A family-run Coonawarra winery is celebrating a major milestone in 2021, having survived the boom and bust cycles that define the industry.
Brothers and Redman Wines co-owners Mal and Bruce Redman are celebrating four decades of vintages together — a testament to both their business model and relationship.
“Working together has been an easy task,” Mal says.
“Ultimately, we have had the same goals in mind: to produce the best possible wines under the Redman family label.
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“We’ve been able to understand each other’s needs and work side by side in running the family business.”
The brothers, who have run Redman Wines since taking the reins in the early 1980s, are the third generation of Redmans in a lineage of winemakers that has continued for over a century.
“One of the things that you really notice as you do get older is you really start to appreciate the achievements and what you’ve done in your lifetime,” Bruce says.
“We’ve managed to work together for 40-odd years, and not only work together but keep the business going through some fairly lean times and some fairly good times.”
The wine industry has undergone significant change over the years Mal and Bruce have run Redman, not least the challenges a global pandemic brings, and they have seen their fair share of ups and downs.
“I’ve done close to 50 years in the wine industry … I reckon I’ve seen four boom-bust cycles in that time,” Bruce says.
“Through the 80s were some really difficult times; the demand for Australian wine and Coonawarra wine was quite small.
“When things looked really grim at the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, Australian wine took off in the UK so we went from a huge surplus of wine in that era to — by the end of the 90s — a huge shortage of wine, so we saw lots of pricing going up.
“We had some pretty good times in the 90s but then we went back into oversupply in the early 2000s, so things got a bit grim again.”
The billion-dollar industry is again feeling the pinch thanks to tariffs China has imposed on Australian wine.
Fortunately, Redman has escaped the direct impacts of the changes to the export business with much of its sales coming on the domestic market, but Bruce expects an oversaturation of that market with wine that had been destined for China to hit hard.
“We’re expecting to see a lot more dry red table wine on the domestic market and that’s going to have, we believe, some downward pressure on pricing because the consumer will have a hell of a lot more choice of wine in the market,” he says.
“That will make the whole domestic market more competitive.”
For Redman, maintaining a solid customer base is key in combating what Bruce anticipates will be similar to the national wine glut of two decades ago.
“We’re bracing ourselves for some fairly lean times again,” he says.
“We’re concentrating on selling everything domestically and we’re relying on the customers in Australia to keep buying our product so it’s maintaining the brand and trying to maintain the customers we’ve got and keeping loyal to the brand.”
Despite the impact Bruce anticipates the tariffs will eventually have on small wineries like Redman, the business has managed to emerge relatively unscathed from the last year of the pandemic.
Sales were mostly unaffected since the cellar door initially closed last year, thanks largely to the ability for customers to purchase wine remotely. But continual lockdown of the eastern states is having an effect on tourism in the Coonawarra region, Bruce says, although he is optimistic about the future of Redman. He says the business will be left in good shape for sons Dan and Mike, who bought into the business last year.
“To be able to have that sort of history to rely on when you’re out selling your product and talking about your product gives you a huge sense of pride,” he says.
“It’s quite an achievement and we’re extremely proud of that and extremely proud that we’ve managed to keep the business going.”
This article was first published by The Lead South Australia.