Flametree spreads risk, produces complexity
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A focus on quality fruit, targeted pricing, and strategic market expansion has helped Flametree Wines establish itself as an award-winning brand among Margaret River’s wine producers.
Flametree Wines made quite a splash among the established brands when it launched in Margaret River in 2007, and all without having a single vine in the ground.
Sourcing its grapes from 20 vineyards across the region, Flametree had almost instant success at the awards level, winning one of the industry’s most sought after accolades, the 2008 Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, for its first wine (a 2007 cabernet merlot).
More recognition has followed, with Flametree winning at the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Margaret River Regional Wine Show, where it took gold last year for its sauvignon blanc semillon.
This year Flametree took home six trophies at the 2017 Perth Royal Wine Awards, held at the Claremont Showgrounds, including Best Chardonnay, Best White Table Wine, Best WA Wine and Best Wine of the Show.
Winemaker and general manager Cliff Royle said demand had grown significantly, from around 4,500 cases in sales in 2009 when he joined the business, to about 20,000 cases this year.
He said Flametree’s core operations had helped drive its success.
“There’s this perception that wines have to be single vineyard and from a single estate,” Mr Royle told Business News.
“The issue with owning your own vineyards and having them all in one place is if you have a cooler or bad vintage in one part of the region, then you’re at the mercy of the elements and all of your fruit can be affected.
“We source from 20 different vineyards throughout the region, so you can find parcels in any given vintage that will be of a high quality because you’re spreading the risk across more areas.
“And that’s one of our successes; we’ve been able to be very flexible with what we buy and move with the trends, rather than be locked in with what’s planted on our own estate and be stuck with that.
“There are some interesting complexities that you can get by cross-blending different sub-regions within Margaret River.”
Although many of the bigger wineries, including Devil’s Lair, Vasse Felix and Howard Park supplemented their own vineyard stock by sourcing fruit from across the region, Mr Royle said Flametree was unique in that it didn’t produce any of its own grapes.
“The 200 hectares we have on the estate is too close to the coast and has very salty soil, so we can’t actually plant grapevines here,” he said.
“But obviously by being on Caves Road between Dunsborough and Busselton is a really great place for us to have a cellar door, where we get a lot of traffic.”
Mr Royle said building a membership base of almost 1,400 people had also been valuable in growing the business.
“Price is still our biggest challenge,” he said.
“Engaging and keeping customers is becoming more difficult; people are conscious of how much they’re spending on a bottle of wine.
“We’ve been looking at ways to stimulate people’s interest.”
Flametree’s ‘Family Tree Wines’, which are made specifically for members, was one initiative Mr Royle said had engaged consumers.
“Everyone has seen a bit of a hit in the past couple of years, but you just have to hold your nerve and not play that discounting game,” he said.
Mr Royle said Flametree had ramped-up its exposure to international markets during the past two years, including Canada, China, Hong Kong and the UK, which now represented around 20 per cent of its business, up from 5 per cent in 2015.
“Overseas takes pressure off pricing locally; you don’t have to work as aggressively with the chains so you don’t get squeezed with margins,” he said.
“People get caught up in the romance of drinking and making wine; what they don’t understand is it’s actually quite a tough and competitive business; you have to have a plan to get it to market and make the margins work so you’re profitable.”