Trying to paint the world red

Trying to paint the world red

Tim Nicholls doesn't know if he is Arthur or Martha, winemaker or educator. But Andrew Mole discovers he's having a bash at them all with his innovative approach to the Asian wine market and his own Red Dolls label.

FIRST CAME THE Scarlett Pimpernel, swimming just ahead of the Crimson Tide.
Then that girl who was so Pretty in Pink.
But things started getting red hot with the Hunt for Red October.
And who knows how many others had a red door and only wanted to paint it black
For those of us of a certain vintage, well, there was always that red under the bed.
Now how does that song go? That's it, 'I see red, I see red; I see red'.
FIRST CAME THE Scarlett Pimpernel, swimming just ahead of the Crimson Tide.
Then that girl who was so Pretty in Pink.
But things started getting red hot with the Hunt for Red October.
And who knows how many others had a red door and only wanted to paint it black
For those of us of a certain vintage, well, there was always that red under the bed.
Now how does that song go? That's it, 'I see red, I see red; I see red'.
And for husband and wife couple Shelley Dover and Tim Nicholls life is all about red - from their red-headed daughters to their Red Dolls wine.
This is a vineyard cum winery with that oh, so elusive point of differentiation in the marketplace.
Because its wine could almost be considered a by-product of what owners Shelley and Tim are actually doing.
Dover is in IT and Nicholls had been in hospitality and restaurants around Australia and overseas before they washed up in McLaren Vale where Shelley fell in love with a house which had a small Shiraz vineyard attached.
'Shelley wanted the house and I wanted the vineyard,' Nicholls said.
'Although it is so small,' he said, 'and we are lucky if we get 250 cases off it in a year.'
Which contain those bottles labelled Red Dolls.
And named after those charming little redheads Gabriella, 9, and Natalie, 3.
Nicholls had not exactly wasted his time in hospitality and as a sommelier knew all about the selection and service of fine wine, now he just had to learn how to produce it.
Which included a four-year stint at nearby Coriole - six months in the vineyard, six months in the winery and three as cellar door and events manager.
But it was his participation in a University of SA MBA which would prove the defining moment for Red Dolls and Nicholls.
'One of the electives was a three-week visit to China and I very quickly realised this was the growth market and I wanted to learn more about doing business there,' he said.
'But with 250 cases we weren't exactly going to be a serious export opportunity and to be fair, if you look around here we could only loosely be called a winery.
'We outsource our lab work and bottling but my studies and my time in China showed me there was real potential here - for education.'
It was an epiphany worth bottling.
Now, for $260, participants in the Red Dolls introduction to wine get picked up in Adelaide, a presentation about the production of wine, vineyard walk and explanation, tastings, including comparisons with other McLaren Vale wines, lunch and even a quick tourism visit to the nearby coast.
The target market is unashamedly Chinese - to the extent the Red Dolls website at reddollswine.com is bilingual.
Nor is it a pipedream. Red Dolls has just completed a promotion in partnership with Tourism SA through the National Wine Centre and is getting a lot of referrals from Chinese students and business people who have colleagues, friends and family visit them.
And although Nicholls is trying to fast-track his participation with conversational Mandarin classes, he also has two native speakers on the payroll who accompany tours.
'Wine which has for centuries been refined to western tastes is actually asking a big cultural shift for the Asian market, and particularly a market the size of China,' he said.
'Many there see wine as a luxury western item but they are yet to really either understand or enjoy the whole experience.
'Australia as an exporting winemaker has to learn to understand the Chinese palate and make something which the market there wants because the Chinese don't like heavy tannins or high acids. They want something soft and easy to drink.'
Red Dolls has already done some focus group work in the market and is trying to match those results to the education programs it is running.
Which include the opportunity for people to 'adopt a vine'.
For $240 you get a 12-month membership which delivers a monthly photo of your tagged vine, a blog about what is happening in the vineyard and at the end of the year a bottle of wine.
'This is a visual, educational tool which complements our in-house education program,' Nicholls said.
'Anyone with a vine can ask any question they want at any time but our experience at this stage is already showing us most are content with the basic information.
'Which is where we come in.'
Contact: Tim Nicholls, Red Dolls. Phone: 0421 645 719. Email: [email protected]

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