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Generations in Wine

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY

Alicia Lüdi-Schutz

>> Whistler Wines - Sally and Martin Pfeiffer with their sons Sam and Josh
GENERATIONS IN WINE

Twenty years have whistled by

Whistler WINES // THE PFEIFFER FAMILY story

October 2019 marks two decades since the Pfeiffer family first opened their Cellar Door on Seppeltsfield Road.

A building filled with rustic charm, it is perfectly suited to the bush setting and surrounding vineyards from which the Whistler Wines range are made.

The name on the labels that line the shelves could very well describe the breeze that whistles through the trees. But, truth be told, it’s a nod to the heritage of the founding family – an English translation of their German surname.

The Whistler story begins with Martin Pfeiffer who purchased the property in 1982 where he and his wife Sally would eventually build the family home in which children, Josh, Sam and Abby would enjoy their formative years.

“This was a bare block of land with nothing on it apart from the scrub that was here and a tractor shed!” says Martin, a former vineyard manager at Penfold’s for 28 years and third generation grape grower.

For the first few years, the land was used for cropping, but Martin had a plan.

“I bought 400 trees a year from Trees for Life and planted them all…more than 3,000.

“I was thinking ahead…I was thinking about the layout of the vineyards. There were four to six different soil types on the property here, so I was envisioning which varieties would be planted in which areas, then planting the trees to complement that.”

In 1994, the first vines went into the ground, four hectares of Shiraz.

“As I’m planting the vineyard there, I’m seeing the traffic go along one of the most popular roads in the Barossa and I started thinking to myself….I knew the problems in the grape industry where you were forever at the beck and call of the winemaker as to what you might sell your fruit for, whether you would sell your fruit that year or whether you wouldn’t, or whether it would be profitable or not. So, I was thinking of how we could value-add to the business and not just grow grapes. Why not open a little Cellar Door?”

He still remembers calling his neighbour to vouch for him when applying for his producer’s licence.

“All we had was shed out the back with broken windows and rabbits, half full of hay!”

Much has changed since those humble beginnings, when customers would lift a phone at the unmanned Cellar Door which automatically rang Martin’s mobile to call him in from working in the vineyard.

>> The next generation - Josh and Sam Pfeiffer of Whistler Wines

Today, the next generation has joined the family business, with sons Josh and Sam creating yet another chapter in Whistler’s story.

Josh is the first winemaker in the Pfeiffer family and recalls working with his father and grandmother, Audrey who was pruning vines until she was well into her eighties.

“I remember being out here and ploughing the paddocks with dad. I’d sit in the back of the tractor with the window open so I could smell the dirt…I would have been four or five years old.”

Now at 35 years of age, Josh is married to Ellen and raising his own two young sons. On reflection, he says he always knew he wanted to be in the wine industry, he just didn’t know how.

“To be honest, in the early stage of my life, I didn’t enjoy the viticulture side of it because, when we were kids, we were essentially made to work! The winemaking side of it appealed to me and I studied winemaking and graduated. Then I worked at Two Hands and spent five years as a winemaker at Henschke’s before coming back here.”

It was critical for Josh to gain external experience before moving into the family business.

Martin says, “They needed to get out into the industry, out into the wide world and get experience and learn how to work for someone else first. I think it is a fatal mistake to bring your kids straight into the family business without experiencing the world out there.”

Josh joined the business when he was 29 years of age, taking over the grapegrowing and winemaking side of things.

“That was pretty full on! I felt like I had a decent grounding in winemaking…and then coming back here I started learning the viticulture side from Dad…that’s 40 years of  grapegrowing experience there.”

Josh is now as passionate about viticulture as he is about  winemaking. He’s introduced organic and biodynamic principles to the vineyard and developed his own winemaking style.

“I’m a little bit more adventurous and think outside of the box I guess,” says Josh.

“I respect the traditional styles of Barossa wines, but my preference is more towards lighter style of wines and a bit edgier styles.”

>> Josh pictured with his wife Ellen and their son William

Keeping it in the family reached a new level in February when Josh’s younger brother, Sam joined the business as Director of Sales and Marketing, having gained a wealth of experience interstate and overseas.

He too planted trees and helped in the vineyard as a child, before working vintages at various wineries. But when he discovered his passion for marketing, he knew he had a destiny to fulfil.

“I’ve been doing our export markets remotely for the last 18 months from Canada,” says Sam listing the different sales and marketing roles he has had during the past decade.

Married to Canadian wife, Kelsey the couple are also new parents, balancing family and helping contribute to the evolution of the winemaking business.

“It came to the point where Mum and Dad wanted to step back even more and Josh couldn’t do all of this on his own…. He was literally running this whole place – sales and export, winemaking and everything.

“Josh can go out there as the winemaker, and everyone wants to see the winemaker, but there’s a particular skill in up-selling and cross selling and objection handling and all these things that I guess I’ve been trained in through, like Dad said, going out there and experiencing it with other big corporations.”

>> Sam pictured with his wife Kelsey and their daughter Isabella

Admiration for each other’s talents and a strong sense of family have worked well for the Pfeiffer brothers.

With the introduction of the “Next Gen” range of wines to complement the traditional favourites which launched the label, the duo are confident wine connoisseurs from every demographic will find their perfect drop.

“I think Josh is an awesome winemaker, and he knows that I’m good at selling wines so we are both good in our own skill sets and hopefully that’s what takes it to the next level,” Sam says.

Josh is also excited for the future and although he admits they argue like all brothers, there’s also compromise, mutual respect and a load of fun to be had as they continue to drive the family friendly winery experience their parent’s established.

“I think Whistler is starting to hit its straps. We’ve always had the production side of things covered, but to have Sam come back and join the business in a sales role, it’s added that firepower.

“I think now we will be able to start growing the business further.”

For doting grandparents, Martin and Sally, seeing the next generation and their families step up is a dream they’ve always hoped would come true.

“We are proud of starting this… but even more proud of seeing it keep going because so many little businesses don’t. We are proud the boys are involved and wanting to give it a go.”

And the secret to the Pfeiffer family success?

“Drink a lot of wine!” laughs Martin.

See more of the 'Generations in Wine' series