01/08/2006 - 22:00

Japanese deal has Chesters heading in the right direction

01/08/2006 - 22:00

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A CHANCE meeting in the middle of the tasting room one sunny Swan Valley afternoon has secured for Chesters Restaurant what wine marketers around the country are all struggling to achieve – export sales for Australian wine.

Japanese deal has Chesters heading in the right direction

A CHANCE meeting in the middle of the tasting room one sunny Swan Valley afternoon has secured for Chesters Restaurant what wine marketers around the country are all struggling to achieve – export sales for Australian wine.

When prominent Japanese businessman Susumu Sawada, general manager of Yasuzukaya Corporation, travelled to the Swan Valley as part of the Perth leg of his Australian holiday, he called in to taste some of Chesters’ wines.

Mr Sawada liked what he drank so much that he later contacted Chesters manager Duncan Head and told him he wanted to sell his wine in Japan. Mr Head sent him over some samples, and together with the help of Austrade, a deal was struck.

This budding arrangement, the product of good luck and good management, has given rise to one of the most exciting wine export deals involving a Swan Valley producer in recent years.

And it is another chapter in the quietly remarkable tale of Chesters. It’s a story that started only a few of years ago when Mr Head converted an old stable into a restaurant.

The site on West Swan Road was to incorporate the winemaking efforts of Mr Head’s father, Neil, who had only five years earlier converted a passion for micro brewing into winemaking.

Without any formal viticultural experience, Mr Head senior soon found himself in charge of six hectares of prime grape-growing land. His first few vintages were spent refining his craft and making meticulous notes of every stage of the operation.

When the Chesters label was released, through exclusive cellar door sales, it proved to be an instant success, with the Heads’ fondness for Swan Valley favourites such as chenin and shiraz soon creating wines to rival many of the region’s more established producers.

The brand truly arrived when the Chesters 2003 cabernet won gold at the Swan Valley wine awards. At that time, Neil Head stopped calling his winemaking simply a hobby.

But winemaking is only a part of the equation.

In the final stages of preparing his new restaurant to open, Duncan Head advertised for a head chef, and admits to being surprised when Paul Smith, who spent six years at Dear Friends and more recently at Friends at the Hyatt, answered the call.

Mr Smith’s menu exudes the confidence of a chef who is completely at ease with his surroundings. His menu not only focuses on regional produce but also draws wider influences from across the state and the country, with everything from swordfish to pan fried buffalo and Maigret duckling on offer. An imaginatively creative menu has dishes titled as uniquely as the flavour pairings. Mignon of lamb becomes Baa! Code Genetix 21619110, the duck is Logistics of Gameistics, and Prawnique Aquamaristic Six describes sautéed prawns with scallops.

The popularity of the rural setting, high quality wines and food has led to Chesters’ rise through the ranks of the Swan Valley’s must-do list.

Catering for increased crowds prompted the Heads to recently build one of the largest tasting rooms-cum-cellar door sales facilities in the valley.

And while Mr Head remains quietly optimistic about the Japan export deal, it’s a good example of how taking an alternative road to market can champion the reputation of the Swan Valley overseas.

Having returned from Tokyo to help introduce the product and to conduct wine tastings, Duncan Head believes it could become a lucrative business opportunity.

“We never expected this whole venture to get this big but we are really happy with where it is going,” he says.

“Having our wine being sold in Japan is really exciting and sending our first pallet [64 cases] overseas marks a real milestone for Chesters.”

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