Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: award winning winemaker, Simon Tolley! Simon is the winemaker and viticulturist behind the boutique Adelaide Hills wine label, Simon Tolley Wines. We were lucky enough to get to have a chat with him while he was in the midst of a sure to be epic, albeit extremely challenging post bushfires, Vintage 2020 (if his wines from previous years are anything to go by). Read more to hear about all things Simon Tolley winemaking, marketing, supply chain management and Tilly (his gorgeous dog).
When telling people about your winery, what stories get people most excited?
I think the fact that our family has a 150 year long history within the industry in Adelaide/Sth Aus/Australia gets people excited. Additionally, we’re entrenched in our business from deep beneath the soil right through to the finished product and the wine comes directly from our two vineyards at Woodside.
Tell us about the Simon Tolley character on your labels, who is he and what does he represent for your brand?
The vineman is represented on every bottle. He represents the 5 generations of wine history in our family. He is a vigneron (like me and my forefathers) and comes from a French pack of playing cards. Out of complete chance, he was a V ( ie5 generations) of clubs and we turned the club upside down on the label to represent a bunch of grapes! No doubt we’ll have lots of fun with him in the future!
What are you most passionate about when it comes to winemaking?
I’m most passionate about growing the fruit, growing it to its full potential and then letting the fruit express itself in the bottle & I minimise wine-making intervention where ever possible. In fact, growing the grapes, making it, tasting it and watching it develop in the bottle over time gives me a lot of satisfaction.
What do you listen to when you make wine?
At the moment I’m a big fan of the Jungle Giants. They assisted the adrenaline pump throughout the vintage….
What photo summarises Vintage 2020 for you?
This fire area picture (see below)
What have been the highlights and the challenges this year?
Not too many highlights due to the fires, however, I sourced fruit from some of my viticulture clients (Pinot Noir Rosé/table and Sauv Blanc) and they taste exceptionally good and we’re really excited with the release of these wines very soon. Lots of challenges, mainly to deal with the fire and smoke taint issues but other challenges was the intense heat at flowering and lack of rainfall throughout Oct/Nov/Dec/Jan
On the Wine Market… We asked Simon to shed some light on his experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for winemakers.
What markets are you in?
We have a distributor in Adelaide (Option Wines) and in NSW (Fisher Fine Wines). Our wines are also available on-line.
How do you get your story out in that market?
We use social media forms such as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. I never shy away from an interview for an on-line forum or the chance to do a tasting at a restaurant or bottle shop. Soon we’ll have a Cellar Door to tell our story from.
How are you directly engaging with consumers, what tools are you using other than social media?
We are doing a virtual tasting with Lorna Moffat from Downtowineart (also partnering with Ella Stening & Drnks) on 6th June. People will get the chance to buy our wine and I can discuss it with them throughout the forum. I try to get as much real vision (eg activities in the vineyard/winery) of our business in action as possible and I believe our followers really engage with this well.
What experience do you find resonates best with your customers? (be it online advertising, magazines or industry publications that have lead to increased engagement)
I think live streams or live videos or videos work very well but you need to be careful not to over do it. I would like to do more of this media but I simply don’t have enough time in the day.
In what ways do you feel it is hard to connect with customers?
At the moment, our customers really only see my wine in a restaurant or bottle shop and at this point it’s only directly related to a price point. Since we don’t have a cellar door and only social media platforms, I don’t think we get the opportunity to tell people the real story… that we are boutique, we’ll do anything to make the best wine possible and that we are passionate wine people living and breathing the industry… But having recently rennovated our house on the vineyard foraccommodation, the offering has certainly helped. I really believe in having a sense of belonging, and once people/customers are able to feel and taste an experience within a CD environment it is a relationship that never ends…
Which producers do you think are doing the best job at connecting with consumers in your region?
What do you want to communicate with customers in 2021?
That we’re strong, robust, resilient and we’re here for the long term – come and visit for a tasting experience or stay with us
On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Simon about his views on authentication and his current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how winemakers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they need.
Talk to us about the global supply chain?
We do not export our wines, but due to high costs for small producers I believe it is very difficult to be competitive in markets around the world.
Do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery?
We don’t have visibility of our products but it would be great to know where our wines are sold or sit once it leaves our warehouse!
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?
Very important! The consumer & wine producer must be protected.
How does wine fraud affect consumers, the wine industry, your region or yourself?
Transparency & authenticity comes to mind….
Do you have a winery cat or dog?
I have a 20 month old Kelpie called Tilly (see photo below). She follows me everywhere and loves the sound of motorbikes! She is extremely loyal and loves the chase…. of anything mice, rats, hares, rabbits and kangaroos! I’ve even trained her to chase away the birds from the vineyard at harvest time. As I have sheep in the vineyard throughout dormancy, I have also trained her to assist me moving sheep through the vineyard so she can also be very useful.
If you couldn’t drink your own wine, who’s wine would you be drinking?
Tough question, but anything Adelaide Hills of course.
What inspires you?
My immediate family certainly does inspire me but my ambitious nature keeps me busy….