Foxeys Hangout: The story of one family's vineyard dream – Cathy Gowdie

A foxey tale of vineyard dreams

By Louise Johnson
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Foxeys Hangout - The story of one family's vineyard dream

Foxeys Hangout - The story of one family's vineyard dream [©Hardie Grant Books]

Foxeys Hangout - The tree hung with wooden effigies of foxes
Foxeys Hangout Winery, Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria


The real estate windows in any wine town always draw the day trippers. Comparing prices, land size, the potential for vines and the distance from town is a normal part of many wine lovers' cellar door experience.

It’s certainly always been part of my tours of wine regions, so when Foxeys Hangout, the story of one family’s vineyard dream landed on my desk I devoured it with great personal interest. I was looking for the pitfalls. A disaster story with some very good reasons why my family shouldn’t sell up our city block and make the tree change, but I found nothing in the book to dissuade me.

Even speaking with author Cathy Gowdie I couldn’t get a good excuse from her.

“I haven't looked back. I had a very brief period that I talk about quite early in the book where I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, what am I doing’, but since then, despite the odd challenge, it’s all been plain sailing,” she says “It's a lovely place for a family as well. The country is a great place for kids.”

So I'm off to the real estate websites to look for rural properties.

A journalist who worked her way up from a cadetship to a senior editorial role at The Age, Cathy says she had been thinking about their experiences establishing the Foxeys Hangout wine label, vineyards and cellar door, as a story long before it actually became a book.

“I’m somebody who when I experience something new I do want to write it down, so I was already jotting down some mental notes and sometimes actually writing things down as well thinking ‘this might make an article’ or ‘this might be a feature’. The idea for a book? Well, originally I was looking at writing more of a practical manual on living on a vineyard and about what happens from month to month and it was after I started talking to Hardie Grant, who are the publishers, that it evolved into a more personal story,” she says.

It is a personal story, chronicling her and husband Tony Lee’s life in Melbourne, their first plantings on the Mornington Peninsula and the rather casual choice of Foxeys Hangout as a name for their early wines.

“A big part of the backbone of this story is the tale of the old Foxeys Hangout and the old tree where the trappers had their competition and hung their fox corpses. The original Foxeys Hangout was close to our first vineyard so it had some geographical relevance, but really we had no idea of the significance of that old tree in this area and I don't think we really quite knew what we were taking on when we did that.”

An amazing and gruesome story unfolded as Cathy took on the job of slowly piecing together the story of an old trappers competition, the gory display of fox corpses, a murder and the arrival of the current wooden and metal foxes that still hang from the old tree today.

“It was very fragmented. There were people who knew about the period in the 30s and 40s and other people who knew about the wooden foxes being hung up decades later but they hadn't actually all been put together. So that was a really good exercise as a journalist, but also as a storyteller, to try and pull it all together in a narrative.”

“Once we'd named our first wines after the tree there was this spate of phone calls from people saying things like: "I remember when the foxes hung up there and we used to drive past and mum and dad would wind up the windows and we'd beg them to drive slowly so we could get a better look’. There was call after call like that. People were just delighted to be reminded of it even though it was really grisly.”

But what about country life? How does a city journalist adapt to the country lifestyle? “The sense of community is the thing that I have really enjoyed seeing here ... just the way in which you go to the shops and you know people, which is not something you necessarily expect when you live in the city. And it's something people talk about here,” she says. Often her school pickup conversations in the tourist season will be about the lack of familiar faces at the local shops.

“When I go to the city I think there's a lot of traffic and it’s very hard to find a parking spot. So I can feel myself getting more provincial with all the time that passes.” And the Mornington Peninsula wine community, renowned for their intense spirit of cooperation, have welcomed the family.

“You do read about parts of the world where winemakers are very competitive and very secretive, but down here ... people lend each other equipment all the time and people offer each other advice all the time. We've got a really well run local vignerons association and even outside that association there are lots of little informal groups of people who get together and have a barbeque or a glass of wine and chat about the vintage that's been,” she says.

Cathy’s husband Tony and his brother, Michael Lee, run the wine business which includes their first vineyard, planted in 1997 on a site at Merricks North near the junction with the hanging foxes. They also manage the former Massoni Vineyard and their more recent plantings of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris at the Red Hill site that houses their home and a purpose built cellar door.

Foxeys Hangout hits bookstores just as harvest ends at Red Hill and chronicles their journey, working through each month of a year from a practical and personal perspective. Delicious, simple recipes frame each chapter, reminding readers of the joys of eating locally, seasonally and well. It is a delightful story with nothing that wouldn’t inspire others to follow their own vineyard dream.



Foxeys Hangout is published by Hardie Grant, April 2009, RRP A$45 hardback. and Winepros Archive subscribers and Members can purchase Foxeys Hangout, the story of one family’s vineyard dream from our book partners Seekbooks at 12.5% discount (postage extra).


  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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