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Wignalls Wines - ACCI Great Southern Development Commission Export Award

Wignalls triumph over adversity

Rob and Claire Wignall

Winning a 2010 Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry Great Southern Development Commission Export Award Business Award was a massive achievement for Wignalls Wines.

This multi-award winning, family-owned winery with Rob and Claire Wignall at the helm, has been tackling the chronic issues facing the wine industry world-wide head-on. "The wine industry is incredibly sick – that is the sad aspect to this story – we have had to find new markets to sell our wine too," Rob said.

World-wide, the wine industry has over-supply issues but by far the biggest threat facing Australia's industry was imports. "Imports went up 290 per cent last year thanks to the Australian Government subsidising imports like those from New Zealand," Rob said. He said the massive uptake of NZ wine was becoming a severe issue and questioned why the Australian Government was paying NZ to sell wine in the Australian market.  "The Australia- New Zealand bilateral agreement is hurting us monumentally," he said.

Faced with such threats to their viability, Rob said the only way to survive was to find new and upcoming markets. "But more importantly it is not just about selling quantity but selling into profitable markets," Rob said. "Quantity is irrelevant versus making margins when these are so squeezed. I'm always researching – if you just bury your head in the sand, then you're done for. So we have actively been looking for and investing in finding new areas of potential growth."

As a result of this research, Wignalls sees its future aligned to Asia, China, and to a lesser extent the United States, with European markets dwindling rapidly. "The Chinese market is the only saving we've got. In 2010 the fine wine market in China represented 15 million people, in 2015 the government estimates that market will represent 70 million people," Rob said.

"What distinguishes Wignalls from all the ‘others', is that we are only looking at the top end of the market, we are not encouraging the ‘two buck chuck'. "These new markets are full of the uneducated waiting to be taught to appreciate top wines – they are empty sponges waiting to be filled."

Rob believes Wignalls won the ACCI award because of their focus on quality not quantity, and their passion for raising the profile of brand Australia. "It doesn't come bigger as a challenge to our family business marketing brand Australia," he said.

"The Australian dollar is our largest threat to exporting – it's a monumental problem to us going forward."

Wignalls is also pulling back on its range bucking the industry-wide expansion trend.

"We are honing right back to simplify and develop more brand recognition of our key products," Rob said. Consequently, Wignalls is concentrating on their sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir varieties.

Rob encouraged other businesses to enter the ACCI Awards and praised the leadership of the chamber pointing to its growth over the past four years.

"What I like about the awards is taking an external view of your business, especially the SWOT analysis," Rob said.

"Taking a thorough look at how and what we are doing – it's a healthy attitude to take in business. Small business especially gets so bogged down in day-to-day activities that you rarely have the opportunity to sit back and look at the bigger picture."

Taking the bigger picture has always been part of the Wignalls' vision. The annual Vintage Blues, which started back in 1996, has introduced a new generation of wine drinkers. "Before Vintage Blues some people probably never had a glass of wine before – that was long-term vision for me to educate the next generation," he said.

Rob forecast big changes over the next 18 months in the wine industry. "I plan to survive, that's what we are here for, but I can see a significant number of labels disappearing over the next few years," Rob said.

"I am second generation going on third generation – I've got more than this business to fight for, I've got my family's efforts over the past 30 years. "It would be a horrible day to close our doors for a winery that's received awards from around the world – I couldn't think of a worse scenario."

But with the passion and dedication exhibited by Rob and Claire Wignall for their industry it is hard to see anything but more success coming the Wignalls Wines way.

Return to Award Winners 2010