Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less
John C. Maxwell
A new addition to this blog is interviews with leaders in various industries exploring their leadership, teams, personal development and their approach to failure. In this very first interview, it is my honour to introduce you to winemaker Jen Pfeiffer.
Jen Pfeiffer’s life is seriously wine.
Jen Pfeiffer was only 4 years old when her parents bought the historic “Old Distillery” property in Rutherglen in 1984.
Today, Jen loves her winemaking role as much as ever, appealing to both her scientific and creative mind. Jen has a meticulous approach to her winemaking, believing it is the small details that can turn a good wine into a great wine.
Jen was a runner up in the Wine Society Young Winemaker of the Year in 2006 and 2007, so was thrilled to take out the prize in 2009.
Jen has amassed over 500 medals and 20 trophies for Pfeiffer Wines in the past decade she has worked for the winery, plus had her wines nominated twice for export wine of the year.
Jen is involved in the Australian wine show circuit, in a judging capacity. She is a judge at the Sydney Royal Wine Show, the Rutherglen Wine Show, the Hobart Wine Show, the Australian Small Winemakers Show and the Great Shiraz Challenge.
Jen intends to continue her involvement in Pfeiffer Wines well into the future. She hopes to continue to push the boundaries of her winemaking and maintain the very high standards she has set, with a dedicated and committed approach. She hopes to grow the winery business and assist in the development of the Rutherglen region.
This post is part 1 of 2.
Enter Jen Pfeiffer.
JE: I understand that you have sold over 1M bottles exclusively to Naked Wine customers. What were the first steps that got you turning your dream into that first bottle?
JF:I grew up in a winemaking family (my parents established Pfeiffer Wines in 1984), so I was exposed to wine all my life. The language of wine was like a second language to me. After completion of university, I decided I needed some time out, so I asked my parents if I could come home and help out with the 2000 vintage (thinking I would make some money and then head overseas). My father quite cunningly gave me the responsibility of making the Pfeiffer Shiraz that year (which went on to become a gold medal winner) and I was instantly hooked on winemaking. It took me a further five years to actually leave and take that overseas trip, and then it was in 2005 to do a vintage in France!
I was approached by Naked Wines to make a range of wines exclusively for them in 2012. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as it provided me with the scope to be more experimental and try different winemaking techniques, to use different varieties and ultimately make wines of a different style to what I had been doing with my parents. My parents were wonderfully supportive and encouraging, and let me follow these dreams of mine, but also provided me with some real physical support – allowing me to make my Jen Pfeiffer range at the Pfeiffer winery site, and even giving me access to some fruit.
JE: Tell us about the day you were awarded Australia’s Young Winemaker of the Year in 2009.
JF:I had been a finalist on two previous occasions for the YWOTY and fast approaching 30 (the cut off age for the competition), thought that I really didn’t have a chance of winning and this would be my last hoorah. I was fairly relaxed as I boarded the plane from Albury to Sydney with my support crew of two people, my partner Jamie and my friend, Kylie. My parents were overseas at the time. While Kylie had encouraged me to put together a few more friends to make up a table of ten, I was quite content not to, as I was sure I wasn’t going to win.
Our flight was delayed into Sydney due to bad weather, then we were stuck on the tarmac in Sydney for about an hour and a half, due to thunderstorm activity. When we finally got off the plane, we headed over to the luggage carousel to get our bags. Yep – you guessed it! They’d been left in Albury. All I was wearing was some old ripped jeans, a plain shirt and thongs…..hardly the attire for a black tie event!!! Now running quite late, I rang the event organizer who I felt was surprisingly stressed by my lack of black-tie attire. He asked me what size I was and organized for his girlfriend to bring in some dresses and shoes for me to wear for the event. Once we made it to the city centre, Kylie took Jamie out to try to find a suit for hire and I waited in the hotel room for my dresses to arrive.
Finally I made it to the awards presentation, around an hour late, but fully dressed – I was feeling incredibly relaxed and calm and everyone was commenting on why wasn’t I more stressed. In my mind, I kept thinking, I know I’m not going to win, so it really doesn’t matter.
So, to hear my name read out as the winner was a HUGE surprise and a HUGE thrill. I had worked with incredible dedication for the past 9 years on improving our wines, trying new things and trying to constantly get better at winemaking. To be recognized as Australia’s Young Winemaker of the Year really made all my hard work justified. And naturally, it spurred me onwards in my pursuit of excellence.
JE: How many people are a part of your team to bring a bottle to our home?
JF: There are several people who make up the team to bring a bottle of wine to your homes – it all starts in the vineyard. I work with growers as well as using fruit from the family vineyards. So there is the viticultural team, which can be one person, or up to five people in the vineyard team, depending on the size of the vineyard. In the winery, I have two permanent cellar hands who assist me in making the wine, and we employ a further 4 trainee winemakers during the vintage period. There are another 5 people in the sales, administration and warehousing team to help deliver the final product to you!
JE: What’s a highlight of your team’s development?
JF: I love seeing individuals learning and realising their potential. Seeing a young winemaker under my tutelage have that light bulb moment where they realise “hey, I can do this, I can really make wine” gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. I also love the development of new products as that involves the whole team – from discussing what kind of wine could be successful, to planting the grapes and learning about the intricacies of that particular variety, to then learning about making a new wine, and of course developing the label and the marketing plan to launch the product to market.
JE: I believe that failure can take us to the funeral of our dream or the school of our success. Share one failure that you were able to learn from and turn into success.
JF: Which one????!!!! I have made a lot of winemaking mistakes along the way that you very quickly learn never to do again. The most important thing is to never let those mistakes make it into the bottle.
Recently, I had decided to make a Hunky Dory Vermentino for my Jen Pfeiffer brand for Naked Wines. I was really excited about this wine, as it had been a few years in the making and I had decided that I was going to donate the proceeds of the wine to a Melbourne based organization called STREAT who help disadvantaged youth.
I had done all the label development, got the wine ready for bottle and was just about to print the labels, when I realised I hadn’t check the trademark for Hunky Dory in the wine sector. Very quickly I discovered that “Hunky Dory” had been trademarked by another winery in New Zealand and that they were not interested in allowing me use of the name for this one particularly wine. I was terribly upset, as I had designed the label with images and fonts that were aligned to Bowie’s Hunky Dory album…what was I going to do??? I started listening to the album, looking for inspiration in a title of a song or a lyric. It took days and days until I heard the lyric “Dream Reality” in the song Quicksand. It was a perfect fit. Through the Angel funding (crowd funding) with Naked Wines, my winemaking dreams were now a reality. Plus the profits from the sales of the wine could help the disadvantaged young people STREAT were working with also fulfil their potential and follow their dreams.
The wine and concept for the wine was incredibly popular and it sold out very quickly, which was fantastic. Needless to say, I will be checking out the trademark laws at the beginning of the next label development I undertake!
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