Don Riseborough has made the ‘tree-change’ many dream of, swapping life as a hospital based haematologist, medical registrar and then general practitioner, to follow his passion to produce wine grapes on a country estate.
With the support of his partner Susannah, Don commenced his radical transition from medicine to viticulture with a Certificate course in Production Horticulture at Midland TAFE in the mid 1990s. After finding a suitable 20 ha plot of land off Mooliabeenee Road east of Gingin, Don planted out his first rows of vines on his gently sloping block in 1998. A penchant for reds saw him start with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, with plantings the following year of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a small amount of Pinot Noir. This brought the total Riseborough Estate vineyard area up to the 8 ha it is today. The fledgling Riseborough Estate Winery produced its first full harvest in 2003 and Don proved he had successfully transitioned to his new occupation of vintner by winning first prize at the Swan Valley Wine Show in 2004 for his 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon in the category ‘Best dry red table wine other than Shiraz’; quite an achievement – particularly for a newcomer to the industry! Since then he has solidified his status, winning many more awards for his reds.
Don built on his winery’s early success and in 2004 followed up with a bumper harvest. In fact, these relatively young Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines produced so well that Don still holds stock of these popular ‘medicinal drops’ in his massive coolroom. The coolroom is just part of the spacious,architecturally designed, multi-level showroom and art gallery that Don built in the early years of the business to showcase his wines as well as support WA artists and sculptors. The otherwise prohibitive cost of power for the enormous coolroom is offset by a 20kW solar PV system which also assists with pumping groundwater to irrigate and fertigate his 100 rows of vines through many thousands of drippers.
Don’s groundwater is not the typical tannin stained nor iron-rich bore water common in the area. On the contrary, his is crystal clear and ready to drink – attested by the commercial pumping of water for soft-drink manufacture, and for sale as mineral water, on an adjoining property. However, having top quality groundwater didn’t help Don in 2006 when he suffered the devastation of a fire which destroyed 20 rows of his best Cabernet Sauvignon.
Surprisingly, Riseborough Estate Winery is a for the most part a one-man operation, apart from backpackers to help perform the labour intensive pruning. Some years there is no requirement for harvesting and the grapes are allowed to drop. As Don explained, “Our grapes are not necessarily picked and processed every year; it depends on the volume of stock in the coolroom, as well as the overall state of the wine market. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a major oversupply of wine, generally.”
In the years when they are harvested, Don’s grapes are processed, and the resulting wine bottled, off-site. Traditionally, a healthy proportion of this stock finds its way into appreciative homes around this time of the year in the lead-up to the festive season.
Riseborough Estate Winery is situated at Peterson Rise, off Mooliabeenee Road in Gingin and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am – 4pm for cellar door sales.