When attendees at Germany’s ProWein trade show were asked if they knew any ACT or NSW wine districts, the question was met with a collective shrug.
It was not an unexpected outcome for Lerida Estate general manager Andrew McFadzean. Clad in his “Canberra Wine District” t-shirt, the former public servant seized the chance to spill the beans about his beloved district.
“It was a long way to go for a plug, but there are at least 40 more people who know about it now,” he laughs.
Just shy of 20 acres on the lower slopes of Lake George Range, Lerida is a relatively small operation. For 20-odd years it functioned as a conventional winery, with a cellar door and small restaurant offering.
In 2017, a colleague of Andrew’s purchased the estate. When he offered Andrew a job, it felt like kismet.
“I was ready for something more dynamic,” he says.
“I’ve been a wine lover a long time and worked in retail and wholesale in a previous life. I hadn’t worked on the production side, that was certainly new to me.”
Fortunately when Andrew stepped in, the art, science and agriculture of wine-making was already well in hand at Lerida; its shiraz and pinot noir in particular had garnered a reputation for excellence. His job would be to balance this with commercial realities, elevate the brand and help bring the winery into the modern day.
His masterplan involves elevating the profile of the broader district in Australian and international markets. For the staunch advocate of the area’s wines, it’s not an overly intimidating task.
“Canberra has a great reputation. From the larger winemakers to the tiny ones, the consistency and quality in my opinion can’t be beaten,” he says.
“Going out and promoting that to the Australian and international market is as good, if not better, than just trying to tell people about Lerida.”
The past six years have seen many changes at the winery, the biggest being specialists placed in each role, reflecting the ambitions of the business.
“It’s an unusual model for a winery of our size. But that’s an investment we decided to make from the beginning. Without the right people for each job, we’ll stay small. That’s not the plan,” Andrew says.
“We’ve found people with particular talents who excel in their fields. For example, our viticulturist James came back to Australia after 11 years in the Okanagen Valley in Canada, where he was running vineyards three times larger than the entire Canberra district. So you can imagine his wealth of experience.
“At the same time, we have struck an odd balance between that professionalism and a small family culture. If I need to jump into a tractor to get some stuff done, that’s what I’ll do.”
Andrew reckons any plans for expansion will start with a bigger presence in the local market.
“The majority of the local wineries have a cellar door to connect with customers face to face and we do that well. Working more in that space was important, so we open the restaurant seven days a week now rather than on weekends only.
“But we also want people to connect with Lerida as more of an experience than a product, so we’ve partnered with local organisations and events including the NGA, NMA, National Folk Festival, Megalo Print Studio and Goulburn Performing Arts. We see these as opportunities to associate our brand with an experience beyond glass of wine with a meal or a friend.
“It makes sense to make lifelong friends with your customers and build relationships with your community, so that you’re more than a commodity on the shelf at Dan Murphy’s. That adds value and meaning in the tasting and shared experience of wine. And it’s not hard to do in a place like Canberra.”
Long term, big growth will likely come from a greater international export footprint.
With exports to China diminished, the brand is focused on its other big international markets, which involves attending trade fairs in Germany, UK, Japan and Korea as one of the chosen few representatives of the NSW Wine export program.
“We’re there starting conversations about partnering up and putting NSW and Canberra wine on the global map,” Andrew says.
“Even if it’s just 40 people at a time to start with. One day I want Lerida to be so big that there’s not enough of our wine for everyone. That’ll be a good place to be.”