“We have an expression that unless you have dirt under your fingernails, you’ll never know how to grow a vine,” says James Millton from his eponymous Gisborne vineyard.
“I loved that the French passed their vineyards down through the generations and thought it would be an amazing thing to do for our children,” says Christine, 23 years after forging the wine brand. “When they were toddlers, we thought they would be malleable enough that we could make them come into the business and naturally succeed us,” says Dave. “As they grew up, we soon realised they weren’t going to be controlled by us and we were happy to let them follow their dreams as we did.”
But after studying and forging careers, Blair and Deni are back on the vineyard, with Blair responsible from vineyard to bottle, and Deni from bottle to glass. While neither has specific viticultural or winemaking training, both have done vintages at other wineries, and helped out at Bladen in holidays. Having grown up immersed in the industry, they’ve absorbed wine expertise, says Dave. “They’ve been around this their whole lives.”
Having younger people in the business is a positive way to keep it moving forward, Christine says. “They have great ideas and keep it fresh.” She particularly credits the younger generation’s networks within the industry and their wonderfully “vibrant” social media skills. And dealing with a family employee can be easier than dealing with a stranger, says Dave. “At the end of the discussion you can say, ‘remember we still love you’. You can’t do that with an employee.”
The wine industry is appealing to the younger generation, because of its varied opportunities and the lifestyle offered, he adds. “This is not a bad business for succession –
if you plan and take advice
then it can work really well.” Their success has been in respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses and allowing individuals to shine, says Dave. “There are many different waka on the river and we all paddle at different speeds. It’s not a race - it’s about enjoying the ride,” he says. “It would just be nice if we were going downstream all the time.”