Last weekend we were invited to join the Seifried Family to celebrate a milestone; 40 years since their first grape harvest in Nelson and marked by the release of the family’s very first Méthode Traditionnelle, a delicious local sparkling wine that has been produced using traditional Champagne making techniques.
The new sparkling wine started its journey when the grapes were harvested in March 2011, just six weeks prior to the first Seifried grandchildren being born. This is a wine made to celebrate this next generation.
Over the last 40 years the Seifried’s have developed a significant wine business, not just significant in Nelson but in the wine sector in New Zealand; they produce a wide range of quality but very affordable wines that are sold all around New Zealand and are exported to over 20 countries around the world.
It goes without saying that every business needs a succession plan of some sort, be it selling the business at some stage or passing it on to the next generation and for Seifried Estate this is something the family have been planning for some years.
While there are a number of large international corporate winemaking companies operating in New Zealand that could quite happily add another winery to their holdings the wine industry brings out the passion in people like few other industries can.
Being a rural sector activity, there are so many variables to the success of any winery – the weather gods, the variable New Zealand dollar and continually changing markets.
The risks also add to the emotion of owning a winemaking business, it is very difficult to separate personal life from work life when you have absolutely everything (all your money, often your home and normally plenty of debt) tied up in one asset, it is far more than just a day job and this can make it an even more difficult business to sell.
I have known the Seifried family for many of the 40 years they have been in the business and have watched the business grow from a small producer in the Upper Moutere Village to the large enterprise it now is.
Anyone who knows Hermann and Agnes Seifried will know of their huge capacity for work and this work ethic has been passed on to their children, Heidi, Chris and Anna.
While the reins are passing from Hermann and Agnes, today many of the key roles, and decision making of the company are shared, as the handing over to the next generation is underway.
Agnes says while they always hoped the kids would stay involved in the business she and Hermann also knew they had to find their own way in life and come back to the family business if and when they were ready.
Obviously having grown up in a family owned business where the children always had jobs to do around the vineyards and winery while they were growing up there was always a high likelihood they would return; they already had an emotional connection with the business from a young age.
And that is the Seifried secret to successfully handing over the business to the next generation, the children have always been part of the business other than when they were at university or working overseas, and are fully integrated into the business so when Hermann and Agnes are on overseas trips visiting distributors and customers or want to reduce their hours a little so they can spend time with the grandchildren the business just carries on as usual.
Since the early 2000’s the Seifried children have all drifted back into working fulltime for the business, bringing experience gained in other countries and businesses with them. They have reintegrated nicely into a business that was going through a significant growth phase at the time, building and relocating into a new winery complex and significantly increasing vineyard area; the children all had real jobs to come back to, not just jobs created for them in the family business.
A real key to the success of the Seifried business is that the children didn’t just get a job in the winery when they left school, they all have university qualifications and have worked for other companies.
Heidi’s first qualification was as a dental surgeon, she graduated from Otago University and worked in that industry fulltime for three years in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, before coming back to Lincoln University where she completed her Post Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oeneology, then travelling to experience vintages abroad in Germany and the USA.
Heidi still spends some time honing her dentistry skills on a part time basis while juggling a young family and working in the family business as a winemaker and looking after compliance.
Chris has a winemaking qualification from Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Business from Lincoln University, he has worked in wineries in Australia, USA, Austria and France.
Chris came back to NZ for a harvest at home in 2001, and has been a major part of the family business ever since.
Anna has a Marketing Degree from Otago, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Wine Marketing from Adelaide University and she spent a few years in Australia working with Coles Myer, before returning home in 2003 to work alongside Agnes in the sales and marketing of the family wines.
Another key to Hermann and Agnes making sure the business is in good hands in the future is that none of the Seifried family have job titles on their business card, if a job needs doing it gets done and if that means Anna, who deals with much of the marketing and administration with Agnes, has to spend some time on the bottling line she does – “it’s a good opportunity to make sure we all know our own business inside out” says Anna.
Everyone in the family has a role representing the business in the market place with every member spending many hours in airplanes and hotel rooms around the world promoting Seifried wines and supporting their overseas based sales teams with a commitment to making the business the best it can be.
In recent years Chris and his wife Susan, and Heidi and her husband Mark have welcomed three children each; already the children are frequent visitors to the winery, and enjoy drives through the vineyard with Opa to check on growth, as well as seeing the bottling line in action, and of course all the activity that happens behind the scenes in the winery.
It would seem, there is a strong possibility that the very same succession to the third generation may also come to fruition 30 years from now.
I think this family business will remain a family business for generations to come because there are no tall poppies in the Seifried clan, they epitomise the definition of hard work and they all have respect for the skills each bring to the business.
Hermann and Agnes can rightly be proud of the business they created and the way their family has been fully integrated into the business while respecting their children’s freedom to find their own place in the world.
The 40th vintage and start of the third generation is most certainly something worthy of celebrating as Hermann and Agnes gradually hand over the running of the business to spend a bit more time with the grandchildren – just don’t use the ‘retire’ word around Hermann.