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From vine to table, one of New Zealand’s pioneer winemakers, Saint Clair Family Estate, has enjoyed success on a global scale. But with the complex business of viticulture comes plenty of risk.
A dedication to quality and the right team of talent has helped Saint Clair Family Estate find success here and abroad. But with such a complex business, a studied approach to mitigating risk is also important.
True viticulture pioneers in the Marlborough region, Neal and Judy Ibbotson first planted vines in 1978 and began supplying the growing local wine industry. Borne from a desire to fully realise the potential of the grapes they were growing, Neal and Judy moved from suppliers to winemakers in 1994.
Saint Clair Family Estate’s reputation for absolute quality was cemented immediately, with wines from that first 1994 vintage all winning gold medals.
“Marlborough is a great place to plant grapes and make wine. We believe we probably could not be in a better place anywhere in the world for growing grapes than here,” says Neal. “Today, we are exporting to over 70 markets all around the world. We have been successful and have picked up a number of accolades. Hamish Clark, our senior winemaker who has been with us for 20 years, has been awarded New Zealand Winemaker of the Year on three occasions in Winestate Magazine.”
Neal says that Saint Clair Family Estate’s mission remains to create world-class wines that exceed expectation. Innate viticultural expertise from Saint Clair’s winemaking team mixed with Marlborough's ideal climate and soil types has proven a recipe for success on multiple occasions.
More than simply a name on the gate, Saint Clair Family Estate remains a true family business.
“Today, we are very fortunate in that our three children are all working in the business alongside Judy and myself,” says Neal.
While the core of the business remains family – and team – focused, success and growth have meant that Saint Clair Family Estate is a complex business to run. Grapes are grown and harvested from eight separate blocks, all offering different soils and climate variances to produce different varietals. Saint Clair’s cellar door has also recently expanded to offer quality local foods paired with the award-winning range of wines. With this expansion comes larger transport and logistical considerations, staffing resource requirements and associated costs.
Investigating what risks a large producer and exporter such as Saint Clair Family Estate might face, and how those risks could be managed, is part of the role for Crombie Lockwood broker, Hamish Kent.
In New Zealand there is a lack of appetite amongst insurers to underwrite wine businesses. So, Crombie Lockwood has taken a lot of time to educate our insurer partners so they can be comfortable in offering coverage for the wine industry. Hamish Kent.
“Every wine business is different, with varying scale, audience and logistical considerations,” says Hamish. “With Saint Clair Family Estate, we took a consultative role in terms of understanding how much risk they wanted to take and how we might structure their insurance accordingly.”
While Saint Clair Family Estate manages its insurances with assistance from Crombie Lockwood in a way that reflects its unique market position, Hamish says that many wine producers throughout New Zealand take advantage of Crombie Lockwood’s Winesure product, which encapsulates insurance coverage specifically for the wine industry, while also serving to mitigate associated risks.
“In New Zealand there is a lack of appetite amongst insurers to underwrite wine businesses. So, Crombie Lockwood has taken a lot of time to educate our insurer partners so they can be comfortable in offering coverage for the wine industry,” explains Hamish. “Along with other considerations around logistics, the tailored Winesure product covers a client’s wine for its finished value – you are including the profit margin in the wine, no matter what stage of the production process it is at.”
There are many steps required in making truly great wine. And with Saint Clair Family Estate’s desire to produce the best wine from the best quality fruit, the success of each step from start to finish is vital.
“I really like Neal and Judy’s commitment to quality, where every year they try and produce better wine and do things better,” says Hamish. “I enjoy working with Saint Clair as it’s a great business built by genuine pioneers of the Marlborough wine industry.”
“There are lots of highs and there are lots of lows in the winemaking business,” Neal concludes. “There are lots of risks along the way and we attempt to mitigate those risks. To us, insurance is clearly essential to have. But it is equally important to work with good people, such as Crombie Lockwood.”
Published April 2021