A family affair

Life on the land is ever evolving for the de Purys.

David de Pury (BAgr(Hons) 1986) carried the weight of dynasty lightly. He knew that his father Dr Guilluame de Pury (BAgrSc 1956, PhD 1966), a third-generation winegrower at Yeringberg in the Yarra Valley, wanted him to join the family business but never exerted pressure. Instead, his father let life take its natural course and when David finally did decide to join the firm, it felt like a homecoming.

David, Sandra, Guilluame and Katerine de Pury
Left to right: David, Sandra, Guilluame and Katerine de Pury at their winery in Yeringberg in the Yarra Valley.

“Our family has been here for 156 years, so there is that story of continuity,” David de Pury explains.

“I think every father looks to pass it on to the next generation … I spent ten years in research but had always felt I wasn’t complete. There was a sense that something was missing.”

Those years in research served him well on his return home two decades ago. In addition to his Bachelor of Agriculture (Honours) from the University of Melbourne, he was armed with a PhD that modelled the scaling up of photosynthesis and water use from leaves to paddocks. He had also completed a post-doctorate in climate change research in Belgium.

His academic work ignited a passion to put his knowledge into practice and over the past two decades he has transformed the landscape of Yeringberg by replanting 100,000 trees, creating stockyards, building laneways and setting aside 70 hectares as conservation areas and native vegetation plantations.

Since its beginnings in 1863, the 670-hectare property has always supported mixed farming along with vineyards. But David has invested strongly in prime beef and the property’s award-winning lamb that he is selling to restaurants as well as to customers on Yeringberg’s wine mailing list.

The work has not been without its challenges, he says.

“In research, you can always do an experiment again, but in real life on a farm, the seasons progress – winter to spring to summer, and every year and every week is different. It's a very dynamic system and one that challenges me in ways that I didn't expect."

It’s a very dynamic system and one that challenges me in ways that I didn’t expect.

The past ten years in the grape and wine industry, for example, have been volatile. To generate more income, he had planted up to 25 hectares and then the industry, to mix a metaphor, went pear-shaped. Having dropped back to 12 hectares of grapes, he is now about to replant up to 20.

While David grows the grapes, it is his sister Sandra de Pury (MBA 1993), a University of Melbourne alum, who does the wine-making and marketing. Working in close quarters with a sibling can sometimes be challenging but he says it helps enormously that they share a common goal.

New generations of de Pury have also joined the throng on Yeringberg. David has three sons while Sandra has two. Their parents Guillaume and Katherine de Pury (BAgrSc 1956), who are University alumni as well, have retired on the property.

David loved his days at the University in the 1980s, especially for the strong connections he forged with his cohort.

“In those days, you got to know everyone,” he says. “And that made such a difference.”

His association with the University endures. David regularly takes advice from the Mackinnon Project, based at the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences’ Werribee campus, which is a recognised global leader in sheep and beef consultancy. Also, a number of the University’s MBA students from India have spent time at Yeringberg to learn about Australian agriculture.

While David delights in the challenges and variety of the work, he concedes it can be tiring. “There is a great deal of risk and uncertainty with this sort of work. But experience teaches you how to deal with it and to recognise the trigger points that can potentially lead you into difficulties.

“That experience, as well as having a sound understanding of the science behind it, helps enormously.”

By Muriel Reddy

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