Collie winery ups distilling to make hand sanitiser

Shannon VerhagenSouth Western Times
Harris River Estate Winery owners Karl and Julie Hillier and their daughters Misty Bolton and Nikita Hillier have been working around the clock making hand sanitiser.
Camera IconHarris River Estate Winery owners Karl and Julie Hillier and their daughters Misty Bolton and Nikita Hillier have been working around the clock making hand sanitiser.

When Harris River Estate Winery owners Julie and Karl Hillier bought a still, they thought they would be using it to make gin.

But as panic-buying reached Collie amid the coronavirus pandemic, it has taken them on a completely different journey.

For the past two weeks, distilling and bottling hand sanitiser has been their world and on Tuesday, the family-run business officially launched its online store.

It has been no small feat.

We’ve been distilling 24/7 for about 10 days now.

Julie Hillier

“It’s all hands on deck with my two step-daughters bottling and labelling and my husband has been up every four hours changing the still. We do what is called a double distill, with the first distill bringing it to about 60 per cent alcohol and the second distill taking it into the 90s.

“It’s been exhausting, but we’ve hit the button on our online store and we’re ready to go.”

The first batch of about 500 bottles will be exclusively for the Collie community and In the firs afternoon the website went live, they booked 70 deliveries.

Mrs Hillier said they had worked out they had a sustainable production rate of 500 bottles a day and would look to open it up to the wider community soon.

Julie Hillier working on their online shop with some help from her enthusiastic assistant.
Camera IconJulie Hillier working on their online shop with some help from her enthusiastic assistant.

They have also dropped bottles to locals in need, including someone with premature twins, a woman undergoing cancer treatment and aged care workers.

But it has not been without its hurdles.

Under Australia Post’s policy, hand sanitiser is classified as a dangerous good because of the alcohol content, so you can only send 300ml at a time. So our 330ml bottles didn’t fit the bill.

Julie Hillier

She spoke with a local Australia Post employee asking for consideration due to the circumstances and importance of having “contact-less” delivery and a few days later got confirmation the postal service had changed its national policy to accommodate them.

“I got a bit teary then,” Mrs Hillier said.

It has been a way for the business to continue generating an income, after being hit hard by cancellations of stays, event bookings and export sales.

They have also collaborated with a number of small local businesses to provide every person who purchases a bottle a $5 voucher to use at one of the businesses when life goes back to normal.

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