From the time I wake up at 6am to check on the vineyard and weather to the simple pleasure of tasting the grapes on the vines, I am lucky that my days are filled with moments that most will never come across as I search to make that elusive perfect wine.

Day in the Life of Owner Darren Haunold


Darren Haunold

From the time I wake up at 6am to check on the vineyard and weather to the simple pleasure of tasting the grapes on the vines, I am lucky that my days are filled with moments that most will never come across as I search to make that elusive perfect wine.

Becoming a vineyard owner and winemaker isn’t exactly the obvious choice for a guy in a wheelchair but it was simply what I wanted to do. The rest of it was just detail. It took only one summer working free for a friend on a vineyard to convince me that winemaking was for me. Figuring out how I could make that happen with the limitations of my wheelchair was an afterthought. My backstory is that when I was 13, I was helping a painter on the roof of our family home, when I fainted and fell off. I became a paraplegic but I have never let that stand in the way of anything I have wanted to do. I have water-skied, snowboarded and played for the State and national mens’ wheelchair basketball teams.

After high school I worked in my family’s corporate business and had worked my way up the financial sector to the point of being offered a promotion to company accountant.

But I declined it because I wanted to get out and see Australia. I didn’t want to pursue a career  behind a desk and travelling opened my eyes to the wider world and made me realise I wanted more than what an office job could provide. That was when I returned to WA looking for a “sea change”. I was looking at real estate options down south around Margaret River to possibly develop premium holiday accommodation because I saw a gap in the market. I had, in fact, looked at several properties and was close to buying a series of blocks overlooking Dunsborough and Busselton when we came across the now Wills Domain site. It was an amazing site, very aesthetically pleasing and aching to be developed but it already had established vines and I thought to myself ‘Could I do this? Could I make wine?’.

I spent that summer with my now vineyard manager, Ernie Lepidi, and fell in love with the vineyard life. I spent the season pruning with Ernie on my four-wheel bike and then helped him establish a new vineyard. I really enjoyed it and felt I was good at it. It grabbed my attention as a physical job. I just loved working out in the vineyard, I’d happily go for weeks not having a day off and really that’s what a vineyard demands. The vineyard doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t rest, it waits for no-one.

So that was that. My family bought the property, began developing the vineyard, then built the restaurant and the rest is history.

These days rather than racing around the vineyard pruning, harvesting or tending to the grapes I now spend my time refining the profile of my wines with winemaker Bruce Dukes, strategising, networking and building the business to be one of the most recognisable wineries in Margaret River.

Every day is different and full and I have to be across many facets of the business from vineyard operations, wine-making, restaurant staff training and general management, marketing, sales and promotion. The life of a vigneron never stops.




6am — Typically I am up early checking on weather patterns— a constant source of concern for any winemaker.


6.30am — swim squad with my son Oliver who is a a champion in the making.


8am — Breakfast with wife Suzanne and the kids, getting ready for the school run before a busy day ahead.


9am — On the drive to Wills Domain after school drop I start my business day making and answering calls from distributors, sales people, staff and tourism partners.


9.30am — I meet with my vineyard manager Ernie for a coffee with wine dog Bob overlooking the Gunyulgup Valley and discuss the health of the vineyard. It is a tenuous time just before harvest as the timing is so dependent on the weather, keeping the grapes disease free, keeping animals away, controlling the amount of water in the vineyard and getting the grapes at just the right stage of ripening. It is a year’s culmination of work that comes down to a window of just a few days and it keeps everyone nervous. The pair are often moving through the vines and tasting grapes from each varietal to identify exactly where the optimum fruit lies for their best wines.


10.30am — Front of house meeting with head chef Seth James and restaurant and events managers to make sure the week ahead is on track and everything is in hand for the wedding being held in the restaurant on the weekend. We might even try a new dish Seth is looking to introduce in the menu.


11.30am — I tour around the restaurant chatting with staff and welcoming some of the diners as they sample wine in the newly built cellar door before rushing off to my next meeting.


12 – Bruce Dukes, our chief winemaker, calls and we discuss whether the flavour profiles of our next pick are hitting the peaks we are after and what we should do to capture the optimal fruit character — we decide to hand pick that night. This last-minute decision puts me out in the vineyard on the four-wheeler helping put buckets across the rows of vines.


2pm – I then head out to the processing plant to take a group of overseas wine buyers, in conjunction with the South West Development Commission, through to explain the wine-making process. I am passionate about wine-making and with more than 15 years experience I am always ready to talk about the benefits of the Margaret River region.


3.30pm – School pick up and then back home to work where I am more productive…it’s easy to get chatting to people, I could do it all day, people are so curious about the wine industry, I’d never get any real work done!”


8pm – After some games playing with the kids and dinner it is back to the computer to lock in more distribution contracts, sign off on an advertising campaign and confirm an important networking dinner with Wine Australia with VIP guests to educate them on the brand so they will potentially become international advocates and promoters for Wills Domain. There is a constant need for conversation, to stay at the forefront of people’s minds. But at some point my wife does tell me to put the phone down.


1am – check on the weather again!