Six pack: Barossa winemakers find strength in numbers

Artisans of Barossa, a collaboration of six winemaker mates, was born following a business growth decision to band together under the one umbrella brand. The result has been a host of benefits for both the individual business owners and their beloved wine region.

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A few years into the new millennium, six young wine producers in the Barossa Valley, passionate about creating distinctive small batch wines, banded together at trade and wine-tasting events with a common goal to build their own businesses and also develop the story of the Barossa.

Sons of Eden’s Corey Ryan: Plenty of benefits to the collaborative business model.

Fast forward to 2017, and the six winemakers – Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, John Duval Wines, Schwarz Wine Co, Massena, Sons of Eden and Spinifex – are now Artisans of Barossa, a collaborative business that’s

demonstrated the benefits of like-minded enterprises working together.

Heralding a new chapter in the business’s development, Artisans recently appointed a Chief Operating Officer to help steer it into its next phase, which includes finding a new home.

Agri View spoke to Corey Ryan, co-founder of Sons of Eden, about the benefits and challenges of a collaborative business model.

How did Artisans of Barossa happen?

We’ve been going since the early 2000s in various forms. We started with 12 winemakers as a group that got together to do some trade shows. Our formative year was 2004 when we went to the UK to do a trade show. And then we became a formal group in 2005 and began marketing ourselves under the Artisans of Barossa brand. We didn’t have a home – we were just doing tasting events around the capital cities and the Barossa. We’re from different parts of the Barossa so were representing unique wine styles and our expressions of the Barossa. Everyone was quite small, and pulling a livelihood out of their business, so there was a camaraderie that’s still there today.

Next came the cellar door operation?

We were doing pop-up cellar door events in the Barossa where once a year we’d rent a hall and invite everyone on our database to taste 12 different producers’ wines. We’d basically sell the wine out of the boot of our cars. Those events were pretty successful so we talked about making it more consistent and finding a permanent cellar door. A site in Tanunda came up and we moved there in 2011. It’s been very rewarding for our businesses. It’s difficult to fund a cellar door as a small brand; you can’t do it on your own. Together, we cut costs and forge a margin. It’s a major benefit to have a cellar door open seven days a week.

Wine lovers’ destination: The successful Artisans of Barossa cellar door and tasting room at Tanunda.

How has Artisans of Barossa developed?

It’s been a great success story for us. What started off as a way to create some noise has developed into a destination for visitors and locals. We’re constantly evolving the business. Since our first year of operation there’s been steady growth – we’re now welcoming six times more people than in our first year. We have a restaurant, Harvest Kitchen, which is a collaboration between chef Tracy Collins and her business partner Pete Little. They moved to the Artisans of Barossa in 2015 and they’re doing incredible food that complements our wines and has helped create the ‘Barossa experience’ that we’re offering.

What are the biggest challenges of your kind of collaborative business?

Probably getting everyone to buy into the same idea. It helps when everybody starts from the same base and is able to grow from small businesses into slightly larger businesses together. Everyone’s going through the same things and can help each other out. But if every brand is different, what’s right for one brand might not be right for another. People might not want to spend money on the different areas you might. So, you’ve got to find common ground.

Another challenge is making sure each of the brands get equal representation. When you’ve got a collaborative cellar door there’s going to be some brands with a little higher profile so the idea is to ensure everybody has their time in the sunshine.

How do you do that?

We have incredible staff behind the counter who are well trained, have a passion for what each of the artisans is doing and can tell their stories. They visit the wineries a lot at harvest to taste the wine and to talk to the winemakers to get stories to take back to the cellar door. Each of the directors also has an allocated month when their wine is on promotion at the cellar door.

The winemakers often come to the cellar door to interact with everybody – it’s an extension of each of our businesses. It’s great for us to be able to do that, and a lot of customers get a kick out of seeing the winemaker walk through the door with work boots on and red hands!

How has the business been organised so you all have an equal say?

There are six directorships in the business, one for each of the brands, so there’s an equal voice at the table when we have our monthly board meetings. We’ve just appointed Howard Duncan to the new position of Chief Operating Officer so he’s in charge of running the business and working with the board. He’s independent, part of the business but doesn’t have a brand – other than the Barossa brand. Howard brings significant experience in management, sales and marketing plus a deep understanding of Artisans and the culture of our collaborative business model. The business had grown to a point where we needed to bring in another level of expertise and someone focused full-time on the business to drive it forward. One of the keys to how well it’s worked is that we’re all good mates who respect each other.

You don’t see each other as competitors?

As mates, we do have a healthy competitive nature, but that drives everybody to make sure they’re doing well and keeps the quality bar high. One of the big benefits is the ability to share and develop ideas. As well as our own businesses, we have small wine projects we work on together. This year we’re doing a Grenache project – we’re each making a parcel of wine using fruit from the same vineyard, all picked at the same time, but made in our own styles. We’ll sell them as a six-pack – one of each. Everyone’s keeping their wines tightly guarded!

What’s your main priority for the business at the moment?

The big one for us is finding a new site. Our current site has been sold and we need to move at the end of 2018. We have to ensure we pick the right site and Howard’s appointment was very much part of making that happen. We want to emulate what we have here, create a new destination with the same ‘X-factor’ and ambience. It’s certainly a new chapter for the business.