13. Grant Burge Wines
AN OPTIMIST by nature, Grant Burge is in conservative mode. This time last year he was confident when many were cautious.
But three financially-challenging vintages have taken their toll on the fifth generation winemaker, who grows up to 55 per cent of his production. “Our vineyards have let us down in a yield sense, which has cost us a fortune and lifted the bottom-line cost of our product dramatically. Our margins have dropped and it’s had an impact on profitability.”
The company increased sales by 9 per cent in 2012/13, buoyed by a domestic sales hike of 19 per cent. Which was then offset by a 10 per cent decline in exports, much of which was caused by a failed brand-building partnership in China.
Burge has moved on from that letdown, and is encouraged by steady growth in Canada and good results in Europe. Particularly Britain, “We’ve stuck with the UK, making very little margin on 30,000 cases sold to restaurants and regional retailers. But we’re in it for the long haul.” Burge sees New Zealand as the fiercest adversary in export markets and a shining example of what Australia needs to do. “They’re kicking butt. They’ve made a huge name for themselves with a cohesive, coherent message and have managed to keep their cool, clean, green image while holding onto higher price points.”
Meanwhile, Australia’s been suffering from a lack of profitability and a resulting tendency to look inwards. “People haven’t been focused on thinking forward but instead of how to save their companies. We need everyone to be cohesive, making money and pouring it into marketing ourselves as a word-class brand.” He thinks the image projected by Savour Australia is the right one, and would love to see another such initiative in 2015.
Even in conservative mode, there’s plenty going on. The company’s followed up its refresh of the Fifth Generation range with a new, more premium look for its $19 to $25 Vineyard range built around various Barossa blocks. Burge is also keen to keep pushing Tempranillo. He sees it as a good variety for the Barossa and even wants to create his
own Rioja. “We’re doing a lot of research. It’s not some fad thing. We want to do it well and make sure it’s sustainable in a market sense.” Another big move was February’s
merger between his distribution arm, Vignerons of the World, and its counterpart at the Rathbone Wine Group, Four Seasons Fine Wine. “Irrespective of how good the wine and brand are, you have to have incredibly efficient ways of making grapes into wine and getting on the retail shelf. Burge & Rathbone Fine Wine Merchants is an incredibly compatible fit as a sales organisation,” says Burge.
The changes don’t end there. Burge has now completed a four-year replanting program, switching many whites to reds. Now the attention shifts to the winery, which he promises to “massively transform” over the next three years with new technology. He’s got permission to redevelop the red fermentation facility in Tanunda, and sparkling wine is also in focus. Sales in this area have grown at around 20 per cent a year for the past 10 years. But working with such large quantities of mostly whole bunch-pressed fruit presents challenges, especially with cooling. “We’re trying to revolutionise the whole process, which we’ve done in theory,” says Burge. “This will be a world first. We’ve hit on something that’s going to be very exciting.”However, conservative for Burge certainly doesn’t mean going into his shell. “Despite my pessimism, I’m still carrying on with experiments and innovation in the winery. I’ve been in the industry 45 years and I still love it. It’s my life.”