A bad breakup and isolation wasn’t the best combination for Rachelle Good-Neilsen.
She found solace in reading a good book, and that’s when she realised she was on to something.
“I needed a distraction and I thought: ‘With isolation and everything, I’m sure there’s people out there looking to socialise with other people with similar interests,’” she said.
Rachelle took to community pages on Facebook to see if there was interest in starting a book club, and was lucky enough to get some bites.
“I had a lot of women reach out and, from there, we started Zoom meetings,” she said.
“I later promoted the book club on community pages again – it just blew up and now I have 120 members.”
The popularity of the club, now known as ‘Read Between the Wines,’ is proving a godsend for local authors and vignerons, who are being given the chance to feature each month.
One of the authors is Todd Alexander, whose work Thirty thousand bottles of wine and a pig called Helga! is the book of choice this month and will be accompanied by a drop of his own wine.
“I was really excited because I reached out to him and asked if he wouldn’t mind hosting us to discuss the book, and we haven’t done that before,” Rachelle said.
“We were more than happy to support a local author that also happened to make wine.”
The book details Todd’s move from the corporate world to the country after a life-changing holiday to the Barossa Valley.
“We stayed in a real dive in the Barossa and it was really expensive and we thought we could do a better job than that, so we thought: ‘Let’s do accommodation,’” Todd said.
Todd and his partner then looked for properties for three years before they came across Block Eight in Belford in the Hunter Valley.
“We found this property which is 100 acres, has more than 12,000 grape vines and 1,000 olive trees and we thought: ‘We won’t worry about the crops, we will bulldoze those and open our accommodation and that’s what we will focus on.’
“Then the night we moved in, we tried a bottle of wine that Brokenwood had made from our grapes and it just blew our minds, and I distinctly remember I looked at my partner and I started shaking my head because I knew what was happening and he went: ‘Well, farming, how hard could that be?’
“So, we have been working our fingers to the bone for the past seven years and we love it.
“We don’t take life too seriously so we really laugh at our mistakes and we have made so many mistakes along the way, so we just figured let’s write our story down and publishers were keen to hear about it.”
The dedication to crops then expanded to goats, sheep and a few pigs, who became unlikely family members.
“I wanted to slaughter pigs and do my own small goods and show people you use the whole beast and not just the choice cuts,” Todd said.
“So, I went off and got two pigs who both happened to be male and I named them on the way home and fell madly in love with them and there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to be slaughtering those pigs.”
Enter Helga – the pig who thinks she’s a dog.
“She’s the most engaging farm animal you can ever imagine,” he said.
“She would fall asleep on my chest she would sit like a dog, fetch like a dog, and she kind of became the focus of the book.”
You can read about Helga’s adventures by joining the Read Between the Wines Facebook page.