The Spencers have a family lifestyle business developing their vineyard and winery, Redbox. Colin (pictured here with son Clayton) involves all the family, and does not beat around the bush when he descibes the work. They love a chat and many people return for a tasting and for one of Glenys’ famous cheese platters.
Name: The Spencers! Colin and Glenys, plus Clayton 31, Cameron 28, and Leah.
Age: Colin is now 62, Glenys is 50+
Previous Occupations: Spencer Bros Pty Ltd. (Investments.) Modulaire –
air conditioning engineering, Specialty Tuning Products – 4WD developments.
Current Job: Director of Spencer Bros Pty Ltd., HyChill Australia,
Wildfell Estate, Redbox Vineyard & Winery and Murray Flyer Wines.
Location: Kangaroo Ground Victoria
Tell us about your prior career
At 18 years of age, I started off in accountancy, and then added marketing and business administration by age 25. In my late 20’s I ended up as senior executive at F & T Plastics, (national product manager). I went into business as a marketing and business consultant at 28, appointing Australian distributors for products from Europe and China. In 1971, I started up ADEC to import portable air conditioners from Italy, and after three years I sold it to Repco.
In 1974 I moved on to air conditioning design and consultancy. In the late 70’s I used my thermodynamic skills to develop faster and more powerful race engines, and drove to the flag at the Bathurst 1000 in 1980 and 1981. (That means a finish, not a win.) In 1983 I developed a 4WD development business with important contacts in major manufacturers. The famous STII Performance Kit was a huge success for about 12 years. In 1994 I developed a new environmentally friendly refrigerant gas using two hydrocarbon molecules. Today HyChill refrigerants are sold all over Australia and over most of Asia, including China and India.
My involvement in the wine business started as a sideline in 1998, when I was asked to develop a business from scratch by two friends who grew grapes, but wanted to vertically integrate their product from grape growing to wine marketing. It might look easy from the consumer’s point of view, but growing grapes and getting them to the market successfully as a qualitywine product is an extremely complex operation, requiring long hours, careful planning and massive investment of funds. It can take two to three years to turn grapes into money. It is as simple as that….and you need a very large storage facility along with other complex logistical considerations.
What attracted you to the wine industry? I was originally only a minor
partner, supplying business building and marketing expertise. Partners who could not handle the pace and pressure, particularly the financial pressures, gradually dropped away, leaving the Spencer family as 100% owners of what is turning out to be an amazing business. No doubt, there will be some regrets on the part of former partners when they see what can be done with hard work, determination and perseverance.
Describe your roles
Finance, as usual. Business planning, setting up for future directions etc. Most of the time, I am tending to vines, digging holes, plumbing, spraying, excavating, building, labeling and packing bottles, carting grapes and bottles, delivering product to retailers and restaurants, attending board meetings at HyChill or at Elders, and….spending very pleasant weekends at the Redbox Cellar door enjoying wine tasting with visitors, or looking after crowds of people who have chosen our property as a venue for a family party or a company business meeting. It is a busy life.
What are your daily hours?
I start before 7am and I finish when it is too dark to work. At this time of the year I go home at about 9 pm. Lunch time takes up all of 15 minutes. No time for coffee breaks, but I drink a lot of water. It is thirsty work. Strangely enough, I only drink wine in a social setting, as I believe wine tastes much better in the company of friends and good food.
Do you have to have certain characteristics or skills to do the job?
Accountancy, Marketing, Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering,
long legs(!) and plenty of determination; but, above all, I have a great affection for people.
What’s the best part of your role?
Dealing with people. I enjoy meeting them, and I try to avoid the occasional nut case!
What are the challenges of your jobs?
Juggling assets and finances.
Advice for people who would like to pursue a similar business after age 40?
Don’t do it!! Never invest in someone else’s business concept – if they need your money, then their concept may not be capable of supporting itself, let alone paying you back. Having said that, I must add that if you really like the wine business, get involved without committing hard earned capital by working part time for an existing small wine business at low hourly rates. This way you can serve an appropriate apprenticeship period of two to five years, depending on the hours that you have committed. Then, and only then you have enough knowledge and skill to have a go at it yourself, should you think about putting everything you have ever owned on the line to start a wine business. That’s the scary part.
Meanwhile, you deserve a break. So hop in the car on any Saturday or Sunday, visit two or three cellar doors in the countryside, not too far from home, and enjoy the tranquillity of a vineyard on the weekend. Get to know people who have similar desires. If you particularly like one or two vineyards, visit them regularly – you will not wear out your welcome,rather you will find yourself being accepted into a very pleasant group of people.
Redbox Vineyard and Winery
Entry via 2 Ness Lane (Mel ref 271 E8)
Phone 03 9712 0440
Take a look
PS: Colin showed me a ‘Bulletin’ magazine article by Peter Hay that repeats the fantastic benefits of red wine, which in part states, ‘At least eight medical studies have suggested that a glass or two of wine daily protects against heart disease’.
UPDATE FROM COLIN
“Most of the 2007 vintage was destroyed because of drought. We lost about $30,000 worth of grapes, and had a “non-vintage” year. This hole in our budget was a major financial strain, but we pulled through. In the first five months of the 2007-8 financial year, we exceeded the whole of 2006-7 in wine sales.
In 2006 we were runners up in the Leader Newspaper Group sponsored, Business Achiever of the Year Awards. In 2007, we won it! We had no direct involvement in this event, our customers apparently nominated and voted for us. It was a real buzz, nonetheless.
2005 was our first full year of trading, and in three years, we have built the best wine business in the Shire. With 19 other vineyards, some of them established for many years, we have achieved so much, in such a short time. So, what would I do next? Well, I am 64 now, and I know I can’t go on forever at current speed. I might like a bit more time for less productive activities. Such as visiting family and friends, fishing, and wandering around this fantastic country”.