Gin puts dis­tillery on the road to success

Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1995, Wilderer Dis­tillery has won nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional awards for its grappa. But the com­pany only re­ally started tast­ing fi­nan­cial success when it re­leased its own gin about a year ago.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY ENTREPRENEUR -


story of how Wilderer Dis­tillery be­came one of the world’s lead­ing gin crafters started more than 20 years ago when Hel­mut Wilderer lost a restau­rant that he built up to Miche­lin sta­tus in Baden-Baden, Ger­many. At the time, around the start of 1993, Hel­mut won a golf trip to South Africa.

Dur­ing this week-long trip, he drank the worst grappa, im­ported from Italy, he had ever tasted. Af­ter com­plain­ing about the poor qual­ity of grappa in South Africa, the Swiss owner of Rozen­dal farm in Stel­len­bosch con­vinced him to start his own dis­tillery here. The very next day, the two set off to reg­is­ter the dis­tillery and a few months later Hel­mut re­ceived a li­cence for the first pri­vately owned dis­tillery in SA.

Hel­mut took var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional cour­ses to learn the tricks of the trade and be­come a mas­ter dis­tiller. De­spite nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional awards for his grappa, the busi­ness only started mak­ing real money when his son, Chris­tian, per­suaded him to make his own gin.

Chris­tian, how was Wilderer started?

My dad swore he’d never get in­volved in the restau­rant busi­ness again, but when he ac­quired the prop­erty in Si­mondium for his dis­tillery, he opened his premises for grappa tast­ings. Dur­ing the tast­ings, peo­ple would ask whether he didn’t have any cof­fee or snacks. Be­fore long he opened a restau­rant again, called Pappa Grappa. The idea was for the restau­rant to serve au­then­tic Ital­ian and Ger­man cui­sine to com­ple­ment the grappa ex­pe­ri­ence.

How did you get in­volved in the busi­ness?

I worked for my dad for three years af­ter fin­ish­ing my B.Com de­gree, but left in 2005, be­cause we clashed too much. I got a job at Core Cater­ing and within two years worked my­self up from rep to a de­part­ment manager with more than 60 peo­ple un­der me.

But when my dad de­cided to sell the dis­till­ing op­er­a­tion, I knew it would be a fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter to sell the prop­erty. So I of­fered to help him out. He would con­tinue pro­duc­ing grappa, while I would take over the restau­rant and find an in­de­pen­dent dis­trib­u­tor for the grappa. I rea­soned it would be eas­ier to find a dis­trib­u­tor than a good restau­rant manager.

Why was the busi­ness strug­gling?

Grappa was not tak­ing off the way my dad en­vi­sioned – drink­ing grappa sim­ply isn’t part of the South African cul­ture. In ad­di­tion, he was op­er­at­ing the restau­rant half-heart­edly be­cause of the BadenBaden ex­pe­ri­ence in which he suf­fered huge fi­nan­cial losses. He also strug­gled to find good staff, most prob­a­bly be­cause of lan­guage and cul­tural dif­fer­ences. He tried to im­port good chefs, but this didn’t work out.

Fa­ther and son team Hel­mut and Chris­tian Wilderer tast­ing gin at the Wilderer Dis­tillery.

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