Growing up Between the Vines With Emma-Lee Shirvington
Meet Cellr’s weekly crush Emma-Lee Shirvington who went from growing up between the vines to becoming the Sales and Brand Manager for her family’s McLaren Vale Winery, Shirvington Wines.
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Tell us a bit about Shirvington Wines and growing up around wine production.
My grandparents started the business back in 1996, it’s a cool story. They travelled all around Australia to figure out where they wanted to plant vines. They wanted to find the perfect block and they eventually did down at Whites Valley. The soil had everything they had been looking for, terroroso over limestone, great for Cabernet Sauvignon. Dad, nan, grandfather and our viticulturist of 25 years all planted the vines by hand.
Growing up wine was always at the dinner table. From the age of about 16 I was starting to smell the wine to explore what characteristics I could get out of it. So from an early age my pallet developed quite quickly. From there my parents would say, “have a sip, what can you taste?” I was never 100% sure I would work for the family business, but when the opportunity arose I couldn’t think of anything better than working with my family. It’s great being able to continue on that passion my dad and my grandfather have for wine.
So Emma you do the sales and marketing for shirvington, what led you to this role?
I finished school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. I was always the kind of person who wanted to help people, so I was looking into nursing and teaching. Then Dad came to me one day and asked if I had considered marketing, that way in the future I could work for the family business and join the venture. So I did.
I completed a degree at UniSA and I really loved it. I was never very good in school, but I really enjoyed the marketing aspect of uni and what I was learning was really relevant in everyday life. While I was studying I worked at the cellar door for Chapel Hill winery, which was a really good experience. I learnt so much from the winemakers, and I was able to understand wine from a broader perspective. Shirvington is quite small, so seeing how a bigger business runs and how they succeed in their marketing activities was really beneficial. A lot of the stuff we have done now, I have taken from what I learnt there.
Eventually my grandparents then asked me if I wanted to start working for them and I was given the role description of brand and marketing manager- but really I do anything that falls in between sales and marketing. I also jump out in the vineyard and help out. We have been planting new vines the past two years, as well as taking vines out.
So your family grew Shirvington Wines from the ground up after purchasing 16 hectares in Willunga, what’s your favourite part of the Shirvington wine story?
My favourite part was that my grandparents wanted something to pass down through the family from generation to generation. Now there have been three generations involved. I often wonder where Shirvington will end up as we continue to pass it down.
My grandparents were not your typical winery owners, in that they didn’t come from a wine background. My nan managed a theatre in Sydney and my grandfather was an accountant. No wine history at all. They both just really wanted to start a business they would enjoy passing down.
They said they had three options for businesses they would make and pass down. Wine as the wine industry was booming, a furniture shop or possibly purchasing a Hungry Jacks (haha). I’m very glad they went with the wine option. It’s a bit more romantic, I think.
Talk to us a bit about your new cellar door, what’s the vision behind it?
We wanted to have a space where people could come to experience and learn about the wines we have to offer. Having the winery onsite means we can show people how we do it as well. We want people to visualise and explore Shirvington with us, and for them to be able to take that experience away and share it with others. I think it’s really important these days to give people an experience they can remember and talk about. Making that impact is really important for us anyway.
What gets people excited when you talk about Shirvington wines?
The fact that it’s a close knit family business. Three generations, 100% family run and a team of seven. People can appreciate that what you see is what you get with us, especially with the wines we produce. Every year the wines are very true to vintage, and very true to our style. We don’t ever really stray from that.
We have had a lot of questions about why we decided to produce a lighter style grenache when the McLaren Vale region is known for its abundance of rich old bush vines. While that type of Grenache is beautiful and has its place, for us our vines here are very young so we wanted to make sure we were making a product that showcased those features. We also already have big bold reds like our Shiraz and Cabernet, and back then not alot of people were doing a lighter style Grenache, 2017 was our first vintage.
We stick to what we love doing and make what we enjoy drinking. Each vintage brings out the best of that year’s fruit.
Which marketing channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine? And what do you do in these channels?
At the moment we have a Facebook and Instagram page which are great for engagement. Every now and then I send out emails to our customer database and we attend events like the Adelaide Wine Markets and Grenache Fest. Events are great for our brands exposure.
On Instagram I recently ran a giveaway to increase our database recently, which was really successful. We ran it for about a week and got about 100 new sign ups to the mailing list. We are only small and we weren’t expecting much but I was really pleased with that. I don’t think Instagram is the be all and end all because you don’t own those followers, they can unfollow at any time, so for us the biggest aim is to get people on the mailing list.
I run a schedule on Instagram where I post educational content, information about events we are doing as well as behind the scenes. People enjoy seeing people, they enjoy seeing the whites of the eyes of the people behind the business. Unfortunately a lot of people who work for us are very photo shy, my dad hates photos, my grandparents hate photos, and mum is very fussy which makes it a bit of a challenge. However, when I do I post them people feel more engaged with our business. I’m hoping when the cellar door is open I’ll be able to post more behind the scenes content. I don’t like bombarding people with advertising so I try not to post too many ads or anything like that on Instagram.
Talk to us about the Shirvington brand…
Shirvington was our original label. When we started out we were only growers, we didn’t have the intention of producing our own label, it was always just a growers business. But when we got our first crop, we were advised by people that we had really good soil and some really good fruit. We figured why not put a label on it! Our first vintage we took out the 2002 Bushing for our 2001 Cab Sauv- one of the most prestigious awards in Mclaren Vale.
Everyone was like, “What? Who are Shirvington wines? This is a bit weird?”
That award kind of put us on the map. From there Shirvington Wines started exporting to the USA. Every year either my grandparents or dad would travel and do shows and be on the road for up to four weeks straight.
In 2014 we decided to split the wines into two tiers. The Shirvington range is everyday drinking and “The Redwind” is our more premium range. In 2017 Dad and Mum talked about wanting to introduce modern varieties, the market was changing and so were people’s tastes. Up until then we had stuck with the more traditional full bodied reds, and we didn’t have many other options. We decided to do a new label called Row x Row, which is where we do the fun stuff. The wines are more seasonal, if we get some good fruit one year we can make a random variety for that year. It just depends on what we feel like doing at the time. The name Row x Row came about as what we do in the vineyard is all done row by row.
It’s fun running both labels, and helps us hit our two target demographics.
If you were to be my tour guide through Mclaren Vale wine region for the day, which wineries would we visit, where would we go for lunch and what else would we do?
We would definitely go past Bekkers Winery – I love Bekkers. They remind me of us, they are very small; Toby runs the cellar door and his wife is the winemaker. They make beautiful premium wines, and they only do four different types. It’s a wonderful sit down experience, very personalised in a stunning and refined space, which really suits their brand.
For lunch there is a really good restaurant in Aldinga called the Little Rickshaw, which I think is very underrated! Their chicken wings are spicey, but so good! Again they are a family business, the husband works on the floor and the wife manages the kitchen. Otherwise the Salopian Inn is really good too, and Pizzateca.
In terms of other wineries, I’ve had lovely experiences at Coriole, I think it’s a beautiful little cellar door there. Also Hugh Hamilton, they have a beautiful cellar door with a 360 degree view- and some really good wines as well.
What is your favourite memory growing up in the wine industry?
I’ve always had fond memories, not so much of the wine industry but growing up walking through the vineyard. Every morning when I stayed at my nan’s house she would always put her boots on and take a snake stick (because of snakes in the vineyard), and we would just go walking through the vineyard with the dog. It didn’t matter what we were talking about, it was just beautiful being in the vineyard. Especially now since I don’t see her in the vineyard anymore, so it’s a nice little fun memory I have of her and I.
Then obviously there’s the memories of planting our first ever vine out here. My brother and I planted the first vine ever with mum and dad watching. I think it was row 75 or 73, it was a Shiraz vine.