23 January, 2020

Sarah Collingwood: the challenges of running a family winemaking business

Sarah Collingwood: the challenges of running a family winemaking business

Sarah Collingwood, winner of Owner and Operator of the Year at the 2017 Australian Women in Wine Awards (AWIWA), talks to Ray Ruano about the challenges she has faced as a business manager of her family’s Four Winds Vineyard.

Women who aspire to achieve a career in Australia's traditionally “macho industry” must often work much harder to prove themselves.

Sarah Collingwood has built a successful career overseeing much of the logistics and paperwork of running her family's vineyard and winery, located in the Canberra district.

The family business

She and husband John joined the family’s winemaking business - founded by Suzanne and Graeme Lunney - in early 2010. Since then she has been continually developing and fine-tuning the business model. But she believes it's the family's shared passion for winemaking that is it's greatest strength.

“We love the simple things; making great wine and wood-fired pizzas,” she notes on the vineyard's website, which reflects the parents’ dream to grow and sell grapes which has transformed into a generational, growing family business.

“The most rewarding part of Four Winds Vineyard is working with the family and being able to make speedy decisions about directions or projects.” Collingwood said. “[In] running a small business, there is so much scope for agility and creativity!”

The 33-acre vineyard, located north of Canberra just east of Murrumbateman, was first planted in 1998. A cellar door followed in 2013, and the family now grows Shiraz, Riesling, Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese.

When asked about the challenges of operating a small business, Collingwood said that cash flow and staffing is universal issue.

“The great thing about the wine industry is that there is an infinite number of business models that work (and some that don't),” she explained. “John and I are still trying to work out what model works best for us; we might still be doing this in 10 years!”

Women in wine awards and moving forward

Collingwood was honoured to connect from women from all over Australia at the AWIWA ceremony, which was held in London for the first time this year, and counts it as one of her most memorable experiences.

“This award has been an exciting entry into meeting some amazing women in the wine industry,” said Collingwood. “It seems we are all facing the same challenges and having similar wins regardless of where in the country we are based.”

Earlier this year, Collingwood was also selected to participate in the Wine Australia’s Future Leaders Program.

This program focuses on the development of leadership skills as well as creating a network of confident and committed individuals who will contribute to the future success of the Aussie wine community.

“The Future Leaders Program has been a life changing experience for two reasons; getting to know the great people who were a part of the course, and the fascinating content that is delivered over the five months,” she explained.

At first, Collingwood was unsure of what to expect, but amazing personal and professional challenges soon followed.

“[The program worked on] things like how to develop a strong culture in our workplaces, what impediments we place in the way of progress, and how to make good decisions."

The wine industry, diversity, and inclusion

As for what she loves most about working in the wine industry, Collingwood enjoys that it gives individuals the opportunity to create their own craft and build upon it.

“The wine industry is a great place to work," she explains. "The industry is made up of thousands of small business that have grown the grapes, created their own brand and sell their wine at a premium at their own cellar door. It makes for an exciting industry where you can carve out your own place within it.”

But she agrees that women continue to be unrepresented and underappreciated and she hopes initiatives such as the AWIWAs by the Fabulous Ladies' Wine Society, help bring awareness to the issue. 

“I love being a part of this collaborative industry, and I was alarmed at the statistic that women make up less than 10% of it," she notes.

For more information, visit the Four Winds Vineyard website here.