Raise a glass to Grampians Grape Escape 30 years on
For the first time in more than 30 years, Rick Heinrich will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the Grampians Grape Escape in all its glory.
One of the four founding members of the food, wine and music festival, Rick remembers those first preliminary meetings in 1991 discussing how to get more people to the region during those quiet times of the year.
“Back in those days it was busy during school holidays and long weekends, but we had a period of absolutely nothing,” he said.
Rick had a personal interest in bringing more people to the region, owning The Kookaburra restaurant for the last 43 years.
“I’ve always tried to convince people that what is good for your business should be good for everybody’s business,” he says.
“When you come into a community like this, it’s not about looking at how much business you can poach from one another, it’s about how much business you can bring in for everyone.”
He teamed up with then Stawell Shire Tourist Officer Wayne Kayler-Thomson, Grampians Winemakers Secretary Di Radford and accommodation provider Ken Atchison to put together an event to bring people to Halls Gap.
“We had to involve the winemakers,” Rick said.
“At the time the winemakers didn’t have a very high profile and so we decided to put something together that would be a celebration of the end of the vintage.
“We wanted to raise the profile of the winemakers, raise the profile of Halls Gap, and give people something they want.
“The Grampians, in terms of a wine region is quite small, but it is very diverse. It has some of the oldest vines in the world.
“There were no festivals like this in the region at the time so in some ways it was a no-brainer.”
After planning what was then called the Grampians Gourmet Weekend, Rick and Wayne believed so much in what they were doing that they funded it themselves, just hoping to make their money back.
The very first festival hosted seven wineries and six local restaurants who showcased the diversity and the quality of food and wine in the region.
“It was fairly low-key but we managed to attract a fairly good crowd,” Rick remembers.
“At the end of the whole thing we ended up making a small profit so we had funding for the next year.”
Year on year the festival grew, experienced two name changes, Grampians Gourmet Weekend, to Grampians Gourmet Festival to Grampians Grape Escape, and now sees thousands of people from across Victoria and even interstate to enjoy what this small but mighty region has to offer.
Rick, Di, Ken and Wayne were right to believe in what they were doing, with the festival recognised as an important asset to the community and a hallmark event on the Australian food and wine calendar.
Many things have changed since the first Grampians Gourmet Weekend in 1992. The presence of food is now incredibly prominent, as well as artisan makers, children’s activities and music.
What hasn’t changed is the passion from the local winemakers and local residents celebrating their region – it’s just that there’s more of them.
Unfortunately, one of the founders, Ken Atchison, has now passed, but his legacy is living on.
“It’s way beyond what we originally envisaged,” Rick says proudly.
“I feel a fair amount of pride, not only personally, but for everyone involved. Back when we started this if we wanted something done we had to do it ourselves and a lot of it, the promotion and the marketing was funded by individuals.
After recently retiring, Rick will enjoy the festival as a patron for the first time. And what will Rick be drinking on Grampians Grape Escape weekend?
“I drink a fair bit of pinot now,” he laughs.
His pick is the Best’s Pinot Noir, made by legendary winemaker Viv Thomson.
“Best’s wine is very expressive of the region, and if Viv isn’t happy, it doesn’t go in the bottle,” he says.
“But yes, this will be the first year in 30 years that I won’t be working, so I might enjoy the festival.”
The Grampians Grape Escape is on May, 5-7. For more information visit grampiansgrapeescape.com.au