Tony Hunter’s great grandfather, Pietro D’Orsa, was born in the Swiss Italian village of Poschavio where the vineyards in the valley are only twenty five kilometres from the snowcapped peaks of the Alps. Pietro came to Australia in 1868 and settled in Maldon. “In David Dunstan’s book, ‘Better than Pommard,’ Pietro is listed as a registered vigneron in 1892,” says Tony. “We only discovered this after we had bottled our first wine. We are now more aware of the key role that Swiss Italians played in developing the wine industry in Victoria.”
After graduating with a Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne, Tony went to work for Ford Motor Company and then Dunlop Slazenger. “In 1982, I set up a company with a partner. We designed and manufactured ergonomic school backpacks and carry bags. It was a successful business and, after twenty years, I sold out to my partner.
“From an early age I was attracted to outdoor activities. I loved the freedom to be out and about. I guess you could say I was a reluctant office worker for far too many years. In 1995, my wife Lyn and I bought a retirement farm in Heathcote. We often holidayed at Lake Eppalock so we knew this area. I was also a keen follower of Jasper Hill’s success and a lover of quality shiraz.
“I knew that it was possible to make world class shiraz in Heathcote. In 1995 Lyn and I packed up the car and went on a journey through Victoria and South Australia. We spoke to many people in the wine industry, did lots of research about what to plant. Then we sat down with the family and briefed them on what we had discovered. We agreed that winemaking would be a suitable family business. I saw the building of a family business as a way of providing financial security for the family and ensuring work-life balance, but we needed to run it like a business.
“We’ve developed it from a total greenfields site. It was all new to us and we did everything the hard way at the start. We spent 1996 picking up rocks, digging holes, mixing fertiliser and establishing the first twenty acres of vines. Even doing it the hard way we had fun. Fortunately we discovered easier ways of doing things and we now have fifty five acres of vines.”
When the property was purchased, son Mark was working in the building industry and daughter Jodi was working as a management consultant for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. “Dad always wanted to set up a family business,” says Jodi, now General Manager of Sanguine Estate. Mark is now its full time Vigneron and Winemaker.
Jodi looks after business strategy, including marketing. “For the first three or four years it was all about the product. We developed the vineyard first. Our first harvests were sold to Southcorp under contract. Then we put all our effort into getting winemaking and storage assets in place. Now that the infrastructure is in place we can focus on generating revenue to catch up with all the setup expenses. “We do contract winemaking for clients such as Heathcote Vines (Red Red Wine brand), She-Oak Hill, and Domaine Asmara. This means that our revenue is not fully reliant on our own brand.
“Marketing is a big challenge. There are well over 2,000 wineries in Australia, all competing for around twenty per cent of the domestic market. It is a challenge for everyone. “Our wine is now in top end restaurants and independent boutiques, we sell online and at festivals, and have done some travelling shows through NSW and Queensland, but marketing costs can be prohibitive.”
Mark learned his winemaking skills from some of the industry’s most respected practitioners. “Initially I worked as an understudy to the late Matt Hunter (no relation) and then Peter Dredge, a well known Heathcote winemaker. Ben Riggs is our consultant and business mentor,” he says. “It’s been a massive learning curve for me. I’ve been very lucky in having three respected practitioners provide me with on-the-job training. I am also broadening my scope as a winemaker for other brands.”
“Mark and Jodi have played a vital role in our development,” says Tony, “without them it would have been a struggle. “Each has unique talents and we all work well as a family and as a business. Mark looks after the vineyard and winery. He enjoys the physical side of his work, the creative side, and the science of winemaking. Jodi looks after managing the business. It’s been a perfect match.”
Is it a challenge to separate the Sanguine hat from the family hat ? “It’s a different relationship,” says Tony. “I have never been a micro manager. Giving people authority and letting them work with the least interference works well. Mark and Jodi have the skills and the passion to do their jobs. I have no problem sitting in our business meetings with my daughter chairing them. We have no big egos that get in the way of business decisions.
“When we started, we gave Mark and Jodi a hill to plant their own vineyard, they called it the Progeny Block. With their respective partners, Melissa and Brett, they developed a separate label for Progeny,” says Tony. “Mark and I were still entrenched in our off site jobs at that stage,” says Jodi, “but with the Progeny vineyard we were using our own dollars. It was a clever way to get us involved in the wine industry and we really wanted to succeed.”
Lyn, involved throughout the development of the family business, now works with Tony in the vineyard and winery, and looks after dispatch and warehouse management. “When the kids finished school and university I thought to myself that there would be more quiet time just for me. Then we started the family business and now I just love it,” says Lyn.
“I love that we can work together as a family, I love being out in the vineyard, the way the kids have become entrenched in the business, how their skills complement each other, how their passion for what they do has developed, and how well they work together. I am looking forward to being up here full time. I guess my biggest challenges are to ensure that I do get some ‘me time’ and to manage being a mother and grandmother, as well as a business partner.”
Jodi’s husband Brett has also been involved in the business right from the beginning. “He has been an amazing guiding hand to me, especially since I took over the general manager role. He loves helping me and secretly I think he wishes he was doing my job, but we won’t tell his employer that,” says Jodi.
Mark’s wife Melissa is Sanguine’s finance manager. Mark works five days a week at the vineyard, stays on site two nights a week, and commutes from Melbourne on the other days.
“We have put business development ahead of our comfort,” says Jodi, “but we were all delighted when our family home at the vineyard was completed in 2011. We can now open our cellar door more regularly, as well as entertaining clients at the vineyard.”
Cellar Door opening hours:
Weekends and public holidays 10am – 5pm or by appointment
$22.50 in any dozen
$25.00 per bottle
Out of stock
In Bordeaux’s notorious damp and fickle vintage weather, skills at blending several varieties to create a fully developed wine is essential. Our Heathcote weather is a great advantage especially with ‘09’s near perfect vintage conditions, so we had glorious ripe flavours in each variety before playing the Bordeaux game.
Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) dominates the blend with luscious black fruits and cassis, with Cabernet Franc (15%) adding complex fragrance and Petit Verdot (15%) more structure. Try air cured beef carpaccio, fresh truffles and mayonnaise to conjure up the ‘château’ life.
$22.50 in any dozen
$25.00 per bottle
We utilize traditional winemaking practices such as small fermentation tanks, natural fermentation (i.e. no yeast additions) and gravity feeding. Whilst this can be quite labour intensive, we believe it ensures the preservation of natural fruit flavours and the Heathcote terroir character. As with all varieties produced at Sanguine Estate, the grapes were destemmed, lightly crushed and then naturally fermented with wild indigenous yeasts in small open fermenters. The wine is then transferred via gravity (to avoid pump shock) to predominantly French oak barriques (approximately 15% new) and left to mature for approximately 12 months.
Winemaker: Mark Hunter
$36.00 in any dozen
$40.00 per bottle
This wine distils the essence of our Heathcote terroir, letting the vine suck the goodness from ancient, red soils and get its delicious fruit into the bottle with the minimum of stress. It was the driest winter and spring in our memory, restricting vine development and forcing it to squeeze all its flavour into a small crop, ending with great vintage conditions. Splash some into a glass alongside a dish of lamb shanks to discover the layered ripe flavours, black fruit aromas and robust structure - a winter wonderland.
$54.00 in any dozen
$60.00 per bottle
Out of stock
Our flagship wine lines up all our big guns to fire a salute to our winemaking ancestor. Chosen from the best shiraz barrels of the vintage, this wine spends two years in the best French oak to add further depths of intrigue. Centred around rich plum characters, sweetly perfumed, corseted by sophisticated aniseed and coffee aromas, the wine has an intense, layered palate strengthened by spice, earthiness and velvet tannins. Aglow in the glass, a table by the fire, waiting slow cooked beef.
$18.00 in any dozen
$20.00 per bottle
Out of stock
The silver lining to the cloud of the 2011 wet vintage is the lovely cool climate characters developed in the Progeny Shiraz. It took a frantic effort on the vineyard battle front to tame the rampant growth and pesky moulds, but the fruit blossomed in the winery showing more adult and sophisticated hints of black pepper … Read More
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