Paula Edwards is ideally placed to know what the bulk and bottle wine scene is like in South Australia as Wine Grapes Australia works with an extensive network of growers right across the area to help them bring their wines to market and connect to buyers all over the world.
Can you tell us the background to Wine Grapes Australia?
Winegrapes started in 1992 by four families of McLaren Vale growers. We are located in McLaren Vale. Currently we represent all South Australian wine regions, and now have well over 100 grape grower members.
Our grower base farm over 2,200 hectares of vineyards, which accounts or 4.5% of South Australia`s premier wine regions. Each year these vineyards produce on average 18,000 tonnes of grapes and we convert on average 1,000 tonnes into premium wine for sale.
We help growers discover their production potential and increase their income. It also provides professional agronomists and wine experts with professional technical experience to improve the quality of grapes while maintaining sustainable production.
What was the idea behind the business when it first started and how has that evolved?
The company was originally founded by four McLaren Vale families - Paxton, Leask, Harvey and Bosworth - who started the company as first generation grape growers. As the company's business expanded, more and more grape growers joined the family.
The diversity of their vineyards provides a range of wine grapes, from old vines that are tended by traditional hand methods, to state of the art vineyards that employ the most advanced technologies available.
Given the background of the team we have connections across all Australian regions and have network to source fruit that our own grower base cannot supply.
We have scaled up the business by making ourselves accessible to winemakers looking for fruit and making their life as easy as possible in securing parcels they like. Scaling up to winemaking was driven out of low pricing on grapes. Value adding to grapes made perfect sense and opened up a new arm of buyers for our members fruit. Diversifying their businesses to both grapes and wine provides many more opportunities.
What criteria do you use to take on a new grower?
Obviously having a good mix of varieties that are appropriate for their region is important. There is no point in tackling a vineyard that is basically unsaleable as we can’t deliver a good enough service to the grower.
A new grower needs to be able to demonstrate they have good communication as that’s when our partnerships work the best. If they can keep us updated then the information transfer across to grape buyers and the market in general ensures we deliver a great result.
Do you have a churn of growers who come and go from the group?
Our churn rate is minimal thankfully. The main reason a grower leaves is if they sell their vineyard. Our aim is to maintain the lowest possible churn rate so that we can continue to deliver a consist product to both our grape and our wine buyers.
What benefits do you give growers - what are the main reasons to be part of Winegrapes Australia?
Obviously the main benefit is that we take away the hassle of trying to find a buyer for their grape. We do all their negotiating, contractual documentation and due diligence and given we are a group of qualified viticulturists and winemakers, they have a second, third and fourth set of eyes over their vineyards.
A main benefit is that we create a sense of community between the growers. We operate much like a cooperative.
Another key reason to be part of Winegrapes is that we provide education days, workshops and study tours so that our growers remain ahead of the pack in terms of new developments, technology etc.
Who do you mainly sell your wines to?
Domestically we sell to a large number of Australian wineries both tiny boutique producers through to corporates.
What are your key export markets and are they changing?
Our key export markets are UK, China and the US.
What split is it between supplying domestic market vs international?
We are currently 50:50 domestic and export.
Has demands from buyers overseas changed over the years and how?
We have seen a shift towards more premium wines which is good for Winegrapes. We focus on producing premium regional wines that showcase the individual regions so with increasing interest in these means we can look to promote what our growers do best. The follow on is that it helps support an overall growing demand for our members fruit.
How do you continue to stand out from the competition?
From a wine point of view we always try to overdeliver on quality and maintain a competitive price. Our buyers are buying direct from the grower so there is no middleman.
When it comes to grapes, that’s when relationships are important both with our growers and our buyers. Our growers are like family and we encourage a sense of belonging. Maintaining trust and caring about their wellbeing makes a big difference.
How has the 2020 vintage gone?
We are around a third of the way through vintage. It has been a tough year all around. Heat and drought have been the big challenge and yields are suffering because of that. The fruit quality though is looking good and with lower yield comes flavour.
What is the impact on pricing likely to be?
* Across the board
That is a hard one to predict. Before Coronavirus I would have said pricing will go up, however, with the sales into China being impacted, I think they may not increase as much as we initially thought. It is certainly a challenging time to make too many predictions.
* Any specific varieties up or down...
Grenache, Pinot Noir will go up as they are experiencing strong demand.
* Any regions up or down and why
Barossa (red varieties) are likely to increase as yields have been impacted by drought and heat. Langhorne Creek pricing may go up as their yields are also very low.
What impact has there been from the bush fires with your growers?
Sadly, bushfires did impact a couple of our Adelaide Hills growers with them reaching their properties. Fortunately there was minimal damage. All others have come through unscathed. The industry support that we are seeing has been fantastic and it makes you proud to be part of this great industry.
How do you see the business growing over the next five years?
I would like to see our group increase our organic offering. Being South Australian based we have the ideal climate to support growth in this area. Demand for organic wine is growing and we are well placed to support the supply chain.
For more information, contact your VINEX Regional Manager here