Sunday, 15 October 2023 16:25

Women in Wine: The power of positivity

Written by  Joelle Thomson
Cath Archer Cath Archer

For young wine professionals who have been mentored by Cath Archer, it is her wine industry knowledge, leadership expertise and branding experience that impresses them the most. But it was food that led her to a career in wine.

A trip to Italy when she was 19 led her to the city of Bologna, foodie capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, where her then boyfriend played semi-professional rugby. "The food there was insane," Cath says. She quickly realised that food and wine were always served together in Italy, which was unusual for a New Zealander in the late 1980s. Italian red wines have remained her go-to, but she forged her own career in wine in New Zealand when she moved to the Wairarapa with her young family in 2000. Since then, she has been immersed in wine, until she was offered the role of Chief Executive of Trinity Schools in the Wairarapa, six months ago.

It is an exciting new role for her to bring both her management skills and her study of psychology together to promote a positive and healthy environment in secondary schools. Cath is currently studying towards her Masters of Psychology and Counselling through Massey University, furthering her desire to bring positive psychology into the education sector. That's important to a woman who aims to bring positive energy to all of her professional life.

Cath entered the wine industry shortly after moving from Wellington to the Wairarapa, when she became General Manager of Toast Martinborough, then head of Wines of Martinborough as well. During this time, she secured $2 million from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) in Major Regional Initiative funding, after two pitches to get across the line.

"I first pitched for wine strategy for Martinborough, which was met by NZTE telling me to go away and get a widr regional strategy, so that led me to create a wine and food strategy." The funding it brought to the region led her to develop other strong roles and contacts within Martinborough, and she worked as Chief Executive of Alana Estate for two years, followed by one of the most challenging and rewarding career roles she has had - Institute Director of Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) in Wellington.

"I set LCB up from scratch and it meant managing the entire project from the ground upwards, literally. The building that houses LCB had to be gutted and refurbished. It was an L-shape that used to go through to Manners Street and it was dilapidated so needed a total overhaul. LCB took three floors and Weltec School of Hospital took another two."

Her role also included getting all of the French LCB qualifications established in New Zealand so that today three diploma courses and on Bachelor Degree are aligned to NZQA. She also engaged with the process to set up a post graduate diploma which is now part of the offering.

"I started as one person, backed by partners UCOL and WelTec, with a gutted building, and had an international partner based in France. It was one of the more challenging dynamics I had to work with, but I loved it because it combined all of my loves: wine, food, education, starting from scratch and marketing, internationally and domestically."

Cath and Chris Archer FBTW

Chris and Cath Archer

But good things can come from life's curve balls she says. "When something's not working, that's where innovation comes from. That's where I think marketing comes in and communication comes in, because when things are not working, it forces us to think about how we can find a way to make things work."

One way she has done that is by mentoring others through the Women in Wine Mentoring Programme run by New Zealand Winegrowers. "I found it really satisfying with young women coming into the industry and showing them how to have a global perspective and a business perspective. I think the industry misses out on that a bit. Some people are lucky and don't need to worry about selling their wine globally but most people are not going to sell everything on the local market that means having a wider perspective. People aren't going to find you if you sit in your garage."

Her guidance to young people coming into the wine industry is to think about who they want to buy their wine. "Think about the demographic. Is it everybody? If you’re going to sell your wine at $85 a bottle, you probably don’t need to market it to Gen Z, but there is a whole space there that is full of people to market to. Strategise the target market before deciding on how to do the marketing,” she says.

“What I love is that my daughter and son are now discovering wine. My daughter is in Melbourne, where she is discovering wine regions and sends pictures to us, saying ‘this is a really nice wine’. My son is also discovering wines he likes. It’s very rewarding to see that.”

Does she miss her frontline involvement in wine? “Yes, but I have always wanted to further my degree in psychology and get back to the education sector. I feel now that this work can help to have a huge impact on young people. I think that’s where our future is. I see a lot of troubled youth and have seen through my own children that their own peers had struggles and that’s where part of my desire came from to improve the psychosocial culture in schools.”

Her own decompression outside of work hours comes from solitude and time to reflect. “I like to go for walks in the bush. I run, cycle and do yoga. Time on my own is what I need to decompress. It’s hard to keep that balance but I’ve got better at it.”

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