Gordon steering Palandri to the top shelf

PROBABLY the most important decision Palandri Wines new wine division CEO has been involved in was the reversal of the young company’s marketing objectives. Initially, Palandri’s marketing plan was to concentrate 70 per cent of sales on the export market while the residual would go to domestic demand.

Gordon Grant’s long-term wine marketing history indicated the home market should be the Margaret River company’s foundation and a solid foothold has been gained across Australia already, with exception of the difficult Adelaide market. Export is welcome but will become the overflow recipient.

Mr Grant joined Palandri as general manager marketing and sales in 2000 and has shot up the corporate ladder to be recently appointed chief executive officer of the entire wine division. Palandri Wines also has a fund-raising division.

A new comer to WA he may, be but he is certainly no novice to national and international wine marketing. He boasts a lengthy marketing history in the Australian wine industry and has lived and worked in the US, a country almost untouched, yet has Australia’s largest marketing potential. He came from the South Australian Riverland company Kingston Estate, which achieved stunning sales results until some indifferent wine making policies came to the fore.

HMAS Diamantina was his initial connection to WA while in the Royal Australian Navy. The survey ship was our major vessel on this side of the country for many years. He began with the giant Kaiser Stuhl in sales, studied oenology (science of viniculture) at Roseworthy College then went to Krondorf Wines of the Barossa and has never looked back. Many of his sales and marketing team have followed him to Palandri Wines from Kingston Estate.

It’s hardly news that the Palandri group had remarkable success in topping up the coffers in their initial foray into the money search, raising some $50m from enthusiastic investors while chairman Darryl Jarvis remains the major shareholder. I have lost corporate sight of the company namesake Rob Palandri.

Amid local fears of Margaret River adopting the Barossa Valley “Nuriootpa” wine refinery look, Palandri built a monster winery on Bussell Highway, north of the Margaret River township. A predictable furore followed because ascetically the Palandri structure signalled the coming of the big boys and in the early days it looked appalling.

However, the building has been softened with vines and trees planted and a spectacular visitor’s centre added. This centre is a polished version of cellar-sales and has the retail look of a downtown David Jones and has multiple tasting stations and a café.

At the rear, in the winery area, a mass of building is going on as winemaker Tony Carapetis prepares for a 2400 tonne vintage - a huge growth over the 2000 vintage of 700 tonnes. Room then exists to expand the growing tank storage farm to peak production of around the 5500 tonne level.

Mr Carapetis is a newcomer to the west having been recruited from the northern-Victorian historic Chateau Tahbilk Winery where he was head winemaker. Adelaide born, he has also worked in the Clare Valley at Knappstein Wines under WA winemaker Steve Pannell.

He has a huge task that shows a hint of urgency. With Mr Grant rapidly setting up sales-teams in each state, Palandri Wines desperately need stock to feed their rapid growth. Vines at Frankland weren’t planted until September 1999 when 150 hectares were cultivated, another 60 hectares were put in place the following year. In addition, they have built up a portfolio of grape growers around the State, determined to keep Palandri Western Australian.

While a premium “Palandri Range” of wine is planned and components are in place, the label that they rely on to carry their marketing push is the Aurora range. Superbly presented in purple and gold, this is a middle-market, rather humble and affordable selection. You will pay about $15 for these wines which include 2000 semillon chardonnay, 2000 semillon sauvignon blanc, 2000 chardonnay and a 1999 cabernet sauvignon shiraz.

As a group, they are all easily approachable, drink-me-now wines. The whites are light and happy, all with fruity personality that appeals. Though of the range, the semillon chardonnay lacks the zestiness of its cellar mates. I can see vast improvement in future years.

The growing army of vineyard owners in WA would be thankful for Palandri’s needs with their market ambitions.

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