THE WORLD OF WINE — 60 SECONDS WITH BRUCE TYRRELL
After five generations of living from and for the land, Bruce Tyrrell knows it well. He knows that seasons are unpredictable. He knows to treat it with respect and never to ask more than it’s willing to give. And most of all, he knows how to grow grapes on it.
The Tyrrell family have been growing and harvesting grapes for over 150 years, and their vines have seen them through each season with beautiful winemaking fruit. So far their repertoire includes chardonnay, sparkling, shiraz and pinot noir (just to name a few), which the Tyrrell’s introduced to the Hunter region — and more recently, sémillon. As one of the most unique wines in the world, the Tyrrell’s sémillon has been a labour of love for Bruce and his winemakers during his entire time as leader of the Tyrrell’s brand.
When we spoke to Bruce, it was so clear that his passion for family business exists within every management decision he makes. To plan for a future business that succeeding generations will be excited to represent, “it is the wish of the current generation that the family goes on for at least another 150 years.
Without family business our economy would lack length of vision for the future and the long term commitment to quality and innovation.” Well said. Now enjoy gaining some insight into the world of wine from Bruce, perhaps grab yourself an evening drink, to sip while you read.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE FAMILY BUSINESS ADVANTAGE?Family businesses have a much longer view of their business and the world. They think about the long term rather than short-term gain. Unlike public companies, we have that innate wish to pass what we’ve built onto the next generation. So we plan accordingly and have got to always think a lot further than next year’s annual general meeting, or how big the dividends are going to be. It’s also the nature of agriculture too — it’s a long game.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING TIME WORKING IN A FAMILY BUSINESS?There is always that younger generation that wants to immediately take over and change everything, and the older generation’s not sure they’re ready to do that yet. So I’d say, the intergenerational handover is the biggest challenge. Another would be the total opposite, if the next generation weren’t interested in taking over and the business then gets sold. I’ve personally seen a lot of that in the last 15 years around the bush, where people just couldn’t afford to stay on and make the business work.
There’s also the challenge of the land, but I’ve been taught how to deal with that from the best. My father and grandfather both grew up on the land, learning about the farming culture and passed it down to us. I’m the lucky generation, not the generation that saw the changes. One thing I have learnt in my lifetime is the climate is continually changing, and has been since the beginning of time. I am a great believer of nature and learning to adapt and live with, and we’re trying new things all the time on the vineyard. I have to protect the vines, they’re 150 years old, the rarest of their kind. If you wreck your land, you’ve got nothing left. We plot out the next 30 years of picking dates, which is important because it gives you the length of the growing season. Nature doesn’t run on the calendar you’ve got on your desk, a normal calendar is pretty much useless because it’s the lunar calendar that controls our seasons and tells us what happens in nature. Over the 30 years both bud bursts and picking dates moved by about 2 weeks for certain types of wine but not all. Agriculture is not a mechanical pursuit.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING?In terms of the actual vineyard and our brand, we’ve achieved a lot of the things we planned to do. But to have my children in the business is by far the most rewarding. So my next job is to teach my two grandsons about the land and the wines and how it all works — so they’re ready to join the business too. My great grandfather started Tyrrell’s back in 1958.
WHAT’S THE LEGACY YOU WANT TO LEAVE BEHIND?I spent most of my life lifting the profile of the sémillon variety, because it is something we do here better than anywhere else in the world. My chief winemaker and I started on that line in the 80s and we’re just getting there now, it’s been a long road. To change the perception of this variety as being high quality in the Hunter Region is the goal. To leave our business and area stronger and better than it was before. Just like a football team, you’re only as good as your worst player, so for us, making sure the whole district has the right reputation is just as important as our own reputation.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR BUILDING A BRAND, WHAT WOULD IT BE?I would recommend a strong brand plan with high and low forward targets and responsibilities. Then you need a gut feel that the market for it actually exists, and you have the key players in your business behind it.
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