Tiger Dylan Grimes part of vintage crop

Dylan Grimes1Dylan Grimes is a good footballer. He is also a very good wine-maker, the owner of a vineyard that makes very good wines. Unlike other footballers about whom the cliche is applied, he actually does have something worth bottling.

Grimes is a vigneron. To our knowledge, he is the only one in the AFL. Last October, he bought Mount Macedon Winery.

Grimes loves wine, its complexity and nuance and how subtle changes can have a significant impact on the quality from the same grapes vintage to vintage, but he didn’t set out to buy a winery. It wasn’t about the wine. He and partner Elisha were hunting for the right rural property close to Melbourne that they could operate for weddings, receptions and corporate functions.

It was about lifestyle more than wine. Elisha was in wedding management at wineries in the Yarra Valley and Dylan came off a hobby farm at Panton Hill at the base of Kinglake mountain in the north-eastern part of the Yarra Valley when he stepped into football at Richmond. They wanted to have the lifestyle shift to the country and run a business.

The winery sits at the base of Mount Macedon on slopes that sweep down to state forest. The winery is now named after the mountain it nuzzles up to but when it was first bought and planted out it was owned by the singer Olivia Newton John for her Koala Blue label. The label went bust in 1991.

The winery changed hands a few times and one of the owners ripped out acres of ill-suited grape varieties and concentrated on pinot noir and chardonnay. Both are extremely good (well you can’t guess at these things, it’s best to be thorough in your research).

“We knew from the start it was very much a lifestyle choice. I come home all the time and I am in the paddock and it doesn’t feel like work. We are lucky to find something we both love and can work on together as well,” he said.

“We were looking for all different types of farms and originally this place had 20 acres of vineyards, now it has about six-and-a-half. The vines that were left were the original lot that was planted in 1989, so this was by far the better block and they kept these and pulled out the others. The irrigation and stuff is there so we will look to replant them in the long term, but with more pinot probably.”

Grimes talks about the vineyard with infectious enthusiasm. They started small in October, just planning to get things right for weddings, but then a connection with Matt Harrop at Shadowfax had them bottling their own wine (the pinot will be under their label, the chardonnay has been sold under Shadowfax). They reopened the cellar door which had been closed for six years and now they are busy every weekend with lunches, wine sales and weddings. The property runs Black Angus cattle, poultry and has a herb garden to supply the cellar door restaurant.

Dylan splits his time between the vineyard and the city. When he is training and playing, he stays in Richmond with his brother Jack who recently retired after captaining Melbourne for a period.

The work on the vines and the paddocks draws him out constantly. The summer was hard. Pre-season is difficult and around that he was trying to renovate the cellar door facility and work in the vineyard. Having cracked into the work from the moment they settled, he arrived back for pre-season training the only Richmond player to have lower fat levels than when he left.

“I have never been happier. The first few months were challenging, pre-seasons are hard and I am tired and you come back here and work and often there are long days at the club as well.”

As a vineyard owner, and producer of his own wine, he understands about balance. About getting conditions right to produce something special. His football club has done something similar this year in finally getting its balance right. Certainly in defence, where Grimes plays, they have.

After a run of seasons regularly interrupted by injuries, Dylan is playing the best and most consistent football of his career. Whether it is a cause or effect of getting the balance right in his life away from the game, being so occupied and stimulated is academic but he suspects that it is so.

“Whether there is a link I am not sure, I strongly believe players who have a balanced lifestyle play their best footy. I guess at the moment I am finding that balance,” he said.

The balance is there on the field most notably in the trio of tall defenders at Richmond who bring the best out of each other. Alex Rance is popularly accepted to be the best defender in the game. Grimes and David Astbury are important in allowing him to be as good as he is. And in turn Rance’s game elevates Astbury’s, Astbury’s complements Grimes’.

“The bond that Alex, Dave and I have formed as a deep three defence has been huge. We invested a lot in playing together, our backline has been unchanged other than a few injuries with Reece Conca going down and Bachar out more recently, but there has not been much of a shake up to the backline which helps us so much because the more you play with them the better you are.

“We are all three very different players, Dave is an absolute brute, he is the typical fullback who can win the ball back for you and take those marks and Rancey is just a freak of nature the way he plays and then I try and fill the gaps in between if there is a small forward playing deeper I take him or try and leave my man a bit to chop them out.

“When the ball is going in and you see Rancey going one on one I can hedge my bets and know that he is probably going to win that contest and the same with Dave so that allows me to be slightly more attacking with my position but playing with someone you haven’t played with before you have to still stay on your man because you don’t now what the result of the contest is going to be.”

The effect is Richmond are among the best defensive teams in the competition. They rank first for keeping opposition side from converting times inside their forward zone to a score or a goal. They have conceded the second lowest number of points of any side.

They are the best team for a turnover in defence not resulting in a goal, and third fewest score from clearances at stoppages.

All of this is relevant because of the last 12 premiers, nine have been ranked in the top three for defence. Presently Richmond sit second.

Like a good wine, depth is found when everything is in balance.