Anh Nguyen: Torch Bearer Wines
Anh is a shining light of innovation in agriculture
It’s a rare career path – a practicing engineer opting to purchase a Tasmanian vineyard.
For Vietnamese-born Anh Nguyen it’s about more than just producing wine in the Coal River Valley, in southern Tasmania. It’s about developing smart biodynamic farming techniques using her engineering skills, to reshape agricultural practices into the future.
Anh spent her early years in Vietnam. She then completed her higher education in Canada and moved to the United States where she attained a PhD from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst before working as a Research Engineer in Sydney. It was a natural career path for Anh: the daughter of two engineers. Seeking a career change, Anh and her husband, who is also an engineer, moved to Tasmania in 2017.
“My brain is wired for engineering, but I wanted to use these skills to do something that I’m really passionate about and that is how we came to move to Tasmania,” explains Anh. “We visited as tourists with our two young children in 2015 and loved it, so began looking for opportunities here. To be the guardian of a vineyard in southern Tasmania was just what I was looking for.”
The Nguyens took ownership of the small-scale vineyard, originally known as ‘ese vineyard, in 2017. It was a big move for the young family, with children aged three and nine at the time. Anh’s husband has continued his engineering role managing a technical team globally and spends three to four months overseas each year.
“My husband has a very demanding role. The intention was for me to develop something of my own. We all drove from Sydney and took the Spirit of Tasmania ferry to begin our new life. A lot has happened in the short time since we arrived. We named the company Torch Bearer Wine, as I hope to lead a new movement and it also symbolises light,” she says.
Anh’s research into new farming techniques recently saw her named the Tasmanian winner of the 2019 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award. Her vision for advanced technology to reduce labour intensity has attracted wide interest. A $10 000 bursary award has allowed her to roll out her smart farming system to maximise crop quantity and quality, while simultaneously optimising farm resources.
“Managing a vineyard is a lot of hard work,” explains Anh. “I soon realised a lot of things can be improved to enhance efficiency and sustainability. We have all the advanced technology available to us, it just needs to be tailored to the agricultural sector. This venture began with my own labour-intensive problems that I wanted to resolve. I soon found talking to others, that solutions could be provided for other farmers and growers. As an engineer, I could see the opportunity was on a far grander scale than just finding solutions for my own vineyard.”
Anh’s smart farming system will be fully operational by the end of 2019 for other vineyard owners to observe. Her vineyard was established in 1993 and has produced award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Already, Anh has integrated new natural farming practices including the introduction of freely roaming sheep, ducks and geese to reduce chemicals use and her carbon footprint.
“The more I talk within the wine community the more I realise the impact of climate change and extreme weather events like drought and flood. We currently have low-tech responses and this seems deficient. Farmers across so many agricultural sectors are faced with such high risk yet today we have opportunity to use technology to our advantage for a sustainable future where data is collected and analysed. I see a future where someone can manage their farm remotely through an app on their phone – for instance turning off their irrigation. The future can be here in Tasmania.”
When not tending to her vineyard, Anh enjoys life with her young family. From bush walks to beaches, from farmer’s markets to the botanical gardens, or yoga on the beach and at the vineyard, it is a lifestyle that she and her family intend to enjoy for many years to come. It also motivates her to ensure the environment is protected for future generations through enhanced farming practices.
“We love it here so much it’s hard to think of where to go on vacation,” laughs Anh. “When you see other parts of the world, it makes you realise how unique this island is. The great climate, the fresh produce, the pristine surrounds, the clarity of light here. It’s so pure. And, as for the community, we have felt so welcomed. It’s like we have always been here.”
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