Besides drinking it, David Faulks said he and his wife Mary McAvoy knew little about growing and making wine when they took over Tallagandra Hill Winery in 2016.
The couple relocated from Sydney’s trendy inner-west to the Yass Valley to be closer to family and the chance to stretch their creative wings.
Mary’s background was in major event management and David had run an international brand and marketing business for two decades.
“It’s daunting moving out of a city environment surrounded by market forces to a regional area where we didn’t know many people locally,” David said.
“How do you build the linkages you need? How do you actually do stuff?
“The key was to surround ourselves with local people who had experience and expertise we did not, listen and observe and learn from others and the land itself.”
They were interested in growth – but not so much of the vineyard, which had been around for 20 years before they came along.
“We wanted to expand Tallagandra Hill into more than a wine business,” David said.
“We wanted to make it a destination.”
It was clear to the couple much of Tallagandra’s potential came from its location.
“The Yass Valley draws strength from being close to Canberra but not in Canberra,” David said.
“The fact that it’s part of Canberra wine district is of huge value. As a wine-making community, we are geographically closer to a major centre than any other wine district in the country. It takes less time for people in southern Sydney to come to us than to the Hunter Valley.”
David and Mary knew if they could diversify their revenue streams into premium boutique style accommodation and position themselves as a major event venue, they could establish themselves as a destination.
The strategy required staunch dedication, especially when smoke damage from the Black Summer Bushfires wiped out their 2020 vintage costing the small business $300,000 in planned product sales.
COVID brought a further $250,000 loss in event cancellations. But David and Mary stuck to the game plan, hosting musicians and holding events, at times knowing they would be lucky to break even.
As they emerged from isolation, they held a festival titled “We Love Local” to provide “a range of entertainment options for our fun-starved community while supporting local artists and producers”.
It cemented what the couple had cultivated over the challenging period – loyalty from the arts community and brand reputation.
“We have positioned ourselves as a preferred Canberra region venue for artists,” David said.
In the past 12 months, the winery has clocked more than 4000 visitors.
On top of private events, it has hosted 30 significant music events headlining the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Kate Ceberano, Daryl Braithwaite and Katie Noonan.
David said part of the unique Yass Valley wine district was its collection of “very small players”.
“If each of us operated as an independent unit you’d have a very limited capacity to grow what you’re doing,” he said.
“Where you can work collectively and collaboratively you can multiply opportunities significantly.
“Mary and I believe the mutuality of referral and working with other people and businesses is one of the most critical parts of our business success.”
This is why Tallagandra matches its wines with chocolates from Murrumbateman Chocolate Co; collaborates on projects with other wineries from the district; features beers and spirits from local breweries and distilleries; looks to the valley’s producers to contribute to their offerings; and refers all accommodation guests to local eateries and retail outlets.
This kind of collaboration and innovation is also the drive behind “Connect for Success”, a series of free business events run by Yass Valley Business Chamber and Yass Valley Council and supported by the NSW Government.
Marking small business month (November), the “by locals for locals” series is designed to equip local businesses with new skills, ideas and networking capabilities.
Highlighting the strength of the Yass Valley as a thriving small business community, Connect for Success allows budding entrepreneurs and business owners to get up close and personal with local businesses and industry leaders as they showcase their expertise.
Taking place in venues across the valley, events will cover topics from social media to brand building, money management, staff retention and more.
Registration is required for all events – visit the website for more information