It is often said that making wine is the easy bit, selling wine is where the business really starts to get tough, wineries spend a huge amount of time and money on different forms of marketing and that was one of the key drivers for 12 premium family-owned wine producers to form an alliance – the Family of Twelve.
One thing I love about the wine industry is that the vast majority of people who work in it are great people who are happy to share information for the betterment of everyone and it is that sharing that underpinned the establishment of the Family of Twelve.
Judy Finn from Neudorf Vineyards is the current chair of this group and I had a chat with her last week about how the group came about and what it does.
She told me that when members of the group were at the same wine shows around the world peddling their wares and they talked about how many air miles they were racking up between them, the cost in terms of dollars, time of this travel and their combined carbon footprint.
“We were all friends and we decided we were doing too much travelling, had a huge carbon footprint and were all export focused companies so we decided to see if we could share the international travel workload and promote New Zealand and other premium products from New Zealand at the same time.”
Finn is quick to point out they are a marketing group not a sales group, “It’s not about selling a product but pushing high quality New Zealand wine and other stuff, it’s about promoting New Zealand and promoting excellence.”
“When we go overseas we sell everything that comes from New Zealand, whether it’s Pic’s Peanut Butter, the arts, everything that New Zealand can be proud of. As businesses we are proud of the quality we deliver and hugely proud of the wonderful products that come out of New Zealand so if we promote quality people will think New Zealand and when they buy wine hopefully they will buy our wine.”
When the group was established they had a few simple rules, “the winery had to be family owned, you had to be making great wine, you had to be a good bugger and you had to be able to make a decision within 24 hours.”
Making decisions within 24 hours is a real key to the success of this collaboration, “if you procrastinate we can’t work together, people need to make decisions quickly so we can achieve things rather than just talk about them.
“If you need to take something to a board meeting for approval and then it doesn’t get discussed you could end up two or three months down the track, the opportunity may have gone and you haven’t achieved anything so being efficient and making quick decisions is really important.”
Working together in this way takes a huge amount of trust in each other, when two or three of the twelve members are presenting wines on behalf of every winery the others need to know they will be represented fairly, “I actually find it much easier to sell other people’s wines sometimes, you can talk enthusiastically about them without having those uncomfortable self-promotion feelings.”
An example of this is during the months of May and June the group are hosting a dinner in each region and a wine from each member of the Family is served, a couple of weeks ago we went to one of these dinners, hosted by Tim & Judy from Neudorf Vineyards, at Hopgood’s & Co.
Six courses of beautiful Hopgood’s food with two small servings of wine with each course, wines selected to match as best as possible with the food.
This is quite difficult to do, especially when you are trying to match two quite different wines with one course, for example one course was served with an off-dry style fruity Pinot Gris and a dry Riesling. Grilled Scampi with slow roasted Miso Pork and umami butter was perfect with both wines so hats off to the talented people in the Hopgood’s kitchen.
Something else that works really well for this group is the diverse personalities involved “because people have to be good buggers we all get along really well and there have even been times when we have had so much fun as a group that everyone wants to come along to an event of some sort so we have to be strong in or commitment to the initial aims of the group.”
The export market is the main focus for the Family of Twelve, they have attended wine shows around the world as well as hosting tastings and masterclasses in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, in all the main cities in Australia and Germany while last weekend the group had representatives running a masterclass and tasting in Tokyo. Next up is presenting New Zealand and New Zealand wines at 67 Pall Mall, a private members’ club ‘founded by wine lovers, for wine lovers’.
“Being invited to present our wines to this group is a stunning opportunity for New Zealand” says Finn, “they have an incredibly diverse wine collection of thousands of cases of the finest and rarest wines in the world in their sub-basement cellars, it is certainly a club I couldn’t afford to join, it is simply an extraordinary place.”
While intending to consolidate international travel was the initial objective of this promotional group the benefits of working together have been taken to the next stage, viticulturists and winemakers from each business get together and share information too, “each group meets for a day so the viticulturists get to spend some highly focussed time in a workshop talking about what works and what doesn’t, sharing information about trials each vineyard may be running and the winemakers do the same thing.
“For our businesses the outcomes are unbelievable, they have dinner together and just talk about what is happening, it is exceptional sharing of knowledge with the aim of helping everyone improve, it is all about excellence and ensuring we all remain premium producers of New Zealand wine.”
The group shares information on a huge range of things and “it is invaluable to be able to pick up the phone, talk to someone and be told the truth because people trust you, we share information we wouldn’t share with others.”
Being family-owned businesses means there is the next generation coming along and the group recently joined forces with Australia’s Fine Wine Families for a second generation tasting.
“We sent our daughter Rosie and others sent their next generation of family members so the trust and sharing can continue for many years.”
Travelling and working internationally may seem like fun but it is very hard work dealing with changing time zones, meeting people and running tastings in different cities most days while they are away, however there are a few lighter moments too.
“It is quite common for Sir George Fistonich to be pouring wine at an event, most people don’t realise it is Sir George serving them, at tastings and even at dinners he will move around tables and serve wine and when someone asks him what he does he simply says something like ‘I just make wine’, here is a guy who owns New Zealand’s largest winery mucking in with everyone else to help do what needs to be done.”
The Family of Twelve has the spirit and diversity of a normal family, some are outrageous, some are intellectual but they all make great wines and everyone takes the responsibility of being part of the family very seriously.