Few siblings can say they’ve successfully worked together in business for a quarter of a century, but one winemaking duo has done just that.
Rolf Binder and Christa Deans have run Rolf Binder Wines for 25 years, forming a formidable team treasuring tradition and embracing innovation.
Their strong work ethic follows in the footsteps of their Hungarian father, Rolf Senior and Austrian mother, Franziska who arrived in Australia in 1950 as part of an influx of post-war immigrants.
The couple worked for the railways. Rolf Senior drove trains for three years and would eventually meet Nuriootpa grapegrower, Elmore Schulz, who also worked for the railways. Franziska and Rolf Senior picked grapes for Elmore where they met winemakers, Chris Vohrer and Wilhelm Abel who offered Rolf a winemaking apprenticeship at their winery at Tanunda’s Langmeil Road.
In 1955, the Binders bought the business and “Veritas Wines” was born with the new owners commuting from their home in the city.
Christa and Rolf Junior grew up surrounded by the sights and sounds of their parents’ winery, spending weekends, holidays and helping out during vintages whilst continuing their schooling in Adelaide.
“In those days, we had a crusher and someone used to have to be there to fork the stalks out and that was usually me!” laughed Christa.
“We would help with the bottling and the packaging.
“I can still remember when we connected the electricity and Dad pulling down the lever out the front of the winery and all the lights going on.”
Younger brother, Rolf was also immersed in the winemaking process.
“We basically grew up in the winery,” he said.
“I still have memories of 1972 when they planted the vineyards on the Stelzer Road estate block and we hand watered the vines to get them going. I remember the ’75 vintage digging out fermenters – that was my first year.
“We were lucky our parents encouraged us and never forced us. We just naturally moved into the winery.”
Both studied oenology at Roseworthy College with the view of one day taking over the family winery. But that time came far sooner than either imagined when their father was seriously injured in a car crash during one of his regular wine deliveries to Adelaide.
“He had a bad accident in 1980, so he never really re-emerged,” said Rolf.
“We all had to step up…That probably brought us together even more.”
Rolf was just 19 at the time and Christa 22, the latter leading that first vintage before heading off to hone her skills during an 11 year stint at Wolf Blass.
Rolf finished his studies and took over the reins of Veritas Winery.
“In 1994, Christa came back and it was a very good time,” said Rolf, describing their partnership which led to a change of winery name to better reflect family history.
“My interest, to be honest, was always reds and having a very talented white winemaker like Christa coming in, we started to explore more. There was a demand for white wines and a few other opportunities arose in Australia…so it was a good combination.”
Since working together, the company has grown twenty fold and vineyard holdings have tripled.
The old winery on Langmeil Road was outgrown and a modern one built at Seppeltsfield Road on property their parents bought in 1968 which grows some of the Barossa’s oldest Shiraz and Mataro vines.
“Vines date back to the 1880s, but no-one knows exactly,” said Rolf.
“When Ron Andriske turns 100, we know they’re at least 100 years old because he says they’ve been here all his life!”
These valuable vines remain treasured as the duo continue to expand vineyard holdings to meet demand to the point where Rolf Binder Wines now exports to 13 countries on a regular basis since their first shipment left Australian shores in 1988.
“We are still selling to the majority of the same companies we started with all that time ago and you go on the journey with those people.”
Christa and Rolf believe a steady approach to growth ensures the wine styles they have become renowned for remain consistent.
“Every winery, and we are included, has developed its own style of wine and our style seems to be working. We are lucky that we grow the grapes, make the wine and sell it to the customer and the customer likes the style.”
It is clear this brother and sister act are on the same team as they strive to produce premium quality wines.
“I think the secret to success is trusting one another in what we do and not to meddle,” Rolf said.
“We just do our own thing.”
“I do the whites, Rolf does the reds, we come together and do the blending. It works well.
“You really are only as good as your next vintage. You can win awards and we have, but once that’s done it’s done, and it’s on to the next vintage.”
In an interesting twist, the siblings only speak German to each other.
“It’s just one of those things, it’s part of our heritage and you don’t realise you are doing it. Mum and Dad always spoke German and encouraged us to be bilingual, it was a very good thing and is still very useful.”
The inevitable question of sibling rivalry is quickly settled.
“Sometimes, his tomatoes ripen before mine which is a huge issue!” laughed Christa.
Yet asking what the highlight of the past 25 years has been, the duo look at each other quizzically and smile.
“Surviving!” laughed Rolf.
“It goes back to our parents, they just got on with it and I think that probably reflects a bit on us.”
A jill of all trades
Carlene Schmaal is firmly imbedded in the history of Rolf Binder Wines.
Employed by Rolf and Christa’s parents 46 years ago, she still helps out today doing “little odd jobs” at the sprightly age of 78.
“I’ve retired twice!” laughed Carlene.
“But they know where I live!”
A true “Jill of all Trades,” Carlene has done it all, from driving forklifts and backing trucks, to bottling.
“I started grape picking first…then worked in the cellar. Mainly labelling, but I did all sorts”.
She even has her own little corner in the winery where she labels, providing a warmly welcomed connection to the winery’s past.