Family First Folletts: How a small family business is putting Langhorne Creek on the map

Image Source: Lake Breeze Wines

By Riley Walter | @rileywalter_

If you ask anyone who knows wine, they’ll tell you that the Langhorne Creek wine region is well worth a visit.

Ask someone who doesn’t, and there’s a fair chance they’ve never heard of the place.

Famous amongst the wine community for its cabernet and cabernet blends, “the creek” is gradually gaining recognition outside of those in the know.

When you consider its opposition – the world famous Barossa and Clare Valleys, McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra region – are just hours away via some of South Australia’s most scenic stretches of bitumen, it’s amazing what this somewhat underdog region has achieved, all the while flying under the radar.

In recent times, the region has caught up but there’s still work to be done in order to build its reputation and compete with the heavyweights of the wine world.

And that’s the goal for the Follett family of Lake Breeze Wines – where family is everything.

Winemaker Greg Follett, who has been the man behind the wine since 1992, hopes that eventually Langhorne Creek will be recognised alongside the biggest regions in Australia.

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Image Source: Lake Breeze Wines

“Eventually the goal is to have no restaurant’s wine list complete without a Langhorne Creek wine on it – preferably a cabernet,” Greg said.

He knows better than anyone that it won’t happen overnight but hopes that through the ongoing success his wines are enjoying, it happens sooner rather than later.

“We’re still working on that and we know the product’s good enough… it’s just a matter of getting that message out there more and more,” he said.

For the best part of three decades, the Folletts have gone about their business, producing world-class wines, quite literally in their own backyard since establishing Lake Breeze in the late 1980s.

According to Marlene Follett – who founded Lake Breeze along with her husband Ken  – they were one of the original wineries in the region.

It allowed them to establish a reputation in the industry before increasing grape prices lead to market-crowding.

“After we were in it for 10 years or so, there were so many brands,” Marlene said.

“We were sort of lucky enough because when we first endeavoured to get out into the marketplace – compared to now … there was a few (brands) but not a lot.

“We sort of got ourselves established and a good name, luckily.”

While on the surface 30 years may seem like a relatively short amount of time compared to more established and well-known wineries, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a family history as rich and intriguing as the award-winning reds that Lake Breeze is now known for.

It’s their history along with their amazing support of one another that makes the Folletts – mind the pun – a rare bunch.

It’s been well over 100 years since the Follett family quite literally “put down roots” on their patch of dirt.

Set on the banks of the Bremer River amongst trees even older than their property, it’s easy to see why they’ve stayed so long.

And in that time they’ve managed to, despite the growing presence of outside investors, remain 100 per cent family owned and operated.

You see, growing grapes isn’t just a job for the Folletts, it’s a lifestyle.

Three of the four fourth generation Folletts still work and live on the property, and all play a vital role in the company under the guidance of their parents Ken and Marlene.

Greg, along with his brothers Roger and Tim – who are the General Manger and Vineyard Manager respectively, live just kilometres from their childhood home.

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Image Source: Lake Breeze Wines
Passed from generation to generation, the family business has grown from a predominantly dairy farming based enterprise to producing some of South Australia’s most consistent fruit, year in, year out.

The consistency of the produce is possible because the entire region of Langhorne Creek finds itself in a unique agricultural position – in terms of climate and location.

Fortunately for Lake Breeze, Australia’s recent drought plight hasn’t significantly affected growing in the area – as much of the property’s water is sourced from nearby Lake Alexandrina.

However, if the coming seasons are as dry as they have been of late, there will be significant challenges ahead with the vineyard also reliant on the seasonal flooding of the Bremer River as a source of water for their crops.

The vineyard’s close proximity to a large freshwater source has mostly answered the age-old question of how to survive in years lean of rainfall – an advantage many growers would be envious of – but there’s also something about the way the wind blows in this part of the world that sets it apart from others.

The breeze coming off Lake Alexandrina provides a cooling effect on the fruit of the region, and is the inspiration for the name of the family’s winery – Lake Breeze – a nod to one of its most unique attributes.

And the nods don’t stop there.

You needn’t look far to see the celebration of the family’s history showcased throughout their products.

The names of some of Lake Breeze’s most successful wines draw inspiration from members of their colourful clan.

The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot Malbec, Arthur’s Reserve, is named after Arthur Follett – who was responsible for planting the first vines on the family property in the 1880s.

The wine’s success includes five gold medals and a score of 96 out of 100 points from wine expert James Halliday in 2018.

The 2016 Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet – whose name is shared with the original 1930s homestead owned by Ken and Marlene since the 1960s – continues to go from strength to strength, having collected a swag of awards so far including an Australian Small Winemakers Show gold medal in 2018 and more recently, the Champion Wine trophy for Best Blended Red Wine at the annual Langhorne Creek Wine Show just last week.

It wouldn’t be right of winemaker Greg to leave out arguably the two most important people in the Lake Breeze operation – his parents Ken and Marlene.

The founders have their own products dedicated to them. The Naughty Nanny – a rare frontignac muscat – and The Gramps – a rare tawny – are perfect testaments to the hard work and time that the heads of the family have committed over the decades.

Some would refer to Ken as the “unofficial mayor” of Langhorne Creek; such has been his level of involvement in the community. He was instrumental in the implementation of the infrastructure which made sourcing water from Lake Alexandrina possible for the many growers of the region.

“You just have to drive it,” Ken said.

“That’s what it takes … for most things.”

And Marlene has been alongside him the entire time, catering daily for the many working family members of Lake Breeze Wines.

I’m told that the five of us dining at the table for lunch – when I make a trip out to the winery to meet the family – is considered “empty”.

This, among other things, is why when you arrive at Lake Breeze it feels almost as if you are part of the family.

Lake Breeze’s offices are only a stone’s throw (and a very short one at that) from Ken and Marlene’s home, where all of the fourth generation Folletts were raised, and chances are that if you visit the recently updated cellar door, with its charming blend of tradition and modernity – much like the wine on the shelves – you’ll be served by a member of the family.

As all good enterprises do, Lake Breeze have recognised the change in their potential demographic arguably better than most.

In a time when the wine industry is becoming less of an interest exclusively of older generations and more of a trend among millennials of today, Lake Breeze are bridging the gap between young and old with events like the rapidly growing Handpicked Festival.

Having celebrated its fifth instalment in November of last year, Handpicked is climbing the list of South Australia’s must-see events.

Attracting big-name headliners across the years such as Jessica Mauboy, the Veronicas, Vera Blue, Birds of Tokyo and Ball Park Music to name a few, the festival continues to promote Lake Breeze Wines, and more importantly to the Follett family, the Langhorne Creek region as a whole.

“We really want to promote Langhorne Creek as a whole. Because it’s a small area … we don’t mind promoting other wineries,” Tim Follett said.

“It’s about the promotion of not only ourselves, Lake Breeze, but Langhorne Creek.”

While the entire family chips in to help in organising the event, it’s largely the brainchild of one woman.

And you guessed it … she’s a member of the Follett family.

Kate Cooper –  granddaughter of Ken and Marlene – thought up the concept of Handpicked at just 21 years old through a want to display all that her family’s winery and Langhorne Creek has to offer.

Appreciating the beauty of her family’s property is what drove Kate to create an event to let fellow wine and music lovers in on the secret.

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Image Source: Handpicked Festival

“I lived away … and came home and finally appreciated my own backyard and my grandparents’ backyard and I wanted to let them know that they should show it off,” Kate said.

“Langhorne Creek’s obviously one of the smallest wine regions in South Australia so to get the foot traffic and tourism down there is tricky,” Kate said.

Now in its sixth year of running and pencilled in for a November 9 return, Handpicked has doubled in size since the inaugural 2014 edition, with last year drawing a crowd of around 5000 people.

“The main objective back then was to brand the winery and get some people here and get them tasting the wine,” Kate said.

While the objective is still to promote Lake Breeze, the festival has “become bigger than Ben-Hur” for the family who enjoy the day’s festivities as much as anyone else.

I shouldn’t be surprised when I hear the story of Ken casually tossing a frisbee on the front lawn with none other than Australian superstar Matt Corby – after all everyone who visits “Bernoota” might as well be family.

Working closely with her family has been one of the most rewarding aspects of organising the festival for Kate who is also a Program Coordinator for the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

“I think having a family there for support is the best thing you could ever ask for,” she said.

“The best thing is, we’re definitely all in this together.”

In it together is the way the Follett family has been for over 130 years.

Through thick and thin, through drought and flood, they’ll carry on for at least another 130 years.

Regardless of Langhorne Creek’s status among wine regions in that time, the Folletts will continue to do what they do best – make great wine and enjoy each other’s company.

At the end of the day, it’s people like the Folletts that remind you no matter how good or bad things get, if you’ve got family, you’ve got it all.

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