Halfway between Nuriootpa and Kapunda you will find Koonunga Hill, and this is where Ian Becker runs his “typical Barossa mixed farm,” Mount Charles. Ten and a half hectares of the 86ha farm are under grapes, alongside sheep and cropping operations. Ian grows Shiraz, Grenache and Semillon, and he believes the vines in his region are unique because they produce such good quality fruit, without even trying!

Ian became a farmer and grape grower in 1990 when the opportunity arose to purchase the property from his uncle Len. Ian jumped at the chance to be his own boss, rely on his own initiative, and work in the great outdoors. All his grapes are sold to Peter Lehmann Wines and he strives to produce the high quality fruit the winery wants.

Ian’s Shiraz has made it into Lehmann’s icon Stonewell wine several times; one such occasion was in 2002 when the winery came out to photograph Ian at his property and wrote a short piece about each grower who had contributed to the wine that year. Ian was also invited to a tasting session with the winemaker, and all the growers present appreciated the recognition of their hard work.

Another memorable moment in the life of this grape grower happened one day when he was picking Grenache. A Barossa Balloon Adventures hot air balloon drifted into the vineyard and hovered just a couple of metres above the workers so Ian was able the have a conversation with the people on board!

Over the years Ian has faced some major challenges in the vineyard. There was a particularly bad frost in 1993-94 that completely wiped out his grapes. Ian was forced to seek employment outside the vineyard for nine years, which saw him working at the Turretfield research centre and as a small property management advisor. Ian is also involved in the CFS and The Koonunga Agricultural Bureau.

After another bad frost this year, it looks like Ian could be facing similar challenges with the potential loss of 90 per cent of his Grenache and Shiraz. On top of losses from last year’s mildew problems, Ian is again facing a very challenging time.

Ian would like to see better rewards for growers who are committed to growing low tonnage, good quality grapes. As his sees it, the difference in the price paid for high tonnage, lower quality grapes and low tonnage, high quality grapes is too small to make some operators want to strive to achieve a higher standard of product.