22/08/2014 - 14:45

Full Bottle on wine education

22/08/2014 - 14:45

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New small bar openings, strong demand for alternative corporate events, and a partnership with the state’s peak wine organisation has provided a fledgling Perth business with the springboard it needed to grow.

Full Bottle on wine education
LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Paul Edwards is building a business on the back of increasing demand for wine education. Photo: Attila Csaszar

New small bar openings, strong demand for alternative corporate events, and a partnership with the state’s peak wine organisation has provided a fledgling Perth business with the springboard it needed to grow.

Paul Edwards launched Full Bottle as a provider of wine education courses in 2011.

The business has since grown in stature, increasing student numbers for its internationally recognised wine education qualification, and running Wines of Western Australia’s (WOWA) education courses.

Added to this are the opportunities provided by ongoing demand for events from the corporate sector.

In the past year, Mr Edwards has had more than 700 customers through the doors for either an education course or an event.

But wine education wasn’t Mr Edwards’ first choice for a business; he was initially looking to invest in retail, having spent many years managing retail outlets in Australia and at ‘home’ in the UK.

“For a long time I looked around and considered opening a retail outlet or buying a retail outlet,” Mr Edwards told Business News.

“But ultimately I was quite fearful of the retail market and of investing what would be my whole life into that … I still believe there’s a place for really good independent retailers, but I could see it was going to have a lot of challenges.”

Instead, Mr Edwards recognised that the strong education in wine he had received when cutting his teeth in the industry in the UK was largely unavailable in Australia.

“What I thought was missing was a ‘wine intelligence’ brand, something that was independent and that people could rely on for a good source of information,” he said.

Mr Edwards’ first step was to become an accredited provider of the London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) courses that he studied in the UK.

“I thought there was an opportunity because WSET wasn’t here and I was aware that that was a very highly-regarded form of education taught in more than 60 countries around the world,” Mr Edwards said.

“[WSET education] was growing in the eastern states, so it seemed like the market was ripe for it.”

The growth of the small bar scene in Perth provided initial demand for Mr Edwards’ services as interest in less widely available international wines grew.

Mr Edwards said that was also true of a small number of restaurant operators who wanted to educate staff on quality international wine.

However, converting interest into course bookings proved challenging, with business owners hesitant to over-invest in staff education due to the transient nature of hospitality workers.

On that basis, Mr Edwards also developed different sides to his business focused on consulting and corporate events.

On the consulting side, Full Bottle has grown due to hospitality operators’ need for advice on establishing a wine list, while corporate events have also become a significant income generator.

Events such as wine tasting and/or blending used as team-building exercises now account for about 15 per cent of Full Bottle’s revenue, but Mr Edwards expects this to increase to more than half in the coming years.

Last year, Mr Edwards also struck a deal with WOWA to take over the provision of its wine education courses, which have been running for 40 years (and typically focus on Australian and WA wine).

That agreement has enabled Full Bottle to move into the WOWA facility in the Lou Giglia Dairy Pavilion at Claremont Showground, of which Mr Edwards hopes to make further use with the addition of coffee and beer appreciation courses.

“You ask most people what’s the difference between an IPA, a brown ale and a lager and most people just don’t know; they’ll try and describe it but they don’t know the technical differences,” Mr Edwards said.

“We want this to be a centre of all things gastronomic.”

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