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Interview - Living the days of wine and roses in the Americas

A brief explanation of your company and where it sits in the corporate landscape: Southcorp Wines is the largest Australian premium wine company.

I work out of our Americas head office in Napa Valley, California. In the Americas (US, Canada and Latin America), Southcorp employs about 200 people.

Job last held in Perth and when you left it: None really, I left 11 years ago, straight after finishing university. Does waitressing count?

What is your current role: I oversee trade and public relations for Southcorp and the eight wine brands we market over here. The three main brands are Penfolds, Rosemount and Lindemans.

We also market, in a much smaller way, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coldstream Hills, Devils Lair [my favourite of course], Seaview and Seppelt. We also have a joint venture with Robert Mondavi and Rosemount Estate.

I have a team of seven people and we cover the North American education program on Australian wines, specifically to the wine trade. We look after all press on the brands, getting wine scores from the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker really drives sales here.

We also participate in many events that are being held around the place such as the Aspen Food and Wine Festival and the New York Wine Experience.

My team also does many sponsorships by brand. For example, Rosemount sponsoring Gay Pride in San Francisco and Lindemans sponsoring zoo programs.

We also do some movie and TV show product placements for our wines – The Sopranos and Friends coming up next season. We got offered product placement on American Pie 2 but I turned that down. Not quite the right image for our wines.

What other roles do you play in your industry or local business community: Board of Directors of Australian Wine Bureau, New York.

Former director of American institute of Wine and Food (San Francisco chapter). Miscellaneous writing for wine business publications, speaking opportunities educating on Australian wine.

Explain how you got this particular job:I Applied for it in the US. Prior to this job I worked at wine.com here and for some agencies.

Outline your office culture:

Very friendly but extremely results-driven. Less formal workwear in California than in Australia but when I go to the east coast such as New York or Boston I have to remember that it is more formal.

How much commuting do you do: I live in Napa now so almost none to the office but I am just about to move back to San Francisco so it will be about an hour each way.

Does your job involve travel, if so how much, where to and to what purpose: I travel about 40 per cent of the time around the US and Canada for wine events, winemaker dinners and press meetings. The most common destinations are New York, Chicago, LA and Canada but I go all over the place. I have even preached the Aussie wine gospel in Alabama, which is an experience I don’t need to repeat.

How well did your work in Perth equip you for your current job: See above answer, does waitressing count?

Can you see yourself returning to Perth, if so how long and under what circumstances: One day I will come home to live but probably not for another five years. By that time I will be burnt out doing the American high pressure, high travel thing but for now it’s great fun and an excellent learning experience. I feel like I get the best of both worlds sometimes. I get to work for an Australian company promoting our great wines but also learn how to do business the American way, which I find very stimulating. I thrive on the pace for now and Northern California is a great place to live. They even have gum trees.

What is your email address:

Liz.oconnell@southcorp-usa.com

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