Before Netflix was the go-to service for bingeing The Office, they were a DVD rental-by-mail service. The Post-it Notes we all rely on to aid our goldfish memories were a fortunate by-product of a failed experiment to develop an ultra-strong adhesive. The world's first mass-produced chewing gum? Created from the sap of the Sapodilla tree when it didn’t work out as a substitute for rubber.
In late January 1998, Mother Nature handed Bellevue Orchard one of these adaptor-or-die moments. And you know what they say, when life gives you lemons… make apple juice.
A torrential summer hailstorm tore through the orchard, devastating the crop days before it was set to be harvested. Large hailstones blanketed the orchard like snow.
Among the wreckage, where most of us would only find despair, owners and brothers Robert and Joe Russo managed to spot an opportunity: a new venture.
...you know what they say, when life gives you lemons… make apple juice.—
Robert’s son Nick, now the CEO of Bellevue, says, “A call was made to the Joyce family, old friends in South Australia, who helped us get back on our feet by selling us the machinery needed to produce our first batch of apple juice. Dad, a mechanic by trade, put his handyman skills to work and fully restored the pre-loved machinery.”
“It was a really hard period. It was a big learning curve and they had their backs against the wall with the banks not wanting to support the expansion. There was a lot of soul-searching [at the time].”
But nothing was going to stop their creative spirit. Affectionately, Nick says, “My dad’s got a real head down, bum up attitude towards a problem.”
“After several months, many late nights at the orchard and a little imagination, we converted the storm-kissed fruit into first-class apple juice. Summer Snow Juice was born, named for the hailstorm that gave rise to its existence.”
Summer Snow has come a long way from where they started – “attending farmers markets and visiting greengrocers to spread the word and let people try real apple juice”. It is now an award-winning juice brand distributed nationally and recognised for its variety-specific, single-strength, no-preservativeproduct that is juiced and bottled on-site in West Gippsland.
If that weren’t enough, the team has continued to harness their creative spirit over the years to expand even further. Now, not only do they provide their juice to cider and beer makers across Victoria, but they also make and sell their own range of sparkling juices, ciders and vinegar – and have even expanded to oranges. They have also lovingly repurposed the orchard's workshop into the Bellevue Farm Gate where you can sit down and enjoy a gourmet pie that will pair perfectly with a Granny Smith and mint sparkling apple juice, or a piping hot pizza to complement one of their Trattore ciders.
“This year is pretty special for us. It's 70 years since my grandfather bought the property with his brothers, and it's 25 years since we first started making apple juice.”
After all the remarkable changes over these years, Bellevue still manages to keep true to its roots as a family business – now four generations strong. Robert and Joe, now in their early seventies, still appear at the orchard most days checking up on how Nick and the team are doing.
Nick reflects, “I grew up on the orchard… [It] was home. It wasn’t a farm or a business or a brand. It was where I learned to drive a tractor, light a bonfire, catch an eel… It was where my high school friends and I spent many hours thrashing paddock bombs and getting up to mischief. Today, the orchard still means all that to me, but it also means so much more. It is a true example of resilience, persistence and dedication.”
“I am sure the heartbreak and despair [of that hailstorm] are still as fresh to them today as the day it happened, [but] their courage to embark on a journey into a field they knew nothing about is what has made Bellevue what it is today. My Uncle Joe often says, ‘See a mile, walk a mile.’ Dad and Joe are living proof that this can be a successful approach – even in dire circumstances.”