Out of the shadows and into the light, previous bulk wine producer CW Wines reaches the top shelf when it comes to their award-winning wines.
“Stonehaven will become the cornerstone of our winemaking business, housing and producing our existing portfolio of premium and regional wine brands including Reschke, Ulithorne, Schoolhouse and now Stonehaven.”
SOMETIMES it seems like a wine company most of us have never heard of has come from nowhere and suddenly is offering wines that are right up there on the top shelf.
That could easily be said of CW Wines, a Coonawarra-based company – hence the CW in its name – that for years has been producing premium quality bulk wines for other company’s labels, some of them with quite prestigious reputations.
But as proof that you can’t keep all good things hidden under a rock forever, CW Wines is in the process of reinventing itself with strategic brand development that has it moving from bulk wine to premium bottled wine under labels it has either recently bought or previously owned but never fully developed.
“The last 18 months has been extremely busy,” says CW Wines CEO Brett Anderson, with a slight sense of understatement. “We’ve sold a winery and four vineyards, purchased a new winery, purchased another vineyard and two wine brands, and employed a number of staff. And it’s still very much a work in progress.”
The most recent of those purchases has been that of Stonehaven, including a 12,000-tonne winery at Padthaway and 68.5ha of vineyards, which will become the company’s cornerstone business. This followed earlier purchases of the respected Coonawarra Reschke brand and the McLaren Vale Ulithorne brand late last year, which were added to CW Wines’ existing Schoolhouse brand.
From selling bulk wines back into the industry, however good they were, CW Wines is now producing wines that are winning top marks – such as in this month’s Winestate tastings. The Reschke 2018 Bull Trader Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon, for example, scored five stars and 98 points, as did the Reschke 1998 Empyrean and the Schoolhouse Headmaster, both cab savs from Coonawarra – the latter priced at a bargain $18. All the current Reschke wines are made by senior winemaker Ben Wurst, who has decades of experience in the Coonawarra region.
CW Wines’ ability to produce top quality wine at a bargain price was even better illustrated by its own label, The Inventor 2019 Coonawarra merlot, again with five stars and a $15 price tag.
CW Wines’ owners, the Tranter family, had a long history as growers of potatoes and onions before adding vineyards to their business with the purchase in 2003 of the Coonawarra Gartner winery, which they sold in March last year prior to their purchase of the Stonehaven winery at Padthaway. The deal included acquisition of the 330ha Old Mundulla Limestone Coast vineyard that will now support the Stonehaven winery.
Commissioned and built by Constellation Brands in 1998 the former Hardy’s winery includes 11 million litres of tank storage, a massive 4000sqm temperature-controlled barrel store with capacity for more than 10,000 barrels, and an architecturally designed cellar door, restaurant and function facilities. With it came a vineyard now being replanted with pinot gris and pinot noir to be sold under the Stonehaven label.
Constellation sold the Stonehaven winery in 2010, and in 2013 it was sold on to Chinese-backed Ferngrove Wines, who subsequently leased it to Limestone Coast Wines. In a reversal of what has become more common these days, the Tranter family has brought it back to Australian ownership from the Chinese owners, just as they also achieved with their purchase of Ulithorne, which also most recently had Chinese owners.
Although relatively young to be in charge of such a fast-moving enterprise, CEO Anderson is well equipped with a degree in international business and a financial background that includes a substantial stint as finance manager at Penny’s Hill winery. Denise Tranter oversees the business as managing director, while son Jake is in charge of the vineyards and daughter Samantha is in charge of administration, making it very much a hands-on family business.
The company is preparing to relaunch the Stonehaven range of wines later this year with a new logo and look: “We want to breath fresh air into the label,” Anderson says. “Stonehaven will become the cornerstone of our winemaking business, housing and producing our existing portfolio of premium and regional wine brands including Reschke, Ulithorne, Schoolhouse and now Stonehaven.”
There are plans to reopen the Stonehaven cellar door, which fronts on to the Riddoch Highway, as soon as an appropriate operator can be found: “Running a cellar door and restaurant, that’s not our business,” Anderson says, though it’s clearly a major opportunity that would be an important hospitality boost to the region.
He says the company’s main focus is to build a series of core brands and capitalise on its ability to over-deliver at a number of price points. Stonehaven in particular will become its most accessible brand priced around $12-$15, underpinned by the Old Mundulla vineyard that is undergoing expansion with new plantings of grenache, pinot noir, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, with removal of existing merlot vines. The vineyard, originally planted in the late 1990s, also has extensive plantings of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec and mataro.
The well-established Reschke range will extend the upper limits, from the $25 Bull Trader up to the Empyrean at around $150, with the recent addition of the very accessible R-Series, priced at around $20. Schoolhouse, The Inventor and Ulithorne fill out the mid-level, each with very distinct identities.
“With Stonehaven we’ll be making unpretentious, very accessible wines for families and friends to enjoy,” Anderson says, “wines that also deliver levels of quality well beyond their price points.”
And while it might seem tempting, with a 12,000-tonne capacity winery, to seriously bump up production, Anderson says the aim to remain at around 6000 tonnes, as in 2021, but to bump up the quality even a notch or two higher.
Has CW Wines growth and expansion now peaked? Hardly likely.
“Our goal now is to purchase vineyards as well, not just to buy in grapes,” Anderson says. “And we’re also looking at developing a new Barossa label, most likely as a fourth core brand.
“We make very good wine, but a lot of our wines have been sold in bulk for many years. We didn’t have the vehicle to show these wines to the public. Now we do. We have these very authentic wine brands, and the wines we produce under these labels are very good quality, each with a unique story.”
The days when CW Wines was content to make anonymous wine, however good the quality, are clearly over.