Tasmanian vineyard operators Nicole and Frank Huisman haven’t always been in the industry – in fact, their business was just part of a huge lifestyle change. Originally from the Netherlands, the couple relocated to Australia for a change of scenery, lifestyle and career.
Nicole speaks exclusively with My Business about what she has learnt from taking on her own business in a new country and new industry, and shares her advice to anyone else considering a similar change of pace.
My Business: What made you decide to relocate to Australia?
Nicole Huisman: We wanted a change of lifestyle and to be more outdoors; however, immigrating is not a small thing, so a few boxes needed to be ticked: better climate, honest produce and products, beautiful nature, a relaxed atmosphere and more space to live. Australia ticked all those boxes and more.
MB: Winemaking is quite a new endeavour for you – what inspired this?
NH: Frank used to volunteer as a vineyard worker in the Netherlands and when we saw what is now our property advertised online, we thought it had business and growing potential. It used to be someone’s hobby farm, but we saw the potential to do more with the property as a living, so we decided to take the plunge in viticulture and winemaking in Tasmania.
MB: What were you both doing previously?
NH: Frank had his own consulting business in environmental engineering and I worked as a website/desktop publisher for the European Space Agency’s conference bureau.
MB: How have you found the process of establishing yourselves in this industry – has it been difficult?
NH: There have been a few challenges, mainly red-tape issues though. And because we had no experience in marketing, we had to challenge ourselves in that department more than anything.
MB: Do you feel like you are seen as outsiders by more established players in the local industry?
NH: No, the Tasmanian wine industry is a small community where everybody knows each other. We all focus on the same thing: produce premium wines and put Tassie on the map.
MB: And what has the consumer response been to your story?
NH: Absolutely fantastic. Consumers love that we did something as crazy as starting our own business adventure overseas from scratch. People from all corners of the world come to visit us to see how we are doing.
MB: What have been the biggest lessons you have learned about:
1. Being a primary producer?
NH: Being a primary producer means hard work and long days, but the end result is very rewarding.
2. Operating a small business?
NH: Operating a small vineyard and winery means that often you can’t justify buying big machinery to make the work easier, so there is a lot of hand work involved, which can also work in our favour (higher quality of grapes).
3. And living in Tasmania?
NH: Living in Tassie is absolutely fabulous. The nature, the climate, the space… we love it. The only downside is that most of what we need has to come from the mainland, so it is more expensive. Then again, it’s a small price to pay for this extraordinary lifestyle.
MB: Have you ever felt like giving it up? If so, how have you fought that urge and kept going?
NH: There have been moments where we thought, “What have we gotten ourselves into?”, but giving up is not our style. We have that fire in our belly to succeed, so we always look at our options and think about how we could do things differently and just move forward.
MB: Conversely, what are the major benefits of your business?
NH: The Tasmanian wine industry is, in contrast to the mainland’s wine industry, still growing, with healthy prices for our products. With climate change already happening, Tasmania will be one of the few regions in Australia where you can still make wine in the future.
MB: How has your brand grown since you started out?
NH: We started out with a 0.7 hectare vineyard and expanded it with 2.3 hectares of vines. We are planning to add two more hectares in the near future, which gives us more volume to fulfil the demand. So far, every year our stock is almost sold out and our wines have won awards in several international wine shows.
MB: How are your wines sold?
NH: Our main selling point is our cellar door and online through our website, and you can find our wines in a few selected restaurants, deli shops and bottle shops in Tasmania.
MB: Do you export your wines?
NH: No, we don’t export our wines. As a boutique vineyard, our volumes are simply not enough. We are considering sending our wines to a distributor in Victoria, though.
MB: Do you find value in working with not just other winemakers but other related businesses in the community, such as restaurants, hotels and distillers?
NH: Definitely. As wine and cider makers, we learn a lot from the craft beer brewers and cider makers here in Tasmania. But not only them: it’s also the truffle farmers, cheese makers and all the others involved in Tasmania’s primary industry that inspire us every day. Behind every single business there is a story.
MB: What advice would you give to anyone else thinking they too could undertake a big lifestyle change and become a primary producer?
Don’t think too romantically about having your own vineyard and winery. But if you have thought it through and you are prepared to work hard, go for it!