What’s in a name? A fair amount if you’re South Australian winemaker Rose Kentish. When she first popped onto the scene in 2008 as someone to be taken seriously by winning McLaren Vale’s Bushing Queen winemaker of the year title, her label was Ulithorne. For 10 years that name, linked to her family vineyard, flourished. But then she made the agonising decision to sell to her business partner. Her acclaimed European style of rosés and reds remain but now they bear her own name to proclaim the fact that she is back to stay.
“When your name is on the label there is nowhere for you to go,” explains Kentish. “I was demanding it of myself this time around. There is no way that I’m going to make that mistake again, to let someone else into a creative pursuit of mine. You have to be extremely patient in the wine industry, for returns. I saw it as something I would still be doing when I was 80 and possibly handing on to my children. Being a bespoke maker, across every aspect of what you do and putting your name to it, I think shows your sincerity and your authenticity. Also, there has to be an element of belief in your ability when you put your name on the front.”
Of course, Australian winemakers have long followed this practice. Philip Shaw, Stephen Henschke and Vanya Cullen are among those who do so, as Wolf Blass and the late Len Evans and Peter Lehmann did before them. It’s a tried-and-true marketing strategy across a range of industries that tie products with personal values such as care, trust and quality.
It says a tremendous amount for Kentish’s commitment and ability that she has remained in winemaking and is excelling at it again. “I learned so much through that experience. If you don’t learn, you can end up bitter and twisted. It has been quite a grieving process.”
Just one day after selling Ulithorne, she flew to France with her future course as a winemaker front of mind.
This determination had its foundations in the late 2000s when Kentish wanted to push the boundaries of her abilities. At that time, winemakers in McLaren Vale were suffering through tough vintages caused by searing, dry weather. No wine was produced by Ulithorne in 2009 because Kentish wanted to stay true to her credo of quality first. Sunburned fruit would not help that cause. Having married young, she was getting itchy feet and wanted to push the boundaries of her life and career. With husband Sam and their four children in tow, she set off to learn how to make dry, delicate style rosés under the blue skies of Provence.
“Australia has learned to make rosé based on richer tastes with higher residual sugar; more of the cherry red, Italianesque style,” says Kentish. “I was much more intrigued by the Provencal delicate, dry, rose petal, onion-skin coloured wine. So I sat the family down and said my dream was to find a family where I could buy their fruit, use their winery, learn to make this style of wine and then bottle it, label it and bring it home under my own name. Initially they thought it was going to be a great holiday. Let’s go for a month and do it. But then I told them I would need five to six months. I had to find the people who I wanted to make wine with. I hadn’t been making white wine in McLaren Vale, so while I was there I wanted to look at wine varieties. I needed to build a range, not just one wine.
“I found a place to live in the south of France, which plonked us in the middle of three wine-growing regions that were renowned for rosé, and off we went. By the
Rose Kentish South Australian winemaker, mentor for women in business. Raised on a potato farm; Bachelor of Business degree majoring in marketing; first job at 16 in famed chef Christine Mansfield’s restaurant, Grey Masts, at Robe, SA; became a winemaker after buying her father-inlaw’s McLaren Vale vineyard; has won multiple awards and is a wine judge. Lives in Middleton, SA. Invests savings into her business but also owns a house in Adelaide for her four children to live in while at school.
end of 2010, I had made two wines, a rosé from Provence and vermentino on the island of Corsica, with a third one on my mind using rare red varieties on Corsica. I could see a range emerging. When we came home, we shipped the wine back in refrigerated containers and I went out to the market with it.” It helps that marketing is another strong point for Kentish.
She is back in France right now for her eighth vintage. Her wines from Provence and Corsica now comprise half her sales in Australia. She also buys fruit from private growers in McLaren Vale who she has known for years, and uses a local winery to make four types of Australian red, including a sparkling shiraz.
“I’ve just gone really slow and steady on releasing wine. It is a bit like driving a big ship. It takes a couple of years to age wine. It has been very considered and I have done it very carefully. I am very proud of myself. It’s about my gut instinct. I had a good idea from the business perspective, but in the end it had to feel right for me personally. I am out there every day talking about my wine and who I am through my wines. It’s a very personal thing for me.
“I won’t buy a vineyard unless it’s a gobsmackingly gorgeous place that I know I can make great wines from. It takes time to find those places. Sam is very open to working with me to tend the wines too, doing the viticulture.”
Between vintages, Kentish has plenty to keep her busy. There is the old mill that the family bought in Middleton, on the coast south of Adelaide. Sam is building a high-end retreat in the garden. When she isn’t globe-trotting, Kentish spends her weekends there reading and walking on the surf beach.
But there is another venture under way too, one that draws on Kentish’s deep marketing background and sense of entrepreneurship, which she says came from her father, a potato grower north of Mt Gambier near a town called Mingbool. He had an entrepreneurial mind and loved to tinker. Potatoes were a high-risk crop, so he turned his mind to new serving ideas – potato cake and potato-based pizzas.
The other venture is called Sparkke, an Adelaide-based brewer founded on several core values. It came about after a marketing strategist friend, Kari Allen, was asked to do a deep dive into the craft brewing industry. She quickly found it was a crowded marketplace but there was room for a social enterprise that was committed to inclusiveness and diversity. Sparkke’s core ambition is to give young women and other people who do not identify as males a chance to have a go.
“We pulled together an advisory board and really thrashed out the idea,” says Kentish. “We also found a young brewer, Agi Gajic, who was leaving her previous job, and grabbed her as she was leaving to go to the States. We asked whether, instead of doing that, could she come with us and be a part owner of the business?
“She did and in December 2016 we crowdfunded with product pre-sales and raised just over $100,000 in four weeks for a company that no one had never heard of before, with products no one had tasted. We used that as proof of concept. We decided if we could do that in a month, then there’s space for this company.
“We then, in January 2017, brewed those products, put them into cans and got them to people who bought them. Then we started going around the country to independents and bars, clubs and restaurants showing our fermented products and then moving into wine in a can. We are not even 18 months old, and it has been an extraordinary journey of managing this group of young women who have a lot to give and offer in making and marketing and wanting social change.
“For us, raising millennials, we really want to show this next generation that you do have an opportunity to drive change in the world and you can do it from the hip pocket. You can do it from how you choose to spend your money.” A highlight has been selling wine at Elton John concerts with “Say I Do” stamped on the cans to support marriage equality.
“I’ve just gone really slow and steady on releasing wines. It’s like driving a big ship”
Inspiration ... Kentish is setting an example for the next generation.