From a childhood of grape ‘slavery’ in the family vineyards to CEO and winemaker for Galafrey Wines, and finalist in the 2016 Australian Women in Wine Awards, Kim Tyrer is one of Western Australia’s most fabulous ladies of wine. Read her story.
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
In 1976, my parents brought a property in Mount Barker, Western Australia. The following year, they started planting a vineyard, and then in 1978, I was born. I literally grew up in the wine industry! Like most kids, I was subject to childhood ‘slave labour’ of picking grapes, labelling, bottling, and so on. However, after I completed school, I initially chose a completely different career in the visual arts. I was a professional artist for 7 years. In 2002, my father sat me down and said: “In 10 years, I will be 65 and want to retire. So, I need to know if I need to spend the next 10 years building the business to sell or for you to take over in a management position?” Being a family business from the beginning, it was hard for me to let it go so I said to my father that I would take Galafrey over. We worked out a plan where I would work 3 days a week and Dad would teach me the business. However, during vintage the following year, Dad developed a severe cough. I told him to go to a doctor to get checked out because it hadn’t cleared up. Like most men, his reply was: “I need a holiday, not a doctor!” He finally went to the doctor’s and an x-ray showed 24 shadows of cancer on his lungs. It was a secondary cancer, and further tests showed he had kidney cancer and had probably been unknowingly living with it for two years. He passed away three months later. I was 25 years old, and an only child. I stepped straight into my father’s shoes. I remember it was October and there was a shed full of wine to be finished for bottling, another shed full of wine to be sold and the vineyards had burst for the next season. It was a steep learning curve to say the least – and under some very trying conditions.
Where has your career taken you so far?
I work solely for Galafrey Wines with my mother, Linda Tyrer, and my husband, Nigel Rowe. After the initial shock of Dad’s death and the immediate need to understand the winery and our business, I never felt totally confident. My first concern was that one wrong decision could turn our world upside down and I didn’t have very much experience. I felt like the business was controlling us, not us controlling the business. I spent lots of extra time working on my business skills where I could. In 2010, I was selected to be a part of the Growzone mentoring program and this was so beneficial for me. We worked on a new business plan for Galafrey Wines, and within 12 months, we saw huge growth in our profitability and I felt more in control. We have now completed that plan and I re-did our business plan this year. Once again, we have seen a significant jump in profitability, which is great. In 2012, I was awarded the ‘Young Business Person of the Year’ award at the Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which I am very proud of. I feel much more confident now with my business skills. Last year, I was a finalist in the ‘Women in Wine Awards’ for the Owner/Operator category. We have also won a huge number of awards for our wines, including gold medals for our well known Rieslings. I have been on many boards over the years as well. I have been the Chairperson for the ‘Grapes and Gallops Festival’ for many years, which attracts over 2000 people to the area, I am also the President of the Mount Barker Wine Producers, have sat on the board of the Great Southern Wine Producers and currently sit on the WA Agriculture Produce Commission Committee.
You are CEO & Winemaker of Galafrey Wines. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how this happened?
Twelve months after my Dad passed away, my Mum decided to move the business from a partnership to a trust. I then became a partner of the business with my mother and became the face of Galafrey Wines. My first role was Operations Manager, but I soon became CEO after my business skills improved. We employed a few different winemakers since Dad passed away and I always worked with them in a hands-on role (some would say controlling!). I moved into the role of winemaker in 2011. Now that I have plenty of experience in business and boards (and finished having children!), I am now very focused on improving my winemaking skills, palate and reputation.
What is the philosophy behind Galafrey Wines?
Our philosophy is to make straight varietal wines from our 40-year old dry grown vineyard, reflecting the climate and the uniqueness of our vineyard. I am still developing my style, but right now, I am a bit of a purest and minimalist. Each wine has its own unique character that reflects the vineyard – whether it be the intensity of our Riesling in the mid palate rather than the acid, or the peaches and cream characteristics of our Chardonnay, or the floral characters that all our wines show, like violets in the young Cabernet. It is important to me that there is context in each wine and a reason for it being there.
What grape varieties do you make wine from at Galafrey Wines? And where are they sourced from?
Most our wine is sourced from our 40-year-old dry grown vineyard. One is a small batch of Pinot Noir, which was one of the first plantings in WA. We have a unique Muller Thurgau, and are one of the few vineyards growing it in Australia. Our Chardonnay, which we oak for 13 months and barrel ferment, has a distinct peaches and cream character about it. Our best wine – our Riesling – is 100% free run juice with lemon and fruit blossom, and has an intensity that is in the mid to back palate, finishing with a nice citrus acidity. We also have a straight Merlot, which is made as seriously as our Cabernet and Shiraz, with 18 months in French oak. Because we are dry grown, we have no problems with over-cropping or too much foliage, and our vineyard is in a cool climate which makes for a very serious Merlot – one of my favourite wines. Our Shiraz is a lovely mid weight red, for which I like to use 2/3 French oak and 1/3 Hungarian oak. I really like the spicy clove characteristic of our Shiraz, which I call ‘Christmas in a cup’. Our classic cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon is an incredible wine that ages beautifully for over 10 years of cellaring. This year, we are making a straight Cabernet Franc, which I am very excited about. It has lovely choc mint flavours and this wine will be unoaked, fleshy and juicy, and available by the end of the year. We also buy in some local Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Merlot to round out our range. It is important for me to ensure that we can keep ‘Mount Barker’ on our labels.
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
Riesling. I labour over every decision with this wine, from when it is picked, to when it is getting ready for bottling. I want to make one of the best Rieslings in Australia, so every decision is so important. I also love aged Rieslings and I love showing our aged Riesling to people at events. To me, it’s like that little black dress in your wardrobe, it always looks good and you get lots of compliments for it.
Within the business – what’s a typical day like for you?
No day is the same. I move from one thing to another, as there are so many areas of the business I am involved in. Sales, networking, marketing, promotion, production, winemaking, financial, social media, website, sweeping floors and so on. Every day is a juggle as I also have small children! I write lists every day and I have a good understanding of what I can achieve in a day. I get very frustrated if I am not moving forward and achieving things. I often try to prioritise my work, for example, areas of income first, areas of production second, and things like volunteering are last on the list, or relegated to out of work hours. We live on the property and work seven days a week really. Saturday is meant to be our day off to spend with our family – but it’s vintage now so we are super busy!
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
I have a few – Albany Oysters and Galafrey Dry Grown Reserve Riesling; Galafrey Dry Grown Shiraz and roast lamb; and Danish Blue Cheese and Galafrey Dry Grown Cabernet Sauvignon. When you’re matching food and wine, it’s so important to match wine with food or food with wine. Never settle for a Sauvignon Blanc with a steak or something that doesn’t match, just because you want to drink a Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re unsure, read the back of label or stick to the classics – red meat + red wine, white meat + white wine, light dish + light wine, rich dish + rich wine, and so on.
As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?
I have had no challenges; however, I often get frustrated when I don’t see enough women in the room, taking a leading role in the brand or in a high-profile position. My experience is that women tend to do a fair amount of the work, but are rarely seen. Often, I will see women working behind the scenes, but when it comes to standing up in front of an audience, often it is a male representing the brand. I am also often one of a few women in a room full of men, whether it be an industry workshop or event. I am a big supporter of seeing more women in high profile positions and leadership roles. I am proud to be a strong woman and happy to take the lead on any project or opportunity that comes my way.
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
Professionally, no, but there are some descriptive words that have more feminine connotations, like ‘fabulous’. In some instances, it is more obvious to women which foods and wines pair better.
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
- Take it home and have it with a meal. You will work out very quickly if you would buy it again.
- Have a few trusted liquor stores or restaurants and be guided by the people on the ground.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new – wine is like food.
- And try as many wines as possible!
Whoops, that’s 4 tips!
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
I would like everyone to encourage women to have the confidence to step up and take the lead. We need more women in wine, not only to be seen – but to be seen at the TOP of their field. And if that means drinking more wine from women in the wine industry? Well, then, so be it! Cheers!