Ex-Hawks skipper Richie Vandenberg transfers success from footy to wine

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NIGEL AUSTIN SILENT ACHIEVER THE ADVERTISER OCTOBER 10, 2015 

Transferring his skills from the football field to wine has been a natural progression for former Hawthorn footballer Richie Vandenberg.

The Hawthorn skipper from 2005-07, post Shane Crawford, and business partner Justin Moran started Limestone Coast Wines by leasing the former Stonehaven Winery at Padthaway in 2013.

They have since turned the winery built by BRL Hardy Wines for more than $33 million in 1998 into the production powerhouse it was always destined to be, processing 11,500 tonnes of grapes annually.

While Mr Moran lives in Europe, building their export sales, Mr Vandenberg runs the Australian operation. It includes 20 employees at Padthaway led by on-site general manager of operations Leisha Slattery and chief winemaker Grant Semmens.

Mr Vandenberg said there are many similarities and the same challenges in achieving success in both football and winemaking, basically revolving around the need for great people, skill and good teamwork.

“The wine industry is fairly demanding because it is a challenging environment, but that’s what creates the opportunities,” Mr Vandenberg said.

Armed with a Bachelor of Business degree from the Swinburne University of Technology, he retired from football at the end of the 2007 season.

“I wanted to pursue a career in business, but the timing wasn’t ideal as the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, frustrating my initial business interests,” he said.

“I always had an interest in wine through my family’s vineyard at Coomealla, near Mildura, where the Murray and Darling rivers meet in New South Wales.”

Mr Vandenberg bought his own farming blocks from football earnings in the same area in the early 2000s. Today, the farms produce grapes on contract for major wineries as well as for use at Limestone Coast Wines.

“When we started Limestone Coast Wines, we saw a counter-cyclic opportunity because the wine industry had been suffering since the Global Financial Crisis,” he said.

“We thought there was a macro opportunity because the dollar was high and there appeared to be an opportunity at the premium end of the market and so we went after it.”

Their main wine is shiraz, along with cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from the Padthaway, Wrattonbully, Coonawarra and Mount Benson regions, selling about half in Australia and half overseas.

“We are also very focused on exporting premium bulk wine to Europe, the United Kingdom, China, the United States and Canada,” Mr Vandenberg said.

“We think there is a big opportunity in the premium end of the market based on provenance and regionality because supermarkets are vying for better quality wines under their own labels.

“There are a lot of green shoots in the industry and the falling Australian dollar is helping.”

Limestone Coast Wine exports to 14 countries, but the challenge of financing large international orders led to funding support from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, freeing up cash flow to keep operations running smoothly.

It is one of various wineries supported by Efic, Australia’s export credit agency, which operates on a commercial basis and partners with banks to provide financial support for Australian small and medium-sized exporters.

Limestone Coast Wines will launch its own premium bottled label in 2016 as it seeks to add more value to the wine it produces.

See how Efic helped Limestone Coast Wines here.