BIGGER mostly means better in business.
Not so for seasoned wine entrepreneurs and farmers Andrew and Lisa Margan.
In 2002, five years after opening their eponymous winery in Broke, the couple had increased their wine production from an initial 3000 cases to 60,000 cases.
“That’s what we had at vintage, and we realised that to stay at that size we would need whole levels of management underneath us,” recalls Mr Margan.
“And that would mean we would be running people in a business rather than me being able to make wine and grow grapes as I like to do, and Lisa running a restaurant, which she likes to do, and having control of the brand, as we both like to do.”
As such, the couple halved production and now export less than 10per cent of their wines abroad, with the bulk sold in NSW.
“It’s our sweet spot,” says Mrs Margan.
Adds her husband: “We’ve been growing in quality rather than quantity. We just said ‘right. Let’s get better and better every year’.’’
If the hospitality, environmental and even manufacturing innovation awards they continue to accumulate are any gauge, the Margans are realising their ambition.
Margan has evolved into a single vineyard, estate-grown and estate-made brand that is continually transforming.
Committed to best environmental practices and on track to be carbon neutral next year, Margan has a cellar door and restaurant that sources 90per cent of its ingredients from a one-acre kitchen garden nearby.
The integrity of the brand resonates with consumers with an increasing predilection for food provenance.
“Paddock to plate is a trend [but] it can be ‘we have a herb garden’, it’s a bit overused,” says Mrs Margan.
“We are emerging to what we like to call agri-dining, because we are farmers with a restaurant.”
Margan’s “wine tourism” offering, including its cellar door, restaurant and events arm, accounts for close to half of its revenue.
Fittingly, the couple met at the bar of the then Hawkesbury Agricultural college, where Mr Margan, who already had an ag-science degree, was studying environmental health.
Mrs Margan was studying applied science and nutrition with a bachelor of education on top, eventually working as a teacher.
When Mr Margan jetted off to France, the couple remained loyal pen-friends – they have kept all their letters – before marrying in 1989.
Soon after they moved to Bordeaux, where Mr Margan worked for a negociant, or wine merchant, and made wine, returning to the Hunter to help with the Tyrrells harvest.
“I was 16 when I did my first vintage at Tyrrells, because my parents had a vineyard next door,” says Mr Margan, whose father Frank established the DeBeyers vineyard in Pokolbin.
Meanwhile Mrs Margan, by then a qualified chef who was an apprentice to legendary Hunter chef Robert Molines, cooked in a private chateau and in a restaurant.
“For me, France was formative in terms of defining food style and direction and seeing the importance of raw food and how that translates on to the plate,” she says.
Three years later the couple came home, Mr Margan employed by Tyrrells as their marketing manager.
Mrs Margan completed a masters in nutrition before the couple founded Margan winery in 1997.
The red, volcanic terroir of Broke Fordwich produces a certain style of wine that defines their brand.
The couple’s deep attachment to the land has seen them unite with other vignerons in opposition to plans by AGL to seek coal seam gas licences in wine country.
Mr Margan, the vice-president of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association, also remains at odds with the big end of the wine industry. “Big business when it came to the wine industry just about ruined it, it’s all about short-term returns but the wine industry needs long-term thinking, it’s a family business.”
The three Margan children are all studying subjects compatible to taking over Margan, but there are no expectations upon them.
Next year the Margans mark 20 years in business and will release a new range noting the “pioneering stuff we’ve done in the Hunter”.
Renewed consumer parochialism has been good for business and is driving their digital strategy.
‘‘People want to be involved in your brand, you have to speak to them in the right language,’’ Mr Margan says.
Late last year the Margans also took over ownership of Honeysuckle restaurant The Landing, after buying out their business partners.
They enjoy the contrast between their bush and city operations.
“We focus on quality at both, but at The Landing we can be much more casual and have a little more fun with it,” says Mrs Margan.
The couple have a city apartment and say their decision to stay on at The Landing was linked to their love for Newcastle.
“This place excites us,’’ says Lisa, citing the new legal complex, university campus and gradual opening of the city to harbour.