Over the past decade, Bremerton Wines‘ Rebecca and Lucy Willson have seen a steady increase in visitor numbers to their Langhorne Creek winery, but nothing like the boom in cellar door patronage over the past few months.
Winemaker Rebecca and marketing manager Lucy together oversee the winery that was established by their parents Craig and Mignonne Willson more than 35 years ago.
“Over 10 years we’ve seen a constant increase in visitation, but we haven’t seen the rise as large as it has been in the past four or five months,” says Rebecca.
Since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, South Australians have embraced the call to support regional tourism.
“We’re also finding that people are lingering for longer. They’re coming to spend the day or half a day to relax, and instead of the one- or two-hour visit, it’s often now a four-hour visit.”
Last week, Bremerton opened a new cellar door space in addition to expanded wine and gin tasting experiences. Bremerton already produces its own gin and will later this year fulfil plans to install a gin distillery.
There are also plans to host weekend sessions with live music and food trucks sprawled out on the winery’s newly expanded lawn areas.
The $1 million expansion was in the pipeline long before the pandemic, and although in hindsight it proved to be a timely move, there were significant concerns about the viability of the project.
“We just threw all our cards in and had a go hoping it would all pay off, but it’s worked out and we’re very happy to have done it,” Rebecca says.
“It didn’t stop us having a few tears of nerves making that decision.”
Bremerton contracted Kenneth Builders to build a new cellar door space adjoining the winery’s historic 1866 barn that has served as the tasting room and cellar door for 26 years.
“The vision really was about increasing our capacity and space in a way that really complemented what was already on the site, because the stone barn is such a beautiful feature,” says Lucy.
Visitors to the winery now enter through a walkway framed by a recycled timber arbor, made of wood from the former replica HMS Buffalo ship at Glenelg as a tie to family ancestors who came to Australia on the original ship.
Many materials have been recycled, with pieces that hold sentimental value such as a gate from Kadina’s railway, timber from Hardys’ wine vats, and red gum sleepers used to build door lintels and sills.
Bremerton sells about 35,000 cases of wine per year, a large portion through cellar door sales. Rebecca says the pandemic has solidified the importance of having reliable traffic through the bricks-and-mortar winery.
“The direct sales area of our business has always been important, but this period has really brought home how just how important. We’ve always had very loyal customers, but the energy that we put into it is really coming to the fore now. We just have to keep a focus on it,” Rebecca says.
Almost a third of Bremerton’s total wine production is sold through exports.
“I hope from an industry perspective, we don’t see any recoil within the next 12 months as far as oversupply into the domestic market and adjusting pricing, that’s something that’s out of our control. We just have to sit back and see what happens now,” she says.
Bremerton will continue to focus on a reliable offering of regionally inspired food, platters and pizza, continuing a tradition started by Lucy and Rebecca’s mother Mignonne, who was the winery’s chef in its early years and still has an input today.
“Our food offerings have been relatively consistent over the past 15 years. Our mother is a fabulous cook, she started the food when they opened the cellar door about 25 years ago and still makes some chutneys and other bits and pieces, while providing ideas for the menu,” Lucy says.
Located less than an hour from Adelaide, Langhorne Creek’s wine region has continued to gain recognition over the years.
“It’s a really great day trip from Adelaide — we also have some beautiful accommodation providers and it’s just an awesome location. We encourage people who haven’t been down here before to come and explore,” says Lucy.
The region also experiences a rise in patronage from the influx of holiday-makers to the nearby south coast.
Rebecca says there has been a fundamental shift in wine tourism, as wineries offer wider visitor experiences.
“It’s more than just the wine – it’s the gin and all the regional produce, we have a providore onsite and a lot of regional produce available that people can buy to take away,” says Rebecca.
“The gin has been amazing and now we’re doing the gin flights because we have three different gins on offer. That’s been a really popular choice as well.
“We’ve been utilising another still to make our gin, but the next stage is actually bringing that production in-house because we’re loving the gin and it’s so complimentary to the wine.”
The Willsons credit their success to their parallel vision for the direction of the business. Having worked together for so long, they joke that they can communicate telepathically.
“Sometimes we can look at each other and we don’t actually have to say any words,” says Lucy.
“We share a passion for what we’re doing,” Rebecca continues. “We certainly bring different things to the table, but we respect each other’s opinions and we always seem to fall together on a decision.”
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