Andrew Sarez is a stay-at-home dad who has turned DJing into a money-spinning event-management business, while still farming grapes in his home town. 

Growing up in the 1990s as the youngest son of Greek migrants in South Australia’s Riverland, his access to dance music and the club scene was limited. 

But Andrew, better known as DJ Sarez, begged his cousin to drive him two and a half hours to Adelaide to buy his first DJ equipment.

“It was just a hobby that I was interested in but as I started playing a few parties and introducing music to friends it really took off,” he said.

“It was really hard because there was no scene locally and the scene in Adelaide was only small and very underground. So I was collecting mixtapes, posters, and just following DJs that I liked and trying to replicate what they were doing.”

With the wine industry in crisis, Andrew is glad his career in music allows him to provide for his family financially, while still providing the opportunity to grow grapes.

What started as a hobby has turned into a career.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

‘Blockie’ makes it big

Winning a DJ competition in 2001 propelled Andrew from playing local parties and club nights to appearing on festival lineups alongside acts like The Prodigy. 

“I had a residency at the biggest club in Adelaide, which was a massive boost to kickstart my career.

And then from there I played festivals, I had a residency job on Triple J hosting Mix Up on Saturday nights and I was getting booked interstate,” he said.

“It was pretty surreal to be a DJ on the same bill as your heroes,” he said.

Andrew has won several awards and been a resident DJ for Triple J.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

But taking the next step meant breaking the news about his career aspirations to his mum and dad.

“Once I started getting really big bookings, and the income was taking over what I was making on the vineyard I had a conversation with my parents,” he said.

“It was a little bit awkward at first, but they understood.”

The wine industry is facing an exodus of growers in the next few years.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

With his dream of becoming a DJ realised, he turned his attention to building an event-management business.

“That’s when it got serious, and music all of a sudden came second,” he said.

Having experienced the challenge of breaking into a competitive industry as an outsider from regional Australia, he says he makes an effort to pay it forward.

“Some of the other DJs would say, ‘You’re a kid from the country, what do you know about dance music?’

“So I’m always searching for young talent that’s trying to break through,” he said. 

Succession planning

So is the future of family farming working the land part-time and having another job as your main source of income?

Down river from Barmera in the tiny town of Moorook, Rob and Irene Cordy have sold their vineyards and packed their lives into a caravan.

Irene and Rob Cordy have sold their vineyards and are embracing life as grey nomads.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Rob said his father, a former dairy farmer from Shepparton, brought the family to the Riverland in the 1970s.

But after more than two decades in the industry, last year the couple closed down their cellar door because their children had built white-collar careers in the city.

“Nobody had any interest in growing grapes,” Mr Cordy said.

“It just looked too hard.”

Mr Cordy said while retiring was right for them, he acknowledged that other than the entry of more Punjabi migrants into the industry, succession planning was an issue.

“If you go to any grape-growing industry meeting in the Riverland you can see by the age profile of the people that it’s not a not an industry for young people,” he said.

Like many farmers, most grape growers in the Riverland are in their 60s and 70s but more than half of all vineyards are 10 hectares or less.

The difficulty of families being financially viable while farming smaller blocks was highlighted by Adelaide University researchers in 2023.

One female wine grape grower who was interviewed went as far as saying: “Child abuse here is if you leave your property to your children”.

But younger growers, like Andrew, 43, are optimistic about the future on their blocks.

“When the industry does turn, this will be a really thriving area again, like it has been in the past,” he said.

“Hopefully we get there.” 

Andrew says he never left the vineyard because he loves the lifestyle of being a “blockie”.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Despite how far he has come, he still describes himself as a proud “blockie”, someone who farms a block of irrigated land provided to soldier-settlers after WWI and WWII. 

“I really enjoy the lifestyle of being a blockie,” he said.

With most of his music gigs on weekends, Andrew says he has time before and after school for his young daughter while his wife works. 

“It’s a good area to bring the family up and there’s lots of flexibility in owning your own business.” 

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