June 26, 2020

Weekly Crush: Livia and Mijan, South by South West

By Angela Oemcke

Meet this weeks #WeeklyCrush(es): Livia and Mijan, winemakers and owners of the small batch winery with a big personality, South by South West. The winery is based in Western Australia has made a big splash since it first started running in 2016, with Young Gun of Wine awards, a devoted wine club and a vast range of unique wines sourced from local growers and their own vineyard. With Liv spending most of her time in the winery and Mij in their boutique vineyard we felt very lucky to have the opportunity to get to know more about the dynamic duo and  the South by South West story. Strap in and pour yourself a glass as we learn everything there is to know from how it all began, keeping a consistent message in market, the importance of being selective, paying homage to tradition, wine safaris, Meeka from Margs and more…

To find out more about South by South West visit their website, and be sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram to continue to follow their story. Also, don’t forget to look at their awesome selection of small batch wines on the South by South West online store and also what is on offer in their wine club (we are talking wines exclusively sold to wine club members and more…).

So let’s get into it, I heard you have a pretty awesome vineyard companion… 

That would be our wine dog Meeka. Meeka was a rescue dog from a community in Meekathara, and has been with us since she was 5 months old (she just turned 3). She is a bitza – bit of kelpie, dingo, staffy, whippet, kangaroo – who knows! All we know is she loves living her new life down in Margaret River these days. She comes with us on the vineyard, in the winery, and even on wine delivery runs! 

“Meeka is a Gemini, loves chasing barrel bungs, enjoys long walks on the beach and hanging with her other four legged friends…” 

She also has a bit of a social media following and has been very popular ‘on the gram’ with her hashtag #meekafrommargs She has even cracked it solo with a couple of official wine publications and tourism marketing campaigns under her belt!

Livia and Mijan, beyond the global “Wine Safari” you both embarked on that eventually led to the birth of your label, South by South West, when did your individual journeys into the wonderful world of wine begin?

Liv: For me, with an Italian Father and a French mother, wine was always something embedded in my culture growing up. Wine is very much part of family meals and synonymous with celebrations. Growing up I was also fortunate to have some family and friends that were wine producers and distributors, so I was around it a lot – whether it was in vineyards, wineries, warehouses… I guess I got to appreciate what was involved in producing wine from every angle, which really interested me. 

My first degree was in Chemical Engineering – a course that has many parallels with the field of Oenology. After working in the Engineering industry for 15 years I knew I wanted to create something for me, and I knew winemaking was where I needed to transition myself. This happened to be around the time of the ‘Wine Safari’!

Mij: For me, it is simply being in an industry I am passionate about. It’s what inspires and empowers me to freely create something that, ultimately, comes from the soil and ends up in a bottle on a table. I am excited by the process of creating something that develops into a wine that people enjoy and engage with. Whilst Liv spends more time in the winery, I spend my time on our little vineyard or tripping around to visit grower vineyards. It’s what happens within the vineyard and what becomes the story for each wine that I love being part of. With my background in graphic design, I have always loved how a good wine can convey a story – not only through the bottle, branding, label, and packaging- but also through the extent that a story can travel through good sales and marketing channels. It is this area that really inspired my journey into the wonderful world of wine.

I guess in summary for us both, watching wine bring people together was always something we both experienced, appreciated, and respected. Now we love the fact that South by South West can play a small part in also doing that for our customers. 

Question 2: I really dig your “Meandering Negiotiants” tag-line, it really pays homage to the age old craft of winemaking  and grape growing in today’s wine production landscape. Especially in how it streamlines into how you make you wines, in small batches that are ever changing and unique within minimal intervention. What really inspired you to take this approach to wine making? Ever had a particular one-off batch that hurt a little more than the rest once it ran out?

Thanks. We really dig it too but often wonder how many people actually get it! It really is to pay respect to an age-old tradition, and highlight how we started and where we are headed. When we started in 2016 we were not looking after any vineyards ourselves, nor did we have any fruit contract in place so it was a matter of negotiating with growers for small parcels of fruit left over from big contracts. These days we still source our fruit from a number of loyal growers all over the south west, but we also look after a couple of vineyards ourselves as well. The négociant aspect is to recognise that we are sourcing parcels of fruit from other growers and sometimes even sourcing some juice for blending, as for us it is all about ‘elevage’ and creating the best quality wine with our values we can.

Question 3: 2019 Young Gun of Wine People’s Choice Award, that’s a pretty neat title to carry. Tell us a bit about your experience in Young Gun of Wine: what was a highlight, what was the greatest discovery you made, and where did it take South by South West?

The Young Gun of Wine ride was super fun. When we entered in 2019 our aim was to make the Top 50, so when we did we were pretty stoked! 

To be in the same company as all the other amazing producers really helped pump up our confidence in what we were doing, and the direction we were heading with our label. Getting to know the other Top 50 producers was really the highlight of the whole YGOW experience. Making those contacts and having other winemakers to bounce ideas off and swap wines with was really important for our growth as a label. We have become close friends with a couple of winemakers we met through YGOW,  which was the real win!  Needless to say the Top 50 was a big celebration, but to then make it into the Top 12……..When we actually took out the 2019 YGOW People’s Choice award – well that was just surreal. The whole thing by that stage was a beautiful whimsical experience.

YGOW brought us national and state media attention and opportunities, all which assisted us in getting the brand across. Although the brand was fairly well recognised in the Western Australian market, our presence on the East Coast was minimal and YGOW really helped us extend there too. We even got our first export order on the back of YGOW!

On the Wine Market… We asked Livia and Mijan to shed some light on their 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. 

Question 4: What channels do you use to engage people to buy your wines? What message or content is it that you think really gets your wine in a customer’s glass? 

We are always trying to think about different ways to engage with consumers. It is very important that people who buy a bottle of South by South West wine know a little bit about us, our story, how the wine was made and the inspiration behind it. We feel passing on those bits of information with the wine is just as important as the wine itself. We try to achieve this by only selling to people who have the ability and desire to convey our messaging clearly. The wine bars and restaurants that list our wine are our first point engagement, so it is important they are able to pass our story on to the customer. The specialist bottle shops are also able to do this during the transaction process.  However, although we have managed to get a consistent and engaging message out to market with our current tonnage production, we understand this will become more difficult. As we grow both production and the South by South West brand, we know our relationship with a distributor will become key factor of our business so we need to make sure we align ourselves with a distributor who shares the same values as the South by South West operation.

Apart from our approach above, we also like to be involved in a number of wine events and tasting sessions. These are a great way to actively get our name and brand out there, while also  meeting consumers who provide us with  firsthand feedback about our wines!

Question 5: How did you build your fanbase and how do you stay connected with them? 

If fanbase is referring to our mailing list, wine club members and social media followers, we connect with them through electronic newsletters, social media content and actively participating in wine events. Staying connected and relevant with customers is one of the biggest challenges for sure. This is ultimately why we emphasise the important  role the places we sell our wine play, as these are the essential points of contact that allow us to pass on the South by South West story…

We also believe being active and seen at wine events is particularly important for consumer engagement, as it provides an opportunity for customers to come and try our wines, personally meet us and have a chat! Of course, social media also plays such a big role in marketing these days and  we can’t ignore that. Staying active on social media, while also trying to make things personal, really helps us remain connected and relevant with consumers.

In the absence of a cellar door how do you go about engaging consumers?  

I guess without a cellar door, our biggest engagement area is our Wine Club. For our wine club members we make sure they can access wines that the general public cannot in order to make it a genuinely exclusive experience for them. We like to think of our wine club members as the drivers of our label. We are continually seeking feedback from them on our current wines, as well as what wines they would like to see us to produce. We also have release parties for our Wine Club and mailing base, where they can come and try the wines prior to allocation. It is important for us that we give our loyal South by South West supporters the first look and opportunity to purchase before any wholesale sales. 

Question 6: When your wine is let loose into the world to fend for itself, how important is the messaging and branding on your wine bottle when it comes to selling wine to customers? What limitations do you feel when it comes to labels being the main avenue to communicate with customers? 

We feel it is very important to have strong branding and labelling for sure, however it is the brand recognition that is more important to us.  We want to ensure that if someone has had an experience with South by South West in the past, they will remember that when they come across our label. The experience can be anything from that consumer previously purchasing our wine from a store, having a glass of it at a bar, seeing us on store shelves and wine lists, coming across us on social media or even reading an article about us. 

As for what you can put on a bottle, and the messaging on a label… well that is pretty limited. Once you put the statutory information on there, there  is not much room for anything else! I know these days there are options to scan codes, or labels which tell your story, or even give you a playlist… We haven’t really researched much into those. Currently, this isn’t our priority. Our priority lies with producing quality wine in that bottle that they will enjoy, and then hopefully go on to support us again in the future. 

On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Livia and Mijan about their 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

Question 7: 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?

As we are only a small producer, at the moment we know where our wine goes when it leaves our winery – that is because we are currently managing the sales ourselves. From there onwards, I guess that is where we lose a little of that visibility. On premise sales (bars and restaurants) have always been our priority because we can develop and understand our consumers profiles in these channels. We have to be more selective about the bottle shops we sell through as we don’t get the same data about consumer demographics that purchase through off-premise retailers

For us, we wouldn’t discriminate on where our wine was consumed or who it was consumed by, however on-premise sales provide more insight and in turn give us more control over how the South by South West narrative is portrayed. If there was a consensual way of tracking the end consumer it would be very interesting, that is for sure! 

Question 8: 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?

As a small producer, we have a fair idea on where our wine is going, so we really don’t have a strong opinion on this. I think the only control we have at this stage in the lifecycle of a wine is during bottling where all our bottles get a printed code on them. That is the only hard control we have for traceability- that and staying alert via social media to see who is drinking our wines and where they may have purchased them from!

Question 9: Your grapes predominantly come from the Southern and Western regions of Australia, as your brand suggests, what other wineries are playing in this region that you have been really getting around? 

Yes correct. The name really is of geographical significance. We are extremely fortunate that the South West of WA has around 10 different wine regions, all producing a high quality, diver range of fruits- given the variations in geography, soils, and climate.

There are so many great producers in WA, from established bigger brands to up and coming smaller batch producers. Too hard to single out just a few! We feel as though as small batch producers, making perhaps more alternate varietals or styles , the Geographical Indicator (GI – where the fruit comes from) is less important. What is important to us is the quality of the fruit. Some varietals work better in some regions rather than in others – and sometimes it depends on what style of wine we intend on making, and in what vintage conditions. I feel there are more and more producers feeling this way, with less focusing on having ‘Margaret River’ as the GI.

Question 10: For each of you, what was your favourite memory from V20 and what song were you listening to? 

V20 was a strange vintage. We started very early, and we finished by Easter (which never happens). To make it even stranger, part of vintage was managed through COVID-19 isolation time which made it very different that is for sure! Best memory from V20 was probably hand picking some Nebbiolo into the sunset one evening – it was just the two of us, our wine dog Meeka, and a picture perfect late Summer evening. As for the most played artists on our V20 playlist – well that’s easy…. Tame Impala, The Weeknd and always Rufus du Sol!

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