Wine industry minnows swim together
By Cathy Howard

Small wine producers are the heart and soul of the Australian wine industry. They are the innovators, the risk takers. They are genuine, often family owned, and Cathy wants to share their real story with others.

There are 2400 wine producers in Australia, and 1800 of these, (72%), are small producers crushing less than 100 tonnes.
In Western Australia, there are 327 wine producers, and 260 of these are small producers. Many of these small producers are family businesses, and it is most often the women in the family partnership who are involved in the wine marketing and promotional activities.

With 45 years of winemaking and grape growing experience between us, my husband and I planted a vineyard on our property near Busselton in the Whicher Range, and launched our wine brand Whicher Ridge in 2008. We are one of those 260 small wine producers.In launching our wine brand, we had the huge advantage of having proven wine industry experience which stood us in good stead with wine writers and reviewers, and we grow and produce high quality wines. However, we struggle at times to be “heard” above the “noise” that is generated by so many brands in the marketplace, some much larger and better resourced than we are.We are not alone, and many other small producers in Western Australia that we know are experiencing similar problems. This is happening against the back drop of one of the worst periods that the Australian wine industry has experienced in the past 20 years. Now more than ever is the time for small wine producers to be innovative in order to be sustainable and to have a long term future in the industry.

There had to be a solution out there for us, and my light bulb moment came to me when I was writing an application for The Right Bunch, Women in Wine Leadership workshop in Adelaide last year. This workshop was jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries & Forestry (under Australia’s Farming Future),
and by the Winemakers Federation of Australia.

One application inspired another, and I applied for the RIRDC Rural Women of the Year Award, to assist me in acquiring new skills in leadership and project management, and in laying the groundwork to give my project the greatest chance of success.My project vision is to bring together a network of small wine producers in Western Australia to work collaboratively to launch a website and an annual Cellar Door Day.

The small wine producers group would provide a platform for the group to have a national voice in internal wine industry matters, as well as increasing their profile and importance in the eyes of the media, trade and consumers.

Linking with small producers in other states would also provide opportunities for the group members to benchmark their performance against that of other small producers across Australia, and to network ideas to improve their businesses.

I believe that this project will make a tangible and real difference to the small wine producers in Western Australia, and to the women who work in these small businesses. Ultimately, it could have a global impact and reach for small wine producers and for the Australian wine industry as a whole.