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   Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009






Holy Bowen Batman - Or Cutting off Your Nose to Spite Your Face (24 April)


Having worked in the corporate world for many years, and having closely watched what has happened in the corporate wine world over the past fifteen years, nothing surprises about the sheer lunacy of some of the decisions made by corporate wine companies.


Many of them are myopic in the extreme and clearly aimed at saving a buck, without any real thought about the long term impact on the organisation. That’s a great way to build a brand – not! But then the decision makers, in most case, are highly motivated by their quarterly and annual bonuses, and frankly don’t give a rats arse about the long term health of the company. As I have stated many times on TORBWine, there is not a company in the world that can sustain long term profitability by cutting costs.


Big Sol at Telstra is leaving that organisation in shambles. Productivity of staff has been decimated by cutting costs. Now it is to the point that employees can waste literally hours waiting on the phone to talk to other Telstra employees. Cutting costs can and does get to the point where it actually costs the organisation more than it saves.


Such may well be the case in the latest departure from Constellation Wines, with the reported redundancy of Rob Bowen.  So what is special about this guy? Well, for a start, he was boss cocky winemaker for the huge West Australian arm of Houghton/Constellation. He worked in close partnership with Ross Pamment but Bowen in essence, had the final say.


Bowen joined the successful organisation in 2003 and many thought he was on a hiding to nothing. When a winery is successful, its hard to improve things, but improve things he did, especially at the premium end of the market. In 2008 he was a finalist for the Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year (with Pamment) and that’s no real surprise. According to a Houghton Press Release dated 22 October 2008, “Last night the winners of the Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia were announced. Houghton was awarded an impressive six trophies, five gold, two silver and nine bronze medals.”


According to Gourmet Traveller, “the rise in quality of the Houghton wines - across the board, but notably at the premium end – has accelerated in the past five years” so Bowen managed to do the almost impossible. Make a successful winery more successful.


But it was not all a bed of roses and successes. In 2006 Constellation bought out Vincor and that operation came with two problem children, Goundrey and Amberley, as well as a substantial increase in vineyard holdings. By this time, it was a bloody big operation! In fact too big, and as a result, in August 2008 Constellation (Australia) decided to sell off twenty three vineyards (2,400 acres), and close three production facilities, as well as relocating the bottling operations from Swan Valley in WA to Reynella in SA. All this to reduce debt and save money.


Again, according to Gourmet Traveller, “In the lead-up to harvest, regional viticulturist Diane Stewart, Bowen and Pamment regularly crisscross the south-west by plane or car, interacting with winemakers and viticulturists. After yet another visit, one of Margaret River’s best growers shakes her head at the expense and effort involved in such monitoring. Yet the results are evident in the finished wine.


Very telling comment! The powers to be at Constellation probably realised they could save a few quid by getting rid of Bowen, but it will be interesting to see, if in the long term, the quality of the wines remain the same, or if they decline. Lets face it, the premium WA wines from the Constellation empire are not exactly inexpensive, and if quality drops, even marginally, then this cost saving measure may well cost them more than it saves, as knowledgeable wine lovers find alternatives.


Top talent is very hard to replace, and there is no substitute for experience. None! Far too often, that’s something the corporate bean counters and management in the wine making business, fail to realise.  


Feel free to submit your comments!

From: Fred Curtis: Thursday 23 March

Small err

 Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009