Tasmania’s merino wool growers are making their mark with high end brands Hugo Boss and Armani. We spoke to Bruce Dunbabin of Mayfield Farm near Swansea to see what makes Tasmanian wool so fine and of his new winemaking ventures.
Your Merino wool ends up gracing the catwalks for iconic brands such as Hugo Boss and Armani. How did this come about?
The Italians are some of the best wool processors in the world and we are fortunately able to grow some of the best super fine wool in Tasmania. We’ve been growing the wool for several generations and supplying the same Italian families for many decades.
Why do they love our wool?
We have a cooler, relatively stable climate and therefore stable growing conditions for the sheep. We’re able to produce a very clean and consistent product. There are very few places in the world that have the same unique qualities as Tasmania.
You sell to high end Italian company Reda – which reportedly buys about 20,000 bales of superfine merino wool annually and 80% of it Australian.
Yes, Reda is our main purchaser. Reda specifically require superior wool for their high-end men’s suits and innovative, premium woollen active wear.
Fashion houses and customers increasingly want to know more about where the wool comes from and how the animals and environment are treated.
Absolutely. The story of the wool is so important, particularly if you have a great story to tell! It gives people a tangible connection to where and how the garment they are buying has been produced. Some aspects of farming are portrayed negatively in the media but being able to show consumers how well we treat our animals and how passionate we are about what we do is important to us.
We hear in the off-season, you grow grapes?
We first planted grapes in 2010, under contract to the old Hardy’s Wine Company, which is now Accolade. We currently have six hectares. Both the wool production and grape growing are 12 month a year enterprises but they work in together beautifully and it helps support our wool growing when times are tough. Our grapes go into a sparkling wine and they all end up in the premium Arras range. Ours go into the Grand Vintage bottles which retail for $80 each. Now that we’ve fulfilled the contract with Accolade, we hope to start making our own wines to sell from the cellar door we have planned to build.
What’s your history in wine making?
I have a better history in wine consumption, but after growing our own grapes and becoming involved in the industry, I’ve developed a real interest for making good wine. We’re in a perfect position for not only producing fine wool sheep, but also growing true cool-climate grapes that make great, flavoursome wines. ■