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New hand on tiller as storm clouds gather

THE Wine Industry Association of WA has filled its vacant chief executive’s position, once again going outside the sector to source new talent as winemakers batten down for a tough couple of years.

Sarah Dent will be moving from her role as Canberra-based National Farmers’ Federation general manager of public relations to take over the position left vacant by Tamara Stevens.

Ms Stevens leaves WIAWA to take up a position as chief executive officer of the Australian Gold Council. She was formerly at the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies.

The change at the top comes at an important time for the industry, with output outpacing domestic demand growth and forcing WA companies to look to the export market, a much more expensive option for small producers.

Producers who spoke to Business News said there was considerable speculation concerning heavy rationalisation among WA’s middle-sized players.

Xanadu chief executive Andrew Moore said there had been talk of failures in the industry.

“The rumour is quite a few will go to the wall this year,” Mr Moore said.

Howard Park proprietor Jeff Burch said wineries at risk were those without established brands.

“Where the pain will be is in those smaller companies where the brands have not been going long or they are trying to establish a new brand,” he said.

“Too hard, too late, bad luck.”

Before her communications role, Ms Dent gained extensive experience in rural journalism, working as the horticulture editor at The Weekly Times and launching the rural round at the Herald Sun.

She spent 12 months in the Federal Press Gallery covering Parliament and the key rounds of agriculture, transport, health, and social security.

WIAWA president Denis Horgan said Ms Dent’s experience would help the organisation meet its goals.

“Ms Dent’s extensive experience in media, public relations, marketing, event management and lobbying, as well as her journalism and political contacts, will assist in boosting the profile of our organisation and tackling key issues, such as marketing and the wine equalisation tax,” he said.

Ms Dent will take up her position at WIAWA on February 18.

p More wine news, page 13.

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