ONCE the most energetic and successful married couple in global mining, Phil and Viv Snowden have re-emerged after 18 months with plans to take on a new industry - wine. This month the pair started promoting their latest venture, Denmark label Singlefile Estate, after a year and half of development and capital investment in the project. And, while they admit the task of developing the brand is immense in the cluttered and competitive wine industry, they also point to their success over 17 years to start from scratch in the Australian mining consulting sector and build a global business which employed 200 people when they sold it in 2004. "It is not that different from consulting," Mrs Snowden said. "We were told, there are thousands of consultants don't bother." She said their approach to entering the wine industry was similar to the origins of Snowden Australia, where they sought a niche, geo-statistics, and then went out and educated the market to create a need. "We had to educate people to buy that service, our training was our marketing," Mrs Snowden said. "In the fullness of time it became a major part of our business." Another lesson from the mining business was to make sure they had a diversified client base, ensuring they worked for many of West Perth's junior sector. Of course, it's not quite as simple as cutting and pasting the business plan from Snowden Australia, which they sold to major engineering and infrastructure management services company Downer EDI for $14.8 million. The former Zimbabweans entered the Perth scene in 1987 with a solid knowledge of mining from a background in academia in South Africa. With wine, their interest stems from simply imbibing the product as consumers. "In the wine industry, we can't train anyone," said Mr Snowden, who spent three years working at and developing his former consultancy after the sale. "We just have to listen." But, with help of former banker and son-in-law Patrick Corbett as CEO, they hope to educate consumers about the total wine experience, which has clearly captivated them both. Singlefile is the label developed by the Snowdens from their Scotsdale Valley Estate, a 32-hectare property with 5 hectares under vine, which was formerly the home of the Britza label. The Snowdens developed their brand's imagery and name from the property's geese, which waddle to their pond in single file. Singefile's first vintage, with several varieties ranging from a reserve chardonnay priced at $45 a bottle to a rose at $18, was made at the neighbouring Matildas Winery by local winemakers Coby Ladwig and Brenden Smith. They have a database of several thousand names they intend to contact as well as approaching leading restaurants. No matter how competitive the wine business may be, the tree-change pair's timing appears perfect given the turmoil occurring in the mining sector they once served. However, it did not always seem that way, with many in the industry questioning the Snowden's 2004 exit as the prices for private business sales in mining services escalated over the next three years. "We did not sell only to get the timing right to get money, we sold also because we were pretty tired," Mr Snowden said. Having emerged from the slow period of the late 1990s and dot.com crash, he said they came to a view that the mining cycle was not sustainable in the longer term and that the business needed fresh capital and new people. "As you approach 60 you have to be careful of those risks."
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