July 10, 2020

Weekly Crush: Terry Chellappah, Plan B! Wines

By Angela Oemcke

Meet this weeks #WeeklyCrush: Terry Chellappah, the wine minstrel, proprietor and founder of Plan B! Wines. Operating out of Margaret River in Western Australia, Plan B! Wines have planted footprints worldwide and built a loyal troupe of fans along the way. How? Well you’re just gonna have to sit back, pour yourself a glass and read what Terry has to say about getting into wine exports, building relationships along the supply chain, not taking himself too seriously, bass guitar, humourless cats, european varietals and more…

But don’t let me hold you up anymore, read away!

To find out more about Plan B! Wines visit their website, and be sure to check them out on Facebook and Instagram to continue to follow their story all over the globe. Also, don’t forget to check out what they have on offer in their online store.

Pictured above: “The photo is of my wife Amanda and myself at a private tasting at Pol Roger in Eperney in Champagne on her 50th birthday. It was a special day.”

So I heard you have a couple of wine cats…
Yes, 2 Burmese cats named Zeppelin and Spike.  They are brothers and they act like it.  They have no sense of humour (as you can see by the photo) so they run the accounts department.

So Terry, tell us about your background. What was it that made you interested in becoming a wine consultant, and eventually the Wine Minstrel at Plan B? And at what point did the bass guitar become your weapon of choice? 

My wife and I have a background in hospitality, she was a chef and is now a commercial cookery lecturer. We owned and operated a few restaurants and bars in the 1990s and I moved into working with wine by starting a wholesale distribution business. We then eventually moved to Margaret River about 20 years ago when I was offered a job as the GM of a large-ish Margaret River winery and tourism operation. I started Plan B! Wines in 2003, and for the first 4–5 years we made small volumes of unusual wine styles, mainly for fun and to hydrate family and friends. The interest in our wines from Europe in particular initially took me a bit by surprise. Our business is now over 80% export, with markets all over the globe.

Our family has a background in music, with my mother being a piano teacher. I played piano as a kid, moved onto the guitar later and eventually the bass because no one else wanted to play bass! That’s often the route to bass for players! I tried to make a living playing music, but that didn’t work. I now still play all 3 instruments, and have a small home recording studio set up which keeps me up late at night.

Other than the wine being delicious, how did Plan B Wines get from WA to being appreciated worldwide- in Lahti in Finland, Ipoh in Malaysia, in 5 star hotels in London and seedy dens in Berlin?

It’s a cliché but the business has grown organically. We have long standing relationships with many of our importers around the globe, and most of them initially found us because they were looking for wines with personality from Australia in a fresh package. I never sought to establish a global brand with Plan B!, but we now work global markets regularly, when we are allowed to travel that is!

Hong Kong

Free Range Wines, free of corporate taint… elaborate on what this slogan means for the Plan B brand. 

It’s really a play on words, that does cause some irritation in certain quarters, but that’s OK.  Basically, it means that we won’t necessarily be tied down to traditional wine styles and I avoid like the plague any resemblance to a corporate business structure. We don’t do meetings (or Zoom) and folk music. 

I hear James Halliday rates you guys too, what does it mean to have Plan B! Wines recognised as Top 10 Dark Horse Wineries for 2020? Further, to have James even make the point that “Plan B has been notably successful under Terry’s management, with significant increases in production”?

The Dark Horse shortlisting did come as a surprise to us to be honest. We tend to fly under the radar a bit so it was a great thrill. I suppose it vindicates the way we go about making and marketing our wines, we do things a bit differently.

What channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine internationally and domestically? What do you do in these channels? 

We employ the “support people who support you” principle. If a distributor or retailer believes in our wines, we work with them personally to support them to sell our wines. It’s kind of old fashioned, but it works for us and is great fun too. We like having fun.

In what ways do you feel it is challenging to engage with customers?

Some of the “gatekeepers” take themselves too seriously.  If we, the guys who make the wines don’t take ourselves too seriously, neither should they.  Life is too short.  We do take what’s in the bottle seriously though, we love wine.

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?

Yes to some extent we do, but it’s often impractical to have visibility on this when you have wines in so many different markets. Social media helps for sure, it’s a two way street.

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?

It is a great frustration. We are aware of some counterfeit Plan B! wines that have surfaced in China, and I managed to track down the people doing it when I was last there in November 2019. We now also have full trademark registration in China, for what that is worth. However, it is pretty much impossible to control, as the magnitude of the problem is only just being realised.

What has been yours and the Wine Juggler’s, aka Vannessa (Plan B’s resident winemaker/supermum/appreciator of brutalist architecture) favorite V20 memory so far? (please provide a V20 photo if possible)

This is from Vanessa:  “Driving back from the winery in Frankland River, past the vineyards and farms after picking the last of the Riesling for our Off-Dry (OD) Riesling 2020. Vintage came super early this year, so I was always second guessing myself but am very happy with the final wines in tank.  It was that moment I felt really content (and relieved!) at having the fruit off in its best condition during a challenging season, with very low yields of fruit..

Vanessa, Plan B! winemaker

You wake up on a deserted island, a genie appears out of nowhere and says you get three wishes. What are the three wines you’re going to wish for?

Vanessa:  2006 Massolino Barolo Parafada, 2016 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2016 Dr. Loosen Erdener Prålat Riesling GG Alte Reben

Terry:  Domaine Weinbach “Fursetnheim” Gewurztraminer Grand Cru, La Spinetta Barolo & Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemaine Grand Cru.  Vintages are irrelevant as I don’t think genies are across them.

You can see we like Barolo, White Burgundy and German or Alsace whites!

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