Banking on a rewarding double life
FEW can say they successfully juggle and balance parallel worlds but one Stanthorpe identity has the passion to do so.
Sonya Casley, of Casley Mount Hutton Winery, works on the family farm and doubles as the Heritage Bank branch manager.
All went well until we drove down High St and two wheels came off the back of the truck and bounced over a few parked cars.
The wine-loving financier said the road to owning and operating a successful winery was not an easy one for her and husband Grant.
"Some people have the good fortune to be born in Stanthorpe and take over a family business - but not us," Mrs Casley said.
"I had spent a short amount of time on a dairy farm outside of Gympie when I was growing up and Grant had been brought up on a farm near Wagga Wagga.
"I knew when I fell in love with him that one day I would end up on a farm again because it is something that is just in your blood."
Together the qualified social worker/financier and chemical engineer wrote their wish list for life that included a property in Queensland that offered diversification and a seasonal climate.
"Thirty years ago we purchased 850 acres of bare land and then added other adjoining properties," she said.
"Our intention was to run cattle - I love cattle because they get fat while you sleep - and to set up a vineyard - I like wine too.
"We then purchased a small house and moved it on to the property where for a few years we had no water or electricity and I would take our four children to a service station on the highway to shower every night.
"We furnished the house with goods left over from a charity auction in Mount Isa and the trip to Stanthorpe was quite the event."
Mrs Casley said the memory of that event was one that she would never forget.
"Grant drove the truck down and I followed behind in the car - 2000km over two extremely long days of driving," she said.
"All went well until we drove down High St and two wheels came off the back of the truck and bounced over a few parked cars in what was a second-hand car dealer.
"I felt sick and had no idea whether he could stop the truck and how much danger he was in. The kids were terrified and I was in tears when Grant drove back and said, 'What did you stop for?'
"It probably cost more to repair the cars than what the furniture in the truck was worth."
When it came to farm work Mrs Casley was not afraid to get her hands dirty.
"We planted our vineyard of 16,000 wines on 24 acres in 1995 - I love to be in the vineyard because it is such a peaceful and beautiful place," she said.
"In 2003 we won our first gold medal for our viognier and then again in 2006 for our shiraz.
"While Grant is the wine maker, I help by dragging out kilometres of dripper line, fencing, pruning, picking and using the pressure hose to clean out tanks.
"I love the winery and I love my job at the bank - both are very rewarding.
"Making wine is a happy business and working with someone to help them get the house they wanted is a wonderful thing too.
"No matter what it is, I think if you are passionate about what you do that is what counts."
Mrs Casley said after a few years working and living in England, with a caretaker looking after the winery, the family returned to the farm to finally put on power.
"The whole experience has been a wonderful journey but it has had its challenges," she said.
"Having two mortgages when interest rates were 18% was one of them - we both had to work to afford to keep our property.
"You have to be resilient on the land and you can't control the weather but you can go outside at night and see a most spectacular sky.
"The successes outweigh the challenges and the heartbreaks."