07/08/2007 - 22:00

Tassell Park plans for the long haul

07/08/2007 - 22:00

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Ian and Tricia Tassell are supposed to be retired, but given they refer to themselves as Mr and Mrs Boss, the decision to spend their later years in the state’s South West has become anything but well-earned time off.

Tassell Park plans for the long haul

Ian and Tricia Tassell are supposed to be retired, but given they refer to themselves as Mr and Mrs Boss, the decision to spend their later years in the state’s South West has become anything but well-earned time off.

Mr Tassell’s intention “to potter among the vines” has turned into a 3,500-cases-a-year winery with plans to grow to 5,000 cases.

The Tassell Park winery owners headed south and produced their first vintage in 2001, just as many others had decided that they too could convert patches of land around Margaret River into vineyards and tap into growing demand for premium wines.

The only problem was that the rush to develop wineries resulted in a massive oversupply of grapes, particularly the red varieties, which the weather-affected vintages of 2006 and 2007 have largely helped correct.

“You couldn’t have picked a worse time to try and establish a brand,” says Mr Tassell, a former group managing director of one of Perth’s biggest advertising agencies – Marketforce.

“We thought we would come down here and potter around, and then we realised it takes a bit more time,” he says. “It takes a fair bit of cash and a fair amount of effort.”

The winery weathered the grape glut and has been grafting red varieties across to white in a bid to keep up with demand for popular varieties such as sauvignon blanc.

Mr Tassell remembers advice he received when he established the vineyard that, if there was one variety he would want to have in abundance, it was red.

So, the Tassells planted about 70 per cent of the vineyard with red varieties.

As the grafting continues the vineyard will soon consist of 70 per cent white varieties and 30 per cent red.

Mr Tassell is philosophical about the hard yards the business has had to endure as it built up a credible wine brand.

“If you can compete well in the tough times it augurs well for the future,” Mr Tassell says.

He adds that, from the outset, the winery aimed to produce top quality wines, which have been made by Peter Stanlake since 2004.

“Most of the wineries down here produce sauvignon blanc and cabernet, so our point of difference in not necessarily by variety, but by the quality,” Mr Tassell says.

The winery has been sold out of its sauvignon blanc for the past four months and its sauvignon blanc semillon for the past three months.

Mr Tassell says while selling out is good from a revenue perspective, it could also be a problem because getting on to the retail shelves is a tough process.

The winery has just released its 2007 whites and next year will begin producing a chardonnay to join its nine varieties.

“It is still the princess royal of whites, whether you like it or not,” Mr Tassell says of chardonnay.

“Our winemaker [Mr Stanlake] was very keen to do a lightly oaked chardonnay, so we are going to let him do that.”

Mr Tassell says the winery went down the traditional route and established a somewhat timeless label free of gimmicks.

He says, like cars, buying wine often says a lot about someone.

“There are lots of quirky names and quirky labels and sometimes I look at some of them and think about what that would say about me if I put it on the dinner table,” Mr Tassell says.

“I also wonder whether these fashion brands will last in 15 or 20 years.”

Tassell Park’s cellar door opened in 2002, and while initially Mr and Mrs Tassell would jump to the door on the arrival of the then occasional visitor, they are now kept fairly busy.

“What we used to do (cellar door sales) in our first year we now do in a couple of months,” Mr Tassell says.

The team at Tassell wants to build production to the vineyard’s maximum capacity of about 5,000 cases.

“We will make a modest profit at that level that will give us enough money to go to the supermarket and get supplies,” he adds wryly.  

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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