Just 12 years ago Leanne Rogers and husband Garry, owners of The Lake House Denmark, left Perth to live in the country and start a new life and business adventure. Leanne has had a very hands-on role as CEO, and her passion for ‘doing everything’ has seen her work in all aspects of the business from hand-crushing fruit, spraying the vineyard with biodynamic preparations, running the cellar door and restaurant, as well as a ‘chef’ in the kitchen. She has also created and developed the recipes and look and feel of their Vinofood and WineSpa ranges. Here’s her fabulous story.
When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?
After holidaying in Denmark (in the southern part of Western Australia) for over 10 years, my partner Garry and I made the move from Perth to Denmark in 2005. We fell in love with a rural property just five minutes from town. It was everything we wanted – almost 100 acres, a big lake and two houses (one being a run-down cellar door and restaurant that had been vacant for two years), plus a vineyard (which wasn’t really what we were looking for!).
Without any previous experience in wine or hospitality, and a ‘it can’t be that hard’ attitude at first, we set about learning everything we could about looking after a vineyard, growing grapes and making wine and in September 2006 with our first vintage bottled we opened the cellar door and restaurant.
Where has your career taken you so far?
If you had asked me 15 years ago where I thought I would be there is no way I would have said living in the country, running a winery, cellar door and restaurant or being the creator of a condiment range and skincare products. I am a big believer in being open to all opportunities as you never know where they will take you and I am certainly grateful for the journey I have been on so far.
You are the Owner and CEO at The Lake House. Can you tell us the story of why, when and how this happened?
Our business is very diversified. We have the cellar door and restaurant, the vineyard, wine production and wholesale, Vinofood condiments and WineSpa body care products all of which have grown over the last 12 years. I too have grown at every stage as I have been fortunate to be involved with every aspect of the business since the beginning.
What is the philosophy behind The Lake House?
The philosophy behind The Lake House Denmark has always been to inspire people, to provide a memorable ‘lake house moment’ experience every time someone visits our cellar door and restaurant, sips our wines, tastes our Vinofood condiments or uses our WineSpa body products. We want to enrich people’s lives, be a place where life slows down and people tune into nature and connect with themselves and others. We find fulfilment and meaning in our own lives when we research and develop our products and then see our customer’s enjoyment and satisfaction when they experience what The Lake House has to offer. This is ‘why’ we do what we do.
What grape varieties do you make wine from at The Lake House? And where are they sourced from?
All our fruit is from the Great Southern wine region. In our Denmark vineyard we grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. We also have a number of vineyards in Mt Barker and Frankland River where we grow Riesling, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
What are your personal favourites from those you produce, and why?
I love Chardonnay and particularly our Premium Reserve Chardonnay. The fruit is entirely grown on our property so it is great to watch something grow from nothing and then be produced into a great wine.
Within the business – what’s a typical day like for you?
As much as I would like to have a planned, structured day it never seems to work out that way which makes each day fun and exciting. On a typical day, now that my daughter is at school I always drop her off first and then go to the office at the cellar door. When they see my car, the ducks make a beeline to me to be fed so that is my first job! I then go and check-in with all the staff to make sure they are all ok. After that I could be working on wine scheduling and production, finances, sales and marketing, anything Vinofood, events and the many other things that seem to pop up.
How does your overseas experience translate to your day to day work?
On any day, I can be communicating by email and telephone with overseas distributors and customers, discussing our wines, Vinofood condiments, WineSpa bodycare products, and marketing. It is very exciting to have products that can be exported all over the world, and while we live in a regional country town we still feel in-touch with the rest of the world.
What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?
We have become well known in the region for our shared vineyard platters which were designed around how we love to sit back and relax at the end of the day with a bottle of wine, my choice being Chardonnay, and a platter of great tasting seasonal dips, breads, chutneys, cheeses, olives and marinated veggies. The rounded flavours of the Chardonnay offset the pickled acidity of our marinated vegetables and olives. I don’t think it can get any better than that and a great way to share and connect with family and friends.
As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?
No, not at all. I have never had any issues. I can remember when we first started I wanted to experience as many jobs as I could so I said I would help with netting in the vineyard. I had another girl who worked at the cellar door do it with me. Well, at the end of the day, we both looked at each other and said that’s one job we will leave to the guys. We are happy for them to do!
In your experience, do women think about or talk about wine differently than blokes do?
I think women and men talk about most things differently, so much so that we created our “He Said She Said’ lifestyle wines which sum up exactly how men and women relate to each other. It is a great conversation topic.
On the label we have:
Communication between the sexes has long been hazardous. He says, “wrong way down”, she says “right way up” and before you know it things have gone all topsy-turvy and we are left wondering if we are speaking the same language. Frustrating at times, yet never dull it’s best discussed over a good bottle of wine!
What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?
Always be in the ‘present moment’ before you taste and if you are up to it try something different, not just what you usually like. You might find a wine that you really love.
If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?
Take time out each day to be grateful for all that you have. And enjoy all the moments sharing with friends and family. Especially with a bottle of Lake House wine and Vinofood condiments!