You started out in mining. How did that come about? “When I was a student in Harare, Zimbabwe, I was good at science, physics, chemistry and maths. I met my husband, Phil, in high school and we studied geo­logy together in university. I majored in geology and continued study­ing statis­tics but when I graduated I couldn’t become a geologist in Zimbabwe because the indigenous people thought it was unlucky for women to go underground. So I worked as a biometrician, doing statistical analysis of agricultural data. I had to work out how much fertiliser to use and what kind of fertiliser worked on which crops.”

“In 1972, we married and four years later we moved to South Africa. My husband got a job as a lecturer at Rhodes University [in Grahamstown, a town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province that is now called Makhanda] while I had our first child, Nina. I studied a post­graduate geology course for two years part time.”

“We had our second child, Pam, in 1980. I lectured post-grad courses in statistics. We left academia after six years and worked for Anglo American, a big mining company, in Welkom, South Africa. Phil was in the mining depart­ment and I was in resource estima­tion, where I took the data and used it to esti­mate what resources were in the ground, how much you could get, the grade and if it was worth mining.”

What did you do next? “We moved to Perth, Australia, in 1986 and eventually set up our consulting group, Snowden Mining Consultants. At one point we employed a few hundred people, with offices in Perth, Brisbane, Jakarta, Sydney, London and Vancouver. After 19 years in consulting, we were tired. At any one time we were overseeing 100 to 200 projects of various sizes and scattered all over. It was a lot of travel, late nights and writing reports. We loved the work but it was relentless.”

Former expats swap Hong Kong city living for a converted school bus in Canada

How did you get into wine? “We sold our business in 2004 and needed a project so we decided on wine. It was seren­dipitous that Phil located a property in Denmark, on the south coast of Perth. We thought it was a nice place to live and we’d always been interested in wine. We knew zero about making wine, but we did know it was a good property. It’s located in a fertile valley and we found out that the previous producer had good grapes.”

There are many examples of people who always wanted to make wine who retired, took their kitty, made it and it’s still sitting in the shed 10 years later. They didn’t have a son-in-law to walk the streets, knock on restaurant doors and who likes to sell.

“We were lucky to meet [local viticulture consultant] Ted Holland. He said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get a cellar palate. Don’t just drink your own wine. You’ll never learn to get better.’ We have tried to be inter­ested in other people’s wines to compare and improve our own. Every holiday we ask ourselves, ‘Which wine region should we visit next?’”

What was it like to try something new? “I found a renewed energy and my brain cells started tingling again. When you have been in an industry for a long time and high up, you don’t learn much more unless you force your­self. I missed the excitement of learning things, the adrenaline – I know nothing about wine and that was exciting. We bought literature and met people – it’s fabulous to get a new project.”

Why is your winery called Singlefile? “We couldn’t come up with a name, then one day we were prun­ing and looked up and saw some of our geese walking in a perfectly straight line. As city folk we thought this was unusual but now we know it’s not [laughs]. I like the name because it’s not that obvious, so people have to ask what it means. The geese are on the wine label.”

What’s the hardest part of the wine business? “Phil likes to say, ‘In the wine industry, 2.5 per cent is growing grapes, 2.5 per cent is making the wines and 95 per cent is sell­ing.’ There are many examples of people who always wanted to make wine who retired, took their kitty, made it and it’s still sitting in the shed 10 years later. They didn’t have a son-in-law to walk the streets, knock on restaurant doors and who likes to sell. Our son-in-law, Patrick [Corbett], likes to sell.”

How is your family involved in the business? “Patrick does all the hard work. He looks after budgets, reve­nues, exploring export markets and distri­bution. He’s in charge. Our other son-in-law is into coffee roasting. They live in Denmark but not on the property. It’s nice to have our kids involved in the business because they weren’t interested in engineering and geology. One of them studied veterinary medicine and one naturopathy. But now we’ve all got a common interest in hospitality.”

Viv Snowden was in Hong Kong for an event organised by Kerry Wines.