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SUCCESSION PLANNING for vineyard businesses and the future integrity of South Australia’s wine regions will be hot topics at the annual SA Wine Grape Growers Summit on 28 July in Barossa.

In fact, a panel discussion chaired by Philip Reedman MW might end up being the most talked-about element of any of the Growers Summits held to date (this year is the fourth). The insights and debate expected from the afternoon session ‘Is your region’s future secure’ could well be worth the price of admission.

When the Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA) surveyed grapegrowers toward the end of 2015 there was an eyebrow-raising number of respondents who indicated they were planning to leave the industry. About 30% of the local growers said they planned an exit in the next five to 10 years.

“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” said Nicki Robins, BGWA’s viticultural development officer.  “But the average age of Barossa grapegrowers is about 65.”

The BGWA is working with the Wine Grape Council of South Australia (WGCSA) to deliver this years’ Summit, and both organisations are keen to ensure vineyard owners understand all the options available to them to make the right decisions for their situation, particularly when exiting the industry.
The BGWA-driven ‘Brand Barossa’ has been built on pillars that include “generations of endeavour” and “custodianship of the landscape and the heritage for future generations”. A number like 30% of independent growers planning to leave the industry potentially threatens the strength of the region.

Adrian Hoffmann, who works on his family vineyard property and is a WGCSA committee member, said times might be changing.
“The rich tapestry of growers and generations of farming families are so important to Barossa and a big part of the region’s marketing story,” Hoffmann said. “But if the family isn’t keen to take on the property and the neighbours can’t afford to buy it out… then the tapestry of the Barossa will change.”

Reedman will facilitate discussion with a panel that includes Hoffman, Fiona Habermann, Chris Canute and Ed Schild. The panel members will be asked to share their thoughts for the future – and what lessons can be learned from the past to ensure SA’s wine regions thrive into the future.

Adrian Hoffman

“I’m happy to share as much as I can from what I’ve done and what I’ve learned, but I know there are growers who like keep their cards fairly close to their chest,” Hoffmann said. “But I think we’re better off sharing our stories and making sure everyone knows all of the options.
“Communication is so important – we need to talk about the options and the opportunities for the younger generations.
“I can’t blame a grower who’s worked their whole life in the vineyard wanting to get as much money as they can for their retirement. We need to talk about the options and the opportunities for the next generation of independent grapegrowers. But until all the options get floated, some people won’t even know what they might be able to achieve.”

Reedman said it is important for this discussion to take place “in an open forum, rather than down in the back room of the Tanunda Hotel”.
“The generational change we’re looking at, as well as the numbers from the Barossa survey, you would have to say there’s an issue – why aren’t people taking over the family farm?” Reedman said.
“Looking back 30 years ago, I could understand it. But we’ve seen a generation of prosperity since then and you’d have to say the Barossa is a pretty ‘sexy’ region in terms of its reputation now.”

Robins said the aim of the panel discussion, as well as other presentations on the day, is to explore different options through the experiences of the local growers and Summit presenters.
“If not family succession, then growers have other options including sale of their property. But have they spoken to their neighbours – or even employees? And is leasing or collaboration an option?” Robins asked.

Adding their professional perspectives to the topic will be Brad Simmons, who is a family business advisor at Mutual Trust, as well as Will Taylor, partner and head of the Wine Business Unit at Finlayson’s Lawyers. They will explore different models and options for succession of a family vineyard business.

Held at the Barossa Arts and Convention Centre in Tanunda, the theme for 2017 Summit is ‘Growers Lead the Way’. Heather Webster, WGCSA chair, said the program, which also reviews domestic and export market trends, case studies for success in China, and examples of innovative business models would, “inspire growers to think strategically about their business and the future of their industry”.
Also providing market analysis at the Summit will be Tim Hunt, General Manager, Research Food and Agriculture at Rabobank; Warren Randall, General Manager of Seppeltsfield Wines; Brett McKinnon, Global Operations Director at Pernod Ricard Winemakers, and Kirstie McCosh, Global Head of Marketing Services, Insights and Innovation at Treasury Wine Estates.

Registrations for the 2017 South Australian Grape Grower Summit on Friday 28 July are now open at: http://www.sawggs.com.au

About the Summit organisers:
The WGCSA is the peak body for South Australian grape growers, funded through a voluntary levy paid on all wine grapes sold from SA vineyards. http://www.wgcsa.com.au
The BGWA is responsible for promoting the Barossa brand globally and domestically, communicating the Barossa Vision through its people and places. http://www.barossa.com

The Grapegrower & Winemaker (Winetitles Media) is a Summit sponsor.