shines even brighter when he talks of its future.
“My ancestors first arrived here in 1845 and took up this land,” says the Willows Vineyard winemaker and current custodian of the 200 acres of Light Pass land where a Shiraz named “The Bonesetter” and sparkling red known as “The Doctor” are among the wines produced.
The labels are a nod to the property’s past as the Willows Hospital which ran for more than a century.
“All of my ancestors have been medicos, Johann Gottfried Scholz who came out from Silesia, he was a bonesetter in the Prussian army before he came here – an orthopaedic surgeon of his time,” Peter explains.
“Where the buildings are today, that was the original settlement and the story goes that they lived in a hollow tree for awhile, then dug a hole in the ground which they lived in until they built their first dwelling – that hole became the cellar under the house.”
Such was the Scholz family’s reputation for mending bones, that when high profile patient, John Howard Angas sought their expertise to treat his broken leg, he was so grateful to “get back on his horse”, he gifted 500 pounds to expand the humble facility and Willows Hospital, which had 30 beds in its heyday, flourished.
Generation four, Peter’s grandfather, Herbert saw Willows close its doors as a hospital. He was also the Dr. Scholz who planted the first vineyard on the property in 1936 after being persuaded to do so over a schluck of brandy at the Vine Inn Hotel with Sam Tolley, founder of TST.
“He convinced him to plant Semillon, Shiraz, Doradillo and Pedro for fortified and brandy making…That was the first vineyard.”
The last doctor in the line was William (Bert) Scholz who had a practice in Loxton before inheriting the Light Pass property which he moved back to in 1974, young family in tow.
“Dad decided to plant more vineyard,” Peter says.
“In 1969 we had a major planting programme. I can remember that as an 11 year old, planting grapes in my September holidays earning the princely sum of 50 cents an hour. After two weeks of work I’d done 110 hours and got $55 – I thought I was made!”
Today, the old Willows hospital is Peter and his wife, Tracey’s home where they raised their sons, Spencer and Jack.
There’s not a cast, splint, or x-ray machine in sight, but there is a mighty good collection of award winning wines that Tracey sells in the Cellar Door a little further up the driveway.
For Peter, it’s been a rewarding journey and one he hadn’t expected, especially as a youngster.
“I didn’t really have an ambition of where I was going,” says Peter. “As a kid I thought I would be a doctor but I watched my father getting in and out of bed all hours of the night to go and listen to other people’s problems and reckoned I’d have enough problems of my own, didn’t need to listen to anybody elses!
“I got sent off to boarding school which I disliked immensely…let’s say I wasn’t very successful as far as my academic achievement was concerned!”
But when Peter repeated his matriculation back home at Nuriootpa High School he was much happier, and having worked alongside his dad in the vineyards, friends encouraged him to take up winemaking.
“I wasn’t convinced that I had the where-withall to do it, but I applied to Roseworthy College and was accepted.”
A vintage at Saltram’s alongside the likes of Peter Lehmann, Andrew Wigan and Charlie Melton as part of his final year of university cemented Peter’s winemaking ambitions.
“That was a pretty tumultuous time in the industry as far as grapegrowers were concerned,” Peter recalls, describing how “PL” was planning to build what is now Peter Lehmann Wines at Tanunda.
He was working at Yalumba as a technical assistant when opportunity came knocking – literally.
“PL knocked on my door one evening. He and my father were great mates, they were actually second cousins,” Peter says.
“He asked if I wanted a job as a winemaker at his winery. I said absolutely! There was no negotiation about wages, it was just no worries, that sounds fantastic, be there tomorrow at 7.45. Oh, and by the way, Wigs is in hospital with an appendicitis and Charlie, the other winemaker, is overseas so you’re in charge! I’m going what? I was 24 at the time and I’m just thinking I’ve got this winery full of wine, how do I look after it?
“That was my start at Lehmann’s and still, to this day, I do a bit of work for Lehmann’s (Casella).
“I’ve been in every vintage there since 1980, except 1981 when I was at Yalumba.”
Meanwhile, Peter’s Dad, Bert was thinking Willows could start producing its own wine.
“We had played around a bit making wine for our own consumption,” Peter says. “But in 1987, Dad decided we should make a bit more, so we made a Shiraz and put it away in barrel, then he died unexpectedly in early 1988…Tracey and I had our first child on the way.
“I went to PL and said what am I going to do? I’m just going to have to stop the winemaking here at Willows. He said no you’re not and encouraged me to keep it up.
“In 1989 we released our first wines and the rest is history!”
Peter speaks of the long hours he put in at Willows plus the full-time workload he had at Lehmann’s.
“It was pretty full on. Two young kids and a great lot of support from Tracey, who was also a nurse working at Angaston Hospital, we were just trying to make ends meet.”
The early nineties “were good times in the industry” and Peter says they “found their feet quite quickly” to the point where he decided to spend more time in the family business and stay on at Lehmann’s as a vintage winemaker, a role he has continued since 2000.
“That’s me,” Peter says as he moves onto the next chapter in the Willows story.
The original Scholz cottage, made of wattle and daub, is where youngest son, Jack lives today – the next winemaker in the family.
Generation 7, or “G7”, is also the name given to the latest range of wines in the Willows line up.
“I’m actually jealous of Jack,” Peter says with a cheeky grin that beams with pride for his son.
“It took me 20 odd years to win my first trophy at the Barossa Wine Show, he won a Grenache trophy this year for his G7 which is quite the feather in his cap.
“Jack would have been 12 when we started playing around with Grenache for the first time…Tracey and I got Jack and Spencer, my eldest, involved in the winemaking process to see if there was interest there.”
There clearly was, and Jack was the one to continue in his father’s footsteps.
“I just loved being outside, following Dad around when I was young. Still even now, I love watching what he does,” Jack says.
Working in the family business has resulted in a perfect partnership with Jack offering his own winemaking experience gained through travelling to Germany as well as working alongside the likes of Tom and Peter Barry, Jimmy Lienert and Andrew Quin.
The 29 year old has the same cheekiness in his smile as the generation before him when he talks about “Pete and Trace” and how they interact in the workplace.
He and his father share a unique bond, each learning and challenging each other in their pursuit of creating wines that reflect the vineyards they carefully tend together and know so well.
“I guess, as a winemaker, I follow pretty much the same philosophy as Dad,” says Jack.
“We are very vineyard focused. ..that takes care of 95 percent of the final wine. We are very hands on and as long as you don’t stuff it up come vintage time, you end up with a good wine at the end.”
Jack is grateful to be working alongside a father who stops and listens to his views and goals.
“A common complaint from younger generations working with an older generation is often they’re not embracing new ideas whereas it is quite the opposite with Dad.”
Peter doesn’t want to hold him back and enjoys seeing him unleash his creativity in the G7 range – Jack’s domain.
“If I stand in the way of the next generation coming through, what chance have we got?” Peter says of Jack and the Willows succession plan.
“The next generation is important. At my age, surely you should be allowing others to show what they can do? Jack’s not doing anything too outrageous, it’s not as though he’s telling me to make orange wine!
“We work together well and I think we have proven our little patch of dirt can mix it with the best.”