By Karen Buck
SITTING around a warm fire in the rolling green hills of the Scotsdale Valley, sipping a fine Pinot from your own vineyard and making lots of babies could sound like someone’s fantasy of the perfect tree change.
Meet Dr Stephen Junk, the man responsible for that excellent Pinot Noir, a restaurant full of fabulous food to go with it, and for literally hundreds of babies throughout the Great Southern. With those kinds of credentials you might think he’s earned the right to look a little smug, but he doesn’t. Instead his face lights up when he talks of his pleasure in helping people to achieve their fervent wish for a baby, through his work as scientific director of Denmark’s world-class Fertility Great Southern Clinic. It’s the only clinic of its kind outside Perth and owes its existence to Stephen’s desire for a tree change. Originally it was going to be a restful quiet life in a beach shack, enjoying friends and soaking up the beauty of the Denmark area, but somewhere along the way it morphed into a very busy lifestyle.
Ten years ago he and his partner of 31 years, Ola, bought the 4.2ha boutique vineyard Estate 807. Stephen loves to take a hands-on approach to the vineyard, which means being out among his beloved vines doing as many of the physical chores as he can – from spraying to pruning to harvesting, and everything in between. Not long after settling into the new winemaking venture the couple realised that they needed to offer something more than just great wine to draw customers.
“We were quite naïve, and thought that Denmark was like Margaret River – that everyone was going to suddenly turn up and buy our wine,” Stephen recalled. “So a couple of months in we started up the Ajar restaurant as part of the cellar door. “It’s a bistro-style format and it’s been very successful. “But I’ve now got so many other things on my plate that we decided recently to lease the restaurant, though Ola still runs the cellar door.”
Stephen admits that when the couple started the vineyard he knew very little about wine, other than the enjoyment of drinking it. The fact that their wine has garnered a few awards and a good clientele indicates that they’ve learned fast. But awards are not the motivation in producing their range of sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and pinot noirs, some of them named after the very friendly bunch of cocker spaniels the pair breed. His face also lights up when he talks of tasting their first vintage a year and “a lot of hard work” after they bought the vineyard.
“Estate 807 now has a good local following, and we’re less concerned about winning awards than having a friendly, laid-back style with our customers,” Stephen said.
With all that on the go, how did the new fertility venture get factored into the tree change? “It turned out that I still had a passion for my science, and a passion for embryology and helping people to get pregnant,” he said by way of explaining the birth of the clinic five years ago. “A local facility became available so I approached a couple of gynaecologists and we created a team. “Since then we’ve seen about a thousand clients and had literally hundreds of babies.”
While the thrill of helping infertile people achieve their dream of having a baby is one he never tires of, there are also moments of sadness when, despite the best treatment and the best efforts, people don’t achieve a pregnancy or a baby. He admits to sharing tears at times with both clients and staff when delivering bad news.
What spare time the 58-year-old does have usually involves following another passion – swimming. But not splashing about in the shallows – Stephen used to swim marathons and has tackled some of the most gruelling and famous courses across the planet over the past 20 years, including the English Channel, around Manhattan Island several times, the Catalina Channel, the Gibraltar Strait between Spain and Morocco, and along the Amalfi and Cinque Terre coasts. His longest was a 48km swim, which took 14 hours. He’s slowed down a bit these days, apparently, swimming only up to four or five hours a day. “Mostly I’ll do an hour and a half to two hours, but sometimes much more,” he said. “I do it now that I’m older and need to keep fit. It’s very satisfying. I can think about anything while I’m swimming. “Sometimes I think about patients at work but mostly I just spend time with the fish. “I know the fish in Green’s Pool and which ones are in different areas, so I look out for them and say hello when I swim over them.”
Stephen says he will not retire until his late sixties, and it sounds as though his idea of retirement falls in line with his idea of a tree change. “I think that once I retire I’d like to use my expertise in embryology to get involved in reproductive biology research and work around endangered species,” he enthuses. “There are so many animals on the brink of extinction it would be wonderful to do something about that.”