Manjimup winery Woodgate Wines reveals why it’s content with being a small batch producer

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Manjimup winemaker Mark Aitken is the first to admit he has little interest in significantly scaling his family-owned business Woodgate Wines.

Instead, Mr Aitken is putting all his focus on maintaining its status as a small batch producer and maker of artisanal wines.

“For us, it’s a lifestyle business and we’re not interested in just growing for the sake of growing,” Mr Aitken said.

“We keep it a size that we can manage so that it provides us with an income and keeps me gainfully employed.”

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Mr Aitken said he went down a “standardised pathway” when he first took over Woodgate Wines in 2017 with his partner Tracey by organising distribution networks in Perth and Sydney.

But the couple found as the business started to grow and sales increased, the smaller profit margins became.

“The growth factor means you are ploughing a lot of your profits back into your business,” Mr Aitken said.

It forced them to cut out all of the middle men, reduce production from about 50 tonnes to 15 tonnes a year, and sell direct to the consumers.

About 60 per cent of Woodgate Wines’ sales are now direct-to-customer through its cellar door and online store.

“What we’ve found is that less is more, we can still make a living out of it but now I don’t work as hard,” Mr Aitken said.

“I was doing stuff I didn’t want to do, I didn’t particularly enjoy running around chasing after distribution sales and marketing, it’s not my wheelhouse.

“By making that decision, we’ve wound it back to a more basic and fulfilling type of business.”

Mr Aitken added by cutting production, they were able to reduce the wine industry’s carbon footprint.

“We have a paddock to plate approach where we are sourcing everything locally, producing it locally and selling it locally,” he said.

“We’ve reduced the amount of trucking we need to do, diesel use, it’s a nice side benefit.”

Mr Aitken is now focused on artisanal wine practices, with one example being a white wine produced using the sur lie ageing process, which allows a finished wine to continue to sit on the lees, or residual yeast, in order to extract flavours.

“I am definitely focusing on the unusual stuff, a unique pitch,” Mr Aitken said.

“That’s one of the good benefits of having a smaller operation is you can really start to plan and say ‘what can I try that no one else is doing?’

“People are embracing artisanal products, you just have to look at the craft brewing phenomenon at the moment and it’s the same with wine.”

He said a growing amount of consumers were looking for organic wines “made with less intervention.”

Woodgate Wines produces a variety of red, white and sparkling wines including Shiraz Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Merlot and Chardonnay, with the fruits sourced from its 3 hectare-estate vineyard in Manjimup.

Mr Aitken said Manjimup and Pemberton were developing a name for itself as premium pinot noir regions and could complement the better-known Margaret River area.

“Many people haven’t heard of Manjimup and Pemberton being wine growing regions and they’re quite surprised at the quality, how good all the local wines actually are,” he said.

“The area is a little bit of a hidden gem, it has a lot going for it as a place to come and immerse yourself into for the taste of the food, the wine.”

Mr Aitken will showcase his products at the Pinot Picnic event in Manjimup and Pemberton at the end of April.

“It’s an opportunity for people to come down and experience the tourism of the area, with the focus on Pinot Noir,” he said.

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