The spectacular Clare Valley in South Australia is known as one of the world’s best wine-growing regions, and for the Paulett family, that has been proven not only via a prestigious ‘Best Riesling in the World’ award, but through a thriving business that is as much about giving back to the community as it is about making incredible wines.

Their business includes 200 hectares with close to 80 of those under vine, producing riesling, chardonnay, semillon, shiraz, cabernet, merlot and malbec. They also make their own beer, run an award-winning restaurant and export to nine countries, as well as selling direct to consumer and even running a few sheep to eat the waste and create additional income.

The business was started in the early 1980s by Matt’s parents, Neil and Alison Paulett. Neil’s passion for winemaking was awakened when his own father, an electrician, took on some work at a winery where a winemaker took the young Neil under his wing.

The family’s first vintage was in 1983 – but the Ash Wednesday bushfires that same year wiped out much of the property and what fruit was left was damaged by smoke. They reset and before the year was out, opened what would be the 13th cellar door operation in the region. Today there are dozens.

The business is now headed by Matt and Ali. Matt studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College and Ali did wine marketing at Adelaide University.

Opportunity and risk carefully balanced

Every part of the business is designed to complement the others and diversify risk. Ali explains that direct-to-consumer sales offer the highest margin. The restaurant was established not as just another income stream but to increase foot traffic to the cellar door.

“The restaurant has grown our marketing database to 15,000,” says Ali, and is become successful in its own right. “We thought we might do 15 covers a day. Within six months of opening, we had to put in a second kitchen and expand the seating to cater for 90 covers, with multiple sittings on weekends. In the last few years, we have won multiple awards including Great Wine Capitals of the World, Best Wine Tourism Restaurant and Gourmet Traveller – Cellar Door with Best Food. It has given us a huge amount of exposure and credibility.”

Staff numbers have swelled from six to more than 30 since the restaurant opened in 2015.

“We have a real focus on training, and we have taken on a number of apprentices. Plus we work with the local high school and primary school to show our support for this community however we can,” says Ali. “We try to do things that are good for our brand but also good for Clare Valley. We’re very community-oriented and we always help where we can. We know that for us to succeed, Clare Valley has to succeed.”

Ali is on the Board of the Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association and the Hutt River Board, which runs the Visitor Information Centre.

“Staying active and contributing in these spaces keeps us on the pulse of what is happening and enables us to contribute at a higher level on issues such as employment, tourism and water supply within the region. We’ve been lucky enough to be included in many roundtable discussions with government ministers as well as the South Australian premier,” she says.

Low-carbon, organic range

The Pauletts recently bought a neighbouring property which is certified organic. They’re excited to be releasing their O Series low-carbon-footprint organic range, which they expect will be popular in Nordic markets.

And so what’s next?

“We always try to keep an open mind and make decisions that can keep us ahead of the curve. I can’t say much now, but there are some very exciting things coming in the next 12 months,” Ali says.

Learn more about how Australian businesses are adapting to shifting business conditions and changing customer needs at CommBank Foresight - insights for future-facing businesses.