Starting your own wine business in Australia

By Philip Arlidge

start a wine business Australia

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Tags: Starting a wine business. Wineries. Winery.

The Bribie Winelander

Some years ago when I lived in Perth I decided to have a go and set up my own wine wholesaling business and set off to South Australia in search of some agencies. In the mid-1990’s it was unusual for individuals to go down this track as the larger companies had so much of the market, but in those days Dan Murphy’s and First Choice Estate didn’t exist, and the market was basically serviced by independent retailers.

I chose South Australia because of the number of wineries that existed and the quality of the wines which were at that time the best in the country, Western Australian wines were very good but also very expensive and the local wine drinkers tended to buy from outside the State.

I found some interesting products that I could see opportunities for, Stanley Bros. from The Barossa, Scarpantoni, Richard Hamilton and Woodstock from Mclaren Vale. However one meeting was unusual, to say the least, I stumbled on a large acreage of the vineyard which was being serviced by nothing more than a bungalow and a tin shed, the name on the side was Tinlins which I had never heard of.

I looked in at the house and met two gentlemen Warren Ward and Warren Randall whose names seemed familiar, it turned out they both had been working with Andrew Garrett Wines, winemaker Randall being highly regarded as one of Australia’s best, and left the company together to purchase the Tinlins winery.

The winery had a shed as the cellar door, a very important shed as this is where the public turned up from all over Adelaide and the suburbs in their droves armed with their plastic containers of all sizes looking for refills of red or white wines, with cash in hand. The bulk wines Tinlins produced were also bought by other wineries, Tinlins never sold any wine produced under its own label, and from this humble beginning has now become the largest supplier of high-end bulk wine in Australia.

The cash flow from this winery also provided these two entrepreneurs with enough capital to buy other vineyards and produce premium wines and for a couple of years, I sold their wines in Western Australia. Move forward twenty years and Warren Randall has now purchased the iconic Seppeltsfield winery in The Barossa Valley and more recently Bridgewater Mill the former property of Petaluma.

When I visited Seppeltsfield in late 1980’s one couldn’t help but to be impressed by its history, the vineyard was built on the side of a hill so the grapes could be offloaded at the top and by using gravity the crushed juice would wend its way down to the bottom finishing up as wine. Over in one of the sheds stood the copper still for making brandy, in another shed all the barrels for the famous Seppeltsfield ports and sherries and a room with the names of all the Seppelt family members stencilled on barrels, the atmosphere was electric.

Unfortunately, the owners of Seppelt, Fosters, weren’t interested in historical monuments so the winery slipped into decay. Randall buoyed by the success of Tinlins bought Seppeltsfield in 2009 and set about rebuilding this magnificent piece of Australian wine history and today Warren controls the largest A grade winery in Australia, not bad for a lad who started as a cellar hand at Wynn’s Reynella winery in 1977.

start a wine business Australia

When visiting the Barossa a visit to Seppeltsfield is a must especially with the restaurant Fino at Seppeltsfield forming part of the $3 million dollar restoration programme and is opened daily for lunch and on Friday and Saturday for dinner. According to Dan Murphy’s head wine buyer, the next big thing in wine styles is predicted to be Prosecco which is a sparkling wine originating from an area in Italy on the doorsteps of Venice.

Because Prosecco is the name of the region and the name of the local town it would be natural to think the name could not be used outside the region in the same way as Champagne, however, the grape variety is also called Prosecco which allows the name to be used in other countries.

In an effort to stop the name being used the grape variety was renamed Glera, however outside Europe the name of choice will still be Prosecco much to the annoyance of The Italian producers. The method of production is The Charmat method where the secondary fermentation occurs in large stainless steel tanks, a similar method to most Australian commercial sparkling wines which keeps the cost down, however some of the premium Prosecco’s are made ‘Metado Classico’ meaning in the bottle in the same manner as ‘Methode Champenois’ in Champagne and are more expensive.

The appeal is easy to understand as they are very well priced, most sell for between $10 to $20, and come in several styles from fairly dry to having a hint of sweetness generally with an aroma of apples and citrus, and being Italian the bottle presentation is usually very good. Italian Prosecco’s to look for include Zonin, Mionetto, Ruffino, Sensi and from Australia Brown Bros. Pizzini, Chalkboard, Dal Zotto, Yellow Glen, Yarra Burn and Jacobs Creek Reserve with nearly all the wineries in The King Valley in Victoria producing Prosecco because a lot of winemakers have Italian backgrounds.

Sometime in between 1934 and 1948 Giuseppe Cippriani at Harrys Bar in Venice created the famous cocktail drink Bellini by mixing peach puree with Prosecco and here is a recipe. Bellini 2 ounces of peach puree per glass (use champagne flutes) Chilled Prosecco The peach puree should come a 1/3 way up the glass and top up with chilled Prosecco and serve immediately. For a little difference add a couple of drops of Angostura Bitters or replace the peach with mandarin and it becomes a Puccini, a Rossini uses strawberries, and a Tintoretto uses pomegranate.

The other day I was checking on the results from the National Wine Show, now sponsored by Dan Murphy’s who would obviously advertise the winners in their stores. I suspect one trophy winning wine didn’t make the shelves, The Value Red Wine Trophy was won by The Tudor Shiraz a label produced for Aldi!

On the subject of Woolworths (owner of Dan Murphys) I noticed they have bought The Isabel Vineyard in Marlborough to add to their Australian Vineyard Dorrien Estate Winery in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and 25% ownership in The Gage Road Brewery in W.A., I wonder if the next targets will be cattle stations and plantations? Grow it and sell it, no need for the humble middle man!

If anyone out there in Wineland needs help with wines for a special occasion please drop me a line at [email protected] with the various courses and I will make a couple of suggestions, or if you have any queries.

Wines to look out for this month.

White wines

  • Peter Lehmann Barossa Art ‘n’ Soul Chardonnay
  • Mt. Monster Limestone Coast Chardonnay
  • Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • Grant Burge Kraft Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc
  • Reillys Clare Valley Riesling

Red Wines

  • Moppity Vineyards Lock and Key Hilltops Merlot
  • Mojo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Rockbare McLaren Vale Shiraz
  • Shingleback Vin Vale McLaren
  • Vale Shiraz An oldie but a goodie.

The story goes that The Prime Minister of Great Britain Sir Winston Churchill, who was known to favour a few Scotch Whiskies each day, was wandering the halls of the House of Commons one evening when Bessie Braddock a labour M.P., rounded upon him and accused him of being drunk. “Madam,” said Churchill. “Indeed I am drunk and you are ugly. But in the morning I will be sober”

Cheers, Philip Arlidge

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A highly successful sales and leadership career working in a number of different and very competitive industries. Engaging with decision makers at all levels in business and government. Three decades employed by corporations, SME businesses in senior roles and almost twelve years operating as a freelance contractor has equipped me well for all aspects of business. Whether leading and mentoring sales teams, or in a direct sales role I enjoy the challenge to meet and exceed expectations. Making a real and tangible difference in either a team environment or as an individual is an important personal goal I have consistently achieved throughout my career. In all of my business and personal dealings over the years there is one issue that stands out above all others - communication. Excellent communication skills creates trust, helps with mutually beneficial outcomes and above all cements long lasting positive relationships. I strive everyday to communicate effectively with the people I encounter.