Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: Jane Richards (right hand side), co-owner of the South Australian label combining a shared love for family and passion for wine, Eight at the Gate. Eight at the Gate Wines was established by Jane and sister Claire, after they both purchased Lanacoona Estate in Wrattonbully in 2002. Jane had been climbing the corporate ladder abroad in New York and San Francisco, while her sister Claire worked as a viticultural consultant with one of the best vineyard consultants in Australia after graduating from Roseworthy, Adelaide University. The pair’s common love for family and wine drew them to purchase Lanacoona Estate, where they wished to share their love for the country life with their own 8 children. Today, it’s all hands on deck with members from all over the family tree getting involved in the label, with the common sight of at least eight standing at the gate.
If you sign up to their wine club you can get a 25% discount also!
Do you have a winery dog?
The dog, Billy, is clearly not a vineyard dog but shhh don’t tell him because he thinks he is!! Of course the kids chose him!
So, what’s it like working with your sister Claire, as well as to have the whole family on board, day in and day out to deliver grapes to some of Australia’s most iconic wine labels as well as your own, Eight at the Gate?
For me it’s been amazing returning to Australia and going into partnership with my sister. I’d applauded Claire as she developed her career in the SA wine industry while I worked in the software/business sector across the US. Now we work together, melding our complementary skills and experience to build Eight at the Gate. Essentially Claire handles all things grapes and I handle all things wine, and there are bits in the middle that we work on together. Perhaps the trickier bit is when the extended family gets involved there are many more amazing helpers to manage Mum, Dad, our partners, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children, cousins. Claire and I are very grateful for any help that is offered! Working with family has benefits and challenges.
However at the end of a hard day in the vineyard, the pressures of coordinating lots of people doing lots of work, all dissipate as we wind down together and celebrate the value and love we have for each other. This seems to be a sustainable approach for our enterprise. We’ve all shown we have a proven commitment to a common goal in our family with everyone contributing to the best of their ability, which delivers a valid and valuable mix of strengths, interests and expertise. Both Claire and I have enjoyed the fact that our kids have increased their engagement as they’ve matured over the years. With 8 children between us, the mob is close in age and all good mates so it is usually a hungry, noisy, busy but happy time for all.
Tell us a bit about your time working the corporate game, what did you do and how was it working in the USA? What skills have you taken from this experience and applied to running Eight at the Gate?
Having lots of balls in the air at one time trying not to drop the important ones! I lived and worked for eight years in the USA. All my children were all born there, hold American citizenship and have strong emotional ties to America. It was an amazing place – we lived and loved both the East and the West coasts. I spent my time in sales, marketing and management roles in a Fortune 500 Global Software Company. My final position involved running the Services division for the North East of North America – a significant role in a startup section of the business. My team was large, diverse and expert. My days were long, varied and challenging. It was a culture shock moving from a large corporate, where you have the ability to call-in the expertise you are looking for at any time, to a small business where you are everything. Small business owners have so much on their plate. I have enormous regard for those success stories out there. I KNOW they have got there through sheer guts, hard work and determination. It now seems relatively easy to be a senior corporate leader – akin to being an orchestra leader, pulling in other expert players as and when you need them. Being a small business leader involves being able to play every instrument yourself until you can afford to hire the bass player and drummer. I perhaps didn’t fully understand that when embarking on the wine label journey… In this role I’ve been the wine producer, sales rep, export manager, marketing manager, social media manager, travel agent, head of design, head of IT, the list goes on! All whilst still raising 4 kids as a working Mum. Gets tricky sometimes!
Eight at the Gate is about to start distributing wines to the USA, tell us what made you decide to look into exporting wines and what this involves for a winery?
There were a number of drivers. I have a lot of global experience so that drew us in the export direction. Some other ‘push’ factors involved realities around the Australian marketplace. It’s a crowded market. Australian consumers are quite spoiled for choice with a myriad of great quality domestically produced wines. I think in Australia to build your wine brand you have two choices, either go down the wine tourism path with food and events which is a significant financial and time commitment or make a plan to carefully enter the Export arena. Our decision to export to the USA has been carefully developed. After having lived there I understand the people and some realities quite well. Whilst we all speak English I know the distinct differences between consumer behaviour in the two countries. Hopefully we can leverage this and other understandings. Another consideration was the varietals that we grow are well received in the USA. Chardonnay is very popular in the States. When you go to a bar and ask for a glass of white wine you don’t say “white wine” you say you would like a glass of “Chardonnay”. Cabernet in the USA is king – the largest selling varietal in the US. Shiraz is not yet as popular in the US but with a bit of luck after they taste our other wines we can encourage them to give Aussie Shiraz a crack! We also grow Pinot Gris on the vineyard which currently we only sell as grapes but that is another varietal with a large market share in the US and may represent an opportunity to build a further product line for the US in the future.
Which Eight at the Gate wine is your favourite and what is the story behind this wine that makes it so special to you? Further, which Eight at the Gate wine do you think best showcases the Coonawarra region (given Wrattonbully is a skip and jump outside of it)?
That is hard, a bit like choosing a favourite child! Clare and I like different wine styles which works well for what we offer. For example in a white wine Claire likes and a crisp, clean white wine and I prefer a smoother fuller bodied food wine with some French oak influence. When we began making wine for ourselves the criteria was that we liked it. We now make both styles of Chardonnay, I prefer our Family Selection Chardonnay which is made in french oak barrels but Claire loves the unwooded Eight at the Gate Chardonnay.
Which Eight at the Gate wine do you think best showcases the Coonawarra region (given Wrattonbully is a skip and jump outside of it)?
We don’t really need to showcase Coonawarra wines as Wrattonbully is growing some amazing fruit which is featured in some of Australia’s most prestigious labels. When we made our first red wines that were to go into the Eight at the Gate label (we had already been making wine and selling to other people for years for them to put in their own label) we had a Cabernet and a Shiraz. Both were excellent expressions of our vineyard and the region. We ended up releasing it as a blend which allowed it to be drunk upon release. The berry flavours of the Shiraz smooths out the tannins in the Cabernet and makes it a really easy red wine to drink both now and in 20 years.
What has been the strategy for building the Eight at the Gate brand?
Primarily our brand has grown though DTC and around local and interstate events. Obviously with the Covid shutdown, that has been significantly impacted. We are working hard to increase our digital footprint to allow us to better “touch” the consumer as we have done in the past through events.
On the Wine Market…We asked Jane to shed some light on her experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers. Find out more here.
What other channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine outside the cellar door? What do you do in these channels?
We often team up with other Wrattonbully wine producers and run “bespoke” tasting events in the local Caves or on one of the local properties. People really enjoy that more intimate introduction the wines of Wrattonbully.
In what ways do you feel it is challenging to engage with customers?
Currently the inability to get face to face is the biggest challenge. We know that when Claire or I are doing an event our sales are always higher than when we are not there. I think people today really want feel like they have learnt something after interacting with you. They want to get to know the people behind the wine they are drinking. Finding ways to get closer to the consumer is definitely the challenge at the moment. Time is in short supply for everyone these days so to waste their time by just telling them what great wine you make is a mistake I think.
On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Jane about her views on authentication and her current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how producers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they need. Find out what we do for brand protectionand supply chain track and trace.
Talk to us about your supply chain, do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery? What impact would having detailed data showing you where (in the world) and when your wine is being opened by the consumer?
I share the frustrations of many other wine producers about how hard it is to maintain visibility of our wines after they leave the wine store facility. I don’t know how long it takes to get our wine to a destination or a consumer, or if they enjoyed them- apart from the repeat orders which gives you an idea. I think it will be fascinating to see where they end up! Especially when going into a new market like the USA.
With the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify your (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?
I think the ability for a consumer to be able to check they got what they paid for is going to become increasingly important as we move, at lightning speed, to an environment that is increasingly purchasing online.
What was one of your favourite memories from vintage?