18/01/2014 - 11:47

Food, wine...and cars

18/01/2014 - 11:47

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Things are ramping up at Aravina Estate with a renowned chef adding to its growing prominence

Food, wine...and cars
KITCHEN CRAFT: After 15 years at Cape Lodge, Tony Howell has joined Aravina, which is targeting a growing passion for red wine in China.

See the full Business News IQ list of WA wineries HERE:

In a significant coup for fledgling winery Aravina Estate, long-time Cape Lodge executive chef Tony Howell has upped sticks from the renowned restaurant and joined the team at the Margaret River winery.

Estate owner Steve Tobin insists it was simply fortuitous that Mr Howell heard Aravina was recruiting at the same time he was considering his future, after spending 15 years at Cape Lodge.

Nonetheless it has bolstered Mr Tobin’s goal of building the Aravina Estate brand in a market where it competes with the likes of Vasse Felix, Sandalford and Leeuwin Estate.

Mr Tobin took ownership of the winery in 2010 and embarked on what he describes as his ‘labour of love’.

Both Aravina and the Amberley wine brand were under the ownership of Accolade Wines when Mr Tobin entered into negotiations to buy the property.

The Amberley brand remained with Accolade following the property sale in 2010, with Mr Tobin forging his own direction with the new name of Aravina Estate.

Since then he’s set about giving the vineyard, winery and facilities a major facelift, with the appropriation of Mr Howell helping lift the restaurant’s status.

Mr Tobin said Mr Howell would help Aravina reach its goal of becoming a recognised premium offering in the region, but added his recruitment was far from a tactic to make money from the restaurant.

“I don’t think there’s a restaurant anywhere in Australia that makes money out of a la carte dining because costs are just far too high,” Mr Tobin told Business News.

“But it showcases what we can do in terms of food for functions and events.

“Tony’s going to take our menu to a new place of creativity and innovation – but not necessarily high price.”

Once the current construction of an outdoor deck is completed the restaurant will be able to seat 200 people, while a new function room will double that capacity.

Mr Tobin has also incorporated his love of sports cars into the venue with a dedicated gallery housing his collection.

He told Business News that passion had opened the door to a host of potential new customers – he claims there are about 12,000 car enthusiasts in Perth willing to venture south to see the collection.

If the friends and family of these enthusiasts are also brought along for the ride, Mr Tobin estimates about 30,000 people could be enticed to visit Aravina purely for the sports cars.

But then, of course, there’s the wine.

Mr Tobin has recruited Blair Hill from Fogarty Wine Group to grow Aravina’s distribution networks through his role as sales and marketing manager.

Mr Tobin said the business initially targeted the Western Australian market by pitching Aravina as a brand somewhere between the multitude of relatively young local wineries and the handful of established producers.

“We need to educate the consumer that we have a unique and quality product on a par with those other established wineries here; these vines weren’t planted last year, they were planted 27 years ago,” he said.

Despite the vineyard’s history, however, Mr Tobin has decided to rip out a significant number of the Amberley-planted vines and reconfigure the ratio of whites to reds.

Mr Hill said demand from growing markets justified the decision to plant the same amount of both red and white grapes compared with the 80 per cent white vines Amberley had planted.

“We’re seeing in Asia – particularly in China – a real appetite for wine and that’s not going to go away, and they’re 95 per cent red. They’re not interested in whites at the moment,” Mr Hill told Business News.

Aravina is focusing on producing modern varieties of wine such as tempranillo, which may not be offered by other Margaret River wineries.

“People like to hear a story and they like to read about these new varieties … if there are 10 shirazes to choose from why would you go with any one of them? You need products that pick up on consumer interest,” Mr Tobin said.

He acknowledges the size of the challenge he has set himself, particularly when it comes in addition to his work for Perth oil and gas company Terrex Group.

“This is a real challenge; it’s not for the faint hearted,” Mr Tobin said.

“This is a love thing, you’re not in it to make money I can assure you.”

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