Home-grown heroes


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Drayton’s Family Wines owes its survival to regional leadership.

Drayton’s, a James Halliday-named five-star winery in the 2011 Australian Wine Companion, is a 100 per cent family-owned and operated winery in the Pokolbin district of the Hunter Valley. The winery – and the region – has faced more than its fair share of challenges, but has prevailed as a regional leader in spite of them. Still, their business survival is not solely in their stead – in a time of trouble, other regional leaders came to their aid.

A regional business leader
Drayton’s Family Wines general manager John Drayton returned to the fold 21 years ago after a teaching career up and down the east coast of NSW. John Drayton is general manager, working under his father, Max, who has more than 60 years experience in the industry. They have 25 casual and full-time staff members.

So, what makes Drayton’s a regional leader?

“One-hundred-and-fifty years of history and heritage, and a steady-as-she-goes-approach,” says Drayton. “We haven’t rushed into anything … but we’re still in existence and we’re still here. Back in the early 1960s, we were one of seven still existing from around about 50 or 60 wineries. We went through the depression and the downtime – we survived.”

Regional leadership challenges
Today, Drayton says the industry is facing fresh challenges – among them, oversupply.

“Will the 120-odd that are here in the Hunter Valley today survive? I don’t know, I haven’t got a crystal ball. But I hope everyone survives, and more importantly, I hope Drayton’s survives.

“What’s got us through the tough times? Just determination and the desire and the will to keep on going.”

A local staple
Drayton says they have also stayed faithful to their product line.

“We are well known for our fortified [wines] – have been for quite a while,” says Drayton. “This goes back to the days of the 1950s and 1960s. When there was an oversupply, Drayton’s decided to go into fortified. Since, we’ve always been fortified so we’re renowned for our fortifieds. But more importantly, Drayton’s have a good name for dry reds and dry whites at the moment as well, so that’s holding us in very good stead.”

The biggest challenge the business faces, says Drayton, is capturing cellar door trade in a tough economic climate.

“This is a tourism area – we rely on the confidence of the consumer to travel and spend,” says Drayton. “At the end of the day, the money they’re spending in the wine industry, in the accommodation industry, in the restaurant industry here is what I would call discretionary dollars. And a lot of the consumers are struggling at the moment with discretionary dollars.”

To capture the spend, Drayton says consistency is key.

“Nothing rash, nothing out of the ordinary. We just plug away.”

Regional support
Economic downturns aside, Drayton’s hasn’t been without its share of tragedy. In 2008, a winery fire and explosion took the life of winemaker Trevor Drayton and severely burned his assistant William Rikard-Bell. The cellar door closed for three weeks after which a temporary door ran for a good 15 months.

“We were down longer than what we expected, but we were faithful to the public and we opened up within three weeks,” says Drayton. “That was as far as the face of Drayton’s was concerned. Behind the scenes, a lot of the industry – a lot of the faithful wine producers and family companies – in the area knuckled in and supported Drayton’s and manufactured our product.”

Rikard-Bell is back on deck at Drayton’s. Regional support, says Drayton, is the reason they are still an industry leader.

“Heaven forbid someone else goes through something like that, but if they every do, the Valley would certainly get behind anyone at any time. That’s one of the strengths of the area.”

Four regional leadership lessons from Drayton’s Family Wines
1.    Build a strong name – and be sure to live up to it!
2.    Leadership is about focus – determination will get you through the tough times.
3.    Stay faithful to your strengths – whether they be your product or service offering.
4.    The region is your strength – when you need help, they will support you.


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