It was a quiet night at the Chateau Leamon winery when Alma Leamon and husband Philip received a phone call from the organisers of the National Wine Show.
“They asked us if we were going to come up to Canberra for their awards night and Philip asked them why,” Mrs Leamon said.
“They told us we had won the Small Winemakers Trophy with our cabernet sauvignon and could we please attend the dinner in order to accept the prize.
“It was 1977 and our first vintage and we were so excited. We knew we were going to be all right, that the search for the pot of gold just might come off.”
Mrs Leamon’s son Ian soon joined the family business.
“He studied wine science at Wagga Wagga, NSW, and would come home on weekends to help us with the vintage,” Mrs Leamon said. “He is a driving force in the winery and without him I wouldn’t have been able to carry on.”
Chateau Leamon, later renamed Leamon Estate, was established in 1972 when Mrs Leamon and her husband (now deceased) bought a small 10-acre mixed farm on the Calder Highway. Over the years plantings of cabernet sauvignon, semillon and riesling were made and then the couple added another 10 acres.
In the early days Mrs Leamon worked as a law clerk with Cohen Kirby and Iser and Philip Leamon worked for the State Elecricity Commission.
“In the those days I was working all week in the office and on weekends I’d be in the winery,” Mrs Leamon said.
“I was nervous when we started. My husband didn’t have a winemaking background so we started from scratch. We would travel to Ballarat and Mildura to attend seminars and try to find out what we should be doing.
“There were only three other (local) wineries at the time – Balgownie, Chateau Dore and Waterwheel.
“We got a lot of help and advice from Stuart Anderson of Balgownie who was very generous with his time. Later, when more people started up wineries in the district we helped them, we could return the favour.”
When the Leamons applied for their vigneron’s licence, Mrs Leamon said they were number 35. The latest figure she heard was that there were 480 licences in Victoria, an obvious indication of how much
winemaking has grown.
Mrs Leamon said in the early years they didn’t have to worry about marketing.
“Most of our sales were cellar door and direct to retail outlets. It was easier then. The supermarkets would shut at lunchtime on Saturdays and people were more inclined to get in the car and do a tour of the wineries.
“But then, of course, the wine industry really took off and we had to concentrate more on marketing.”
It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Mrs Leamon left her job as a law clerk and worked at the winery on a full-time basis. She took over all the administrative work and operated the cellar door.
Mrs Leamon is an original member of the Bendigo Winegrowers Association and was its secretary for 10 years. She has been the chairperson of Bendigo Heritage Uncorked and helped establish the Bendigo Winemakers Festival.
The Leamon Estate property was sold earlier this year. Leamon Estate is currently based in Harcout and intends to have a new release next year.
After their first triumph at the National Wine Show, Leamon Estate won many awards over the years including runner-up to the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1979 and 1985.
“I’m 81 now and I finally retired last year when I was 80. I think I’m allowed to do that,” she said.
Mrs Leamon was reminiscing about her 40 years of involvement in the local wine industry.
Much loved and respected by her fellow vignerons, her achievements will be celebrated by the Bendigo Winegrowers Association at a dinner tomorrow at
La Piazza Restaurant.