Greg and Julianne Pulford have achieved an enviable creative work/life balance in the Clare Valley, the heartland of Australian Riesling
When Greg and Julianne Pulford moved to South Australia’s Clare Valley in 1980, the region was an emerging wine district with maybe 12 wineries and visitors couldn’t buy a cup of coffee on a Sunday for love nor money. These days, there are more than 30 wineries, and the Clare is renowned as the heartland of Australian Riesling, with a strong reputation for Shiraz and Cabernet as well. The region is well established as a weekend destination just two hours from Adelaide and visitors flock to the wineries, many of which can be accessed by cycling or hiking the 33-kilometre Riesling Trail along a former railway line.
There’s no need to worry about a caffeine fix, either, as the Clare now boasts a plethora of cafes and a host of food options, ranging from fine diners and pub bistros to cellar-door pizzerias and farmers’ market stalls.
Greg and Julianne met at the South Australia Institute of Technology, now the University of South Australia, where Greg studied architecture and Julianne, interior design. After graduation, they married in 1972 and moved to Darwin, where Greg had a Department of Works cadetship and Julianne worked for a plant company. The couple moved to Alice Springs where their two sons were born and Greg moved into landscape design and construction with architectural consulting on the side. Julianne meanwhile juggled the demands of a young family with a course in dressmaking, which led to a decade-long business making bespoke gowns and garments for fashion clients. “We loved living in Alice, but eventually we decided to move back to South Australia,” Greg says. “We’d grown accustomed to the country lifestyle and the freedoms the kids enjoyed, so we didn’t fancy moving back to Adelaide.”
Greg and Julianne were familiar with the Clare, as they’d visited the former copper-mining town of Burra on sketching expeditions during their student days. “There are so many beautiful old sandstone and bluestone buildings in the region,” Greg explains. “We came to Clare township for the 1979/80 summer holiday and thought it felt right.” The feeling was literally set in stone when they bought a little two-bedroom 1860s sandstone cottage for the princely sum of $14,000.
“Even then, that was a bargain,” Julianne recalls. “It was pretty basic and the boys’ bedroom was what would be called an all-weather sleep-out in real estate parlance. I’m not sure how they survived, as they really lived with the weather coming in.”
The Pulfords expanded the cottage in stages, first installing a proper bathroom and extending the kitchen in 1983, then adding a timber-framed, corrugated-steel extension in 1988. Meanwhile, they bought a similar cottage next door, which is now Greg’s office. His architectural practice has grown gradually, as tree changers and city folk bought weekenders that needed renovations.
“A lot of farms have old stone buildings that need work to make them more conducive to today’s lifestyle,” Greg adds. “The basic form of four rooms with a passageway down the middle is pretty dark and gloomy, so there’s a fair bit of reworking required to open them up and add on living and dining space. With winery and visitor centres, there’s a good balance of commercial work as well.”
In 1993, Julianne decided she had made “one wedding dress too many” and, at the same time as the boys went to university, she too returned to study at art school in Adelaide. “I studied drawing, painting and ceramics and Greg remained in Clare while we were weekend visitors,” she says. “Greg learned to cook, which was a good thing, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve been practising as an artist ever since I graduated.”
The Pulfords’ cottage is dotted with works that document Julianne’s progression, from totem poles and hanging pots to paintings and mosaics. “I mainly sell through local galleries, but occasionally I accept commissions,” she explains. “I did a big mosaic project with 10 local primary schools decorating the Clare Visitors’ Centre. Every school made a plaque that represented some aspect of the local culture, from food and sport to farm animals and wine. I coordinated the whole project and taught the kids to do their own mosaics. I’m proud to say that was about 12 years ago and it’s still looking pretty good.”
While Julianne says the region is desperately in need of a regional art gallery, it is well served when it comes to other cultural facilities. “Lots of creative people are attracted to the region, so there’s plenty of work to display,” she adds. “Auburn hosts an annual World Music and Food Fiesta, there’s a Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend every May and the local wineries are always hosting events.”
As well as being active in the local service clubs, the Pulfords say they are regular guests at Friday night happy hour at the Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre, which is sponsored by a guest winemaker each week. “The event often draws visitors from the nearby caravan park, so it’s a good way for travellers to mix with the locals,” Julianne says. They are also regulars at monthly gatherings of a film club in the village of Blyth, about 15km away.
“One of the locals converted an old hall using curtains and seats from an Adelaide cinema that was being demolished,” Greg says. “Different wineries sponsor the screenings, so we meet for drinks before the movie, watch the show, then head across the road to the town hall where we have dinner with movie discussion and quiz.”
Julianne adds that the community is supportive of newcomers and the 5000 or so residents continue to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. “It was a great place to raise children,” she says. “They were able to run a little bit wild and become independent at a young age. It’s totally safe for them to walk to school unaccompanied and there’s a feeling that people are looking out for each other, though not in each other’s pockets. It’s been a very good lifestyle choice for our family. I can’t imagine going back to the city, where you have to live with your doors and windows locked.”
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 22.2. Click here to subscribe to our magazine
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ross Williams
Styling KBronte Camilleri