Life has come full circle for Plantagenet Wines Owner Tom Wisdom.
He worked on his first wine vintage at Plantagenet back in 1994 as a bottom-of-the-rung labourer under the guidance of industry legends Tony Smith and Gavin Berry.
Fast forward to 2021 and Mr Wisdom, alongside wife Jo, became the new face of the winery after purchasing the business off Lionel Samson Sadleirs Group.
Mr Wisdom himself is a sixth generation descendent of the owners of Lionel Samson, with his grandfather Tony Samson offering him that first vintage gig in the 90s.
After completing a Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Australia in 1998, Mr Wisdom started work as a viticulturalist for Margaret River pioneers Evans and Tate.
“In those days the local wine industry was on the crest of a wave,” Mr Wisdom told the Weekender.
“Fruit prices were strong, and the wine quality was becoming much more renowned. It was an exciting industry to be around.”
Resigning from Evans and Tate after eight years because the “industry turned sour” following the global financial crisis, Mr Wisdom got himself an MBA and turned to agribusiness solutions with Commonwealth Bank.
But with the family business tugging at his sleeves, he returned to where it all started at Plantagenet – this time as managing director.
Having worked in Margaret River for close to a decade, Mr Wisdom said the Great Southern had a special quality that other Western Australian wine regions didn’t.
“It’s a really authentic wine region, there’s no corporate influence,” he said.
“It’s all family owned, smaller, passionate producers. The quality of the fruit is amazing.
“To be able to not just pump out cabernet and chardonnay, but shiraz, riesling, pinot – it’s just a special place that can produce a wide variety of wines.”
If the Great Southern is to ever match a wine region like Margaret River, Mr Wisdom said there would need to be serious capital investment.
“Things like accommodation, it’s always hard to get people to the region because of quality accommodation,” he said.
“There’s no shortage of natural attractions – but where are people going to stay?
“Getting people easily to the region, it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive – how do you make that more accessible?
“How do you take the Great Southern to Perth?”
Although Chinese wine tariffs have had a devastating impact on some Australian wine producers, Mr Wisdom said around only 2-3 per cent of Plantagenet’s turnover came from China.
“We’ve actually been able to develop new export markets that have more than offset that Chinese component,” he said.
“The ones that have been really good for us have been the UK, but also Taiwan and Canada. They’ve picked up the slack.”
Looking ahead to this year’s vintage, Mr Wisdom said Plantagenet’s vines had been picked just in time before the remnants of ex-tropical cyclone Seroja brought heavy rain.
“Luckily most people had there fruit off, 60mm came through,” he said.
“Crop loads were average to above average.
“It’s an above average year for quality.”