South Australia is using its strength – clean environment—to upgrade its status in the world and move up the value chain. For this strategy to work it has to bring together small enterprises with 20 or less workers. Invited to tour Adelaide and its surroundings, DEREK ALMEIDA brings you stories of three entrepreneurs who are using this knowledge to produce world-class products
Raising a toast with cheese
In the main street of Hahndorf in Adelaide Hills is Udder Delights cheese cellar. For those used to buying cheese in tins and off shelves this cellar would seem superfluous. Is it really necessary to take time out, perhaps an hour or two, to buy cheese? Depends.
Udder Delights is many things. In a culture where cheese and wine, tea or coffee go together, Australians head for the Hills to get away from the daily grind and de-stress.
The equivalent in Goa would be driving to Ponda for lunch in a spice farm.
Family enterprises like Udder Delights are part of the new economic drive to push food and wine up the value chain both within Australia and abroad. “A key advantage in selling our food and wine is the clean and green environment where it is produced. We also need to add more value to these products to maximise the premium we receive above the basic commodity price,” the South Australia Economic Statement for 2013 noted.
Sheree Sullivan, director and general manager at Udder Delights concurs with that view. “South Australia has decided that food is the future and consequently the cheese making industry is highly regulated with inspections at every stage of the process.” Be it goat or cow milk cheese, it’s the texture and distinct flavour that puts products made by Udder Delights in a class above what is produced by the large factories and considered as a ‘commodity’ by Sheree.
The delicate process of making cheese sometimes requires inputs from experts and Udder Delights, sometimes, flies in one from Switzerland to sort out problems. “They know everything about cheese,” she said. For Udder Delights the challenge is to grow while retaining its artisan roots in cheese making.
By the way, if you are hosting a party in Australia start the proceedings with artisan cheese, dollops of it, and wine.
Me and Penny’s Hill
Tony Parkinson brings to the table more than a bottle of wine. He merged his background in marketing with the art of wine. The results are quite interesting.
He is at ease at the cellar door of his wine estate in McLaren Vale, South Australia. The business is now almost 26 years old and Tony a recognised player in the market.
“When I purchased the bare land in 1988, I had 400 names in mind,” said Tony. It was a nightmare for a marketing man. “Finally I settled for Penny’s Hill which is the name of the hill on which the grapes are grown.”
Tony is one of 500 growers in McLaren Vale, each with a distinct identity. They all take pride in one thing – the geological map of the vale which was prepared in 2010. Almost every sq mt of the vale has been studied for soil quality and composition. “This results in a lot of sub-cultures and subtle variations in flavours,” he explained.
In the years that he has dedicated to his company and wine making, Tony has learnt, mostly the hard way, the art of making and blending wines. “We grow grapes in narrow rows which gives us a lower yield but grapes of high quality,” he said. “During the ripening process cool wind from the sea blows over the vale in the evening which is good for the crop.”
It’s the last week of August and trimmed vines are waiting to sprout new shoots which will fill up with grapes and be ready for plucking between January and March next year.
The process for making wine starts with selection of fruit which is done by tasting the grapes. Delving more into this he said, “We know where the better fruit is grown and we store it in separate parcels for production.”
South Australia produces nearly 60 per cent of the wine consumed in Australia which is also good for tourism. A two-day holiday in the Vale would give a tourist or wine enthusiast deeper insights into the process.
For Tony it’s not just about making wine. The product has to have a striking name. So if you happen to be in South Australia and pop into Penny’s Hill you will find premium wines with names like Skeleton Key, Footprint, The Paino… There’s a story behind each one of them.
Little strokes and great oaks
As you step into Phil Christiansen’s concise factory, the warm smell of oak is refreshing. Yellow casks are stacked from the floor to the ceiling, each with a name and date.
Phil specialises in small batch red wine fermentation in McLaren Vale, South Australia. He makes wine for nearly 45 grape growers in the vale. These growers usually sell the bulk of their produce to large wine producers, but keep back a portion to make wine for themselves. To do this they have to come to Phil.
The entire process from crushing, fermentation to bottling is automated, but it’s the in-depth knowledge of wine making that Phil stores in his grey cells that makes him the go-to person in McLaren Vale.
Pointing to the casks, which could be made of US or French Oak, he says, “French oak is more expensive as the tree has to be 100 years old before it can be cut down.” Each tree could yield between five and seven barrels.
Phil also buys grapes from growers to brew wine which he sells under the name of ‘Longwood Wines’ which is exported mostly to Canada.
Small businesses like the one owned by Phil are the driving force of the Australian economy. Nearly 95 per cent of these businesses have fewer than 20 employees. “Much of the growth in the modern economy is driven by knowledge-based services and a firm’s small size is no barrier to participating in the national of global economy,” notes the Economic Statement for 2013.
The quest in South Australia, is to harness its strengths – clean environment and quality products – to move up the value chain, and Phil is doing his bit.