Christie Schulz’s family have been growing grapes at Turkey Flat for 170 years, but it’s her strong belief that ‘old brands can still be cool!’ that inspires her to lead one of Australia’s favourite little Barossa wine brands to new heights. Here’s her story.
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
I moved to the Barossa Valley after marrying and entered the wine industry in 1979, working in Cellar Door Sales at Seppeltsfield.
Where has your career taken you so far?
Starting in 1979, when there was only a handful of wineries scattered across the Australia. It was the advent of the cask era, bottled table wine really was considered a very special occasion drink for a very small percentage of the population. The Barossa Valley was the hub for all the major wineries, this obviously drew the cream of the industries winemakers and marketers, many of whom, went onto starting their own wineries in the Barossa Valley. I was lucky enough to be part of this era, promoting Barossa to the World.
In 1987, the Australian Government were paying growers to pull out vineyard that was considered not profitable. This is when we purchased the family property to save it from the bulldozer, the beginning of what is now known as Turkey Flat. The first vintage was made in 1990, a shiraz made solely from the majestic 1847 vines. Our portfolio has gradually expanded over the years, as has the winery and vineyards. I am the proud custodian of these ancient vineyards, ensuring they will continue for the next 170 years and beyond. Reflecting back to our humble beginning and now to my amazing young team that I nurture and guide to ensure Turkey Flat grows and makes the best possible wines we can and is engaging the next generation of wine lovers. An amazing journey that I am extremely proud of.
You established Turkey Flat almost 30 years ago but the history is a lot older than that. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how it happened?
We commenced the Turkey Flat wine business with the purchase of the historic vineyard in December 1987. However, the birth of Turkey Flat took place when a far-sighted Silesian refugee Johann Friedrich August Fiedler moved to Bethany in 1843. It was here on the banks of the Tanunda Creek where he planted an experimental garden, orchard and 72 varieties of grapes to see what would thrive best. Fiedler, a muse to generations of Barossa viticulturists and winemakers, has inspired us to continue in his footsteps, experimenting and forever seeking the best possible practices for vineyards and winemaking.
Our family became subsequent owners of the Fiedler block, which they named Turkey Flat after the bush turkeys which wandered there, and while they maintained those original vines they also developed a thriving butchering business in the late 1800s.
What is the philosophy behind Turkey Flat?
Staying true to our historical roots but not governed by them, being innovative, seeking to operate within the local ecosystems instead of in competition with them in our vineyards. “Old brands can still be cool.”
What grape varieties do you make wine from? And where are they sourced from?
The majority of wine we make is from fruit grown on our Bethany Road and Stonewell Road vineyards. We buy a small amount of extra fruit for Rose. Varieties are Marsanne, Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz and Pedro Ximénez.
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
Seriously, this is the hardest question to answer! Shiraz being the first holds a special spot, it has achieved so many acclaimed awards and reviews over the years. The other wine is Rosé, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people I run into who drink it!
What role do you have within the business and what’s a typical day like for you?
I suppose you would describe me as the GM, the staff cheekily call me the Chief! I oversee all aspects of the business, from vineyard through winemaking, bottling, marketing, sales and finance. I take a hands on approach, happy to help out anywhere in the winery and vineyard.
A typical day – can be anything, always varied but always starts early for either my weekly personal training session, an interstate flight for a marketing event, vineyard inspections, staff meetings to go through the week’s program, and discuss vineyard and winery operations, upcoming PR events, bottling schedules, market allocations and any staff issues – luckily few and far between, thanks to the great team I’ve got at Turkey Flat. We always break for staff morning tea at 10.30. There maybe a special VIP PR tour or a tasting with potential oversea buyers. Most days will include some contact with our national Australian distributors and export markets. This is vital to keep up to date with any market issues and ensure our wines are being promoted and sold in the best possible way.
My winemaker Mark Bulman and my son Alex are constantly striving to make all our wines better, so, there generally are bench marking and grading tastings, blending discussions.
Turkey Flat also export to markets like the USA, UK and parts of Asia. How important are exports to the business? How much of a challenge is the export market?
The export market is very important to our business model. It is essential our sales are balanced between the domestic and export. The last 9 years have been extremely tough, the AUD and GFC which resulted in Australia losing its gloss in the US & UK, the two most important markets. We have maintained presence in all markets and are hoping that the hard work and support we have given over this period will start to pay off. Canada has remained strong for us, Asia is still emerging, plenty of opportunities for growth.
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
Probably whatever wine and food is available! Don’t complicate things, food and wine should be enjoyable, too much thought sometimes ruins the moment. In saying this, we do trial wines and food matches, often we are surprised what works.
As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?
Never, in fact the opposite.
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
This is a tricky question, those of us involved or working in the wine industry are no different. I am sure there would be differences for those outside the industry.
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
Trust your own judgement, we are all individuals and have personal preferences.
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
Wine is made with love and should be enjoyed in all situations, wine is not a beverage it is a living art.