With early ambitions to “be a pilot, so I could do lots of travel”, Kel’s adventurous spirit is the stronghold upon which Feathertop Wines has been built.
Raised on a cattle, sheep and cropping farm near Balranald, with a genetic makeup that includes a maternal line of successful Furphy builders and engineers, combined with his father’s family history of successful farming, it could be said that Kel was bred to build an agricultural business from the ground up.
Kel studied farm management and agriculture at Glenormiston Agricultural College, in Victoria’s Western District, with the intention of returning to work on the family farm. But destiny had other plans and, after a few short months of working under the watchful eye of his father, it became apparent that the land simply wasn’t big enough for both of them.
The early 70s were spent travelling overseas, returning to Australia to work when funds ran out and then launching off on the next overseas adventure. This journey ultimately led Kel to work in a vineyard and winery in Alsace in the north of France. It was here that Kel found the type of enterprise he was looking for, realising: “I could do this for the rest of my life”.
This was the turning point that led him back home to Australia, determined to fulfil his dream.
To finance his new venture Kel took work in the construction industry: first as a labourer in Melbourne, then a stonemason in Daylesford where he built a house that he promptly sold when he had saved enough to study winemaking at Roseworthy College in South Australia.
With a natural affinity for winemaking, Kel excelled in viticulture and had the foresight to study marketing, aware that these skills were imperative to the business of selling wine. His studies of the climates of Australia narrowed his preferred vineyard locations back to Victoria and he set his sights on the township of Bright and surrounding valleys of the Alpine Shire.
Looking to further his experience as a winemaker, Kel took a job as a contract winemaker in Mildura – an invaluable learning experience prior to starting his own winery. Keeping his eye on the goal, he bought land on the river in Mildura, built another home for his family, and began propagating the grapes that would eventually become his vineyard in Bright.
In search of the ideal land to establish his winery he made several trips to Bright during this time and in 1987 he found the land he was looking for on the outskirts of Bright in the township of Porepunkah.
From tough beginnings with little money, working on rough terrain compounded by infertile and acidic soils, Kel began planting the vineyard with the help of his children and set about building the winery.
It took time to viticulturally correct the soil but these tentative beginnings were rewarded with early vintages of Shiraz and Cabernet that won six gold medals and two trophies for best varietal red and best red of the show in Victoria – a high point in the establishment of the winery business.
The ensuing years sent further challenges the Boynton’s way with increasing bank interest rates to a high of 20%, floods, hail storms and frosts that threatened the vineyards very survival.
Help came in the form of a business partner who came on board in 2001 and forged a new chapter in the Boynton’s journey. The winery underwent a complete transformation and re-fit during the partnership with the development of a new label incorporating grapes from the partner’s vineyard in Euston (between Balranald and Mildura).
Yet another twist was about to unfold with mother nature wielding her force once more. The devastating bushfires that hit the area in 2003 threatened to take it all away once more, further embedding one of the lessons Kel has learnt from his journey so far: how to meet a challenge head on and triumph.
The winds of change chimed yet again and, in 2006, Kel was delighted when his wife Janelle purchased back the 50% of the winery that was owned by investors. It was a massive endeavour but, after almost two years of negotiations, valuations and 15 funding submissions the winery once again came into 100% Boynton family ownership.
Today Kel remains highly involved in all aspects of the business. Pruning the vines, keeping abreast with both the traditions and the science that is winemaking, and maintaining the stonework that has become an integral part of the winery experience. Kel is across it all. It’s a burgeoning family business that continues to grow and Kel’s wealth of experience in ‘riding the waves of nature’ is a steadying force behind a business that is firmly on track for a bright future.
There is quite a history behind the making of each and every vintage. So, as you hold your glass of Feathertop Wine up in the setting sun and catch the light that dances through the glass – like the mischievous twinkle in the adventurous Kel’s eye – know that there is the substance of blood, sweat, determination, passion and fertile dreams in every glass.
As the vines continue to thrive and twist on their runners, so do the visions for Boynton’s in Kel’s fertile mind. A born builder, he will continue to build the Boynton’s dream, to nurture its vines, savour its wines and strengthen the Feathertop label.
Don’t be fooled by the humility of this charismatic larrikin. Feathertop is not just a boutique winery in Porepunkah, it’s a success story built on sheer grit and determination and his plans are still, as always, grand and well thought through.