Jeff Bond – a licence to thrill

Jeff Bond – a licence to thrill

'MY NAME IS Bond. Jeff Bond.'
Nah, he didn't actually say that but only, I remain convinced, because he didn't want to come across as a complete tosser.
For surely the temptation must always be just one slip of the tongue away. Exquisitely, almost painfully, overwhelming to just once drop it into an otherwise deep and meaningful conversation.
All the while exuding that air of the uber cool. Reaching for the battered Ronson to light up the Macedonian special blend from Morland of Grosvenor Street, never glancing down at the stack of chips being shuffled with one hand on the baize of the roulette table.
Yep, whichever way you come at it, the whole idea just screams tosser.
Which is almost certainly why Peter Lehmann Wines chief executive Jeff Bond (who also lacks a Scottish accent) got straight down to the business of talking about his business.
Specifically, how well it is going.
Instead of Monte Carlo the conversation was at a coffee shop in Adelaide's chic - but not yet uber chic - eastern café strip.
And with Bond on a schedule because, amongst other pressing issues, as it were, the company's Swiss owners were coming to town and everything up in the Barossa needed to be spick and span.
And Bond, who has come to PLW via the global circuit of the high-end spirits industry, got his hand on the rudder just in time to try and steer it through the depths of the industry's current supply malaise.

DREAM JOB
Trotting around the world with the likes of Remy and Constellation might have been a hoot but Bond had a long-time affinity with wine and that's where he wanted to be.
So when the transition came with the retirement of Doug Lehmann, Bond was front and centre for the opportunity to land his dream job.
'I am really attracted by both the agricultural side of the business and the fact we go end to end, there aren't many jobs where you can say you do that,' Bond said.
'There is a real craft to what people do here, not unlike the work I had seen being done with whiskey and cognac,' he said.
'But with wine there is that something special, and with PLW that something is very special.
'Peter himself was an industry icon and the time I had to talk with him, and talk about what we were doing, was irreplaceable.
'Doug, who had been successfully running the business for 20 years, was a winemaker and a wizard and he has passed on so much to me.
'Although Hess Family Wine Estates now owns PLW, the Lehmanns are still shareholders and that is a valuable connection for us.'
A big part of that value according to Bond was the actual production skills of the business were without equal so the mechanics of the business were going to be the least of his concerns when he got the job.
His focus is strategic and developing the future sustainability of the business and the brand.
'The wine industry has grown so big, so fast, and now that has caught up with it we are all going through a massive transition,' Bond said.
'There is still a lot of money to be made by the smart people with the right products - and of course that will be really helped if our dollar keeps going down,' he added.
'But what I think did get lost in the explosion of the Australian industry onto the world stage was that we made wine too simple and now we are trying to build back that complexity and brand power.
'The reason why people should pay more for a better product.'

RECOVERY MODE
At the peak of the wine boom, circa 2010, PLW was exporting 70 per cent of its 700,000-case production.
Bond admitted it was a heady success and it wasn't until the Australian dollar really started to soar that the wine industry got its wake up call.
But for too many it was too late.
'We have been working hard to rebalance our business with a stronger domestic market where currency is never a risk and things are easier to control,' he said.
'Like most people we lost a lot of export sales and even though we have significantly improved our domestic sales it has still not made up for what we no longer have overseas.
'The key for us is to sell more but at a higher price point. We are talking the premiumisation of the brand. Not selling just $100 wines, but focusing on wines at the $20-$30 mark instead of being bashed around at the cheap end of the market.
This is not where our strength lies.
That said, neither Bond nor PLW have any problem with Australia's supermarket duopoly.
As he said, they are a big part of Australia's retail scene and have a legitimate role and PLW is 'happy with the way they do business'.
'We have a space where they don't want to play and that's fine, but we are also working closely with our independent customers also.

BRAND OVERHAUL
'It's all part of our repositioning, which has included a review of our brand labels across the PLW portfolio, the most noticeable being that famous profile of Peter Lehmann.
'And the Hess family has also been incredibly supportive of PLW's move to offset its power costs through the design and installation of an extensive solar power project.
'Due to be switched on this month, it will generate 125kW at our Tanunda headquarters.'
Bond believes PLW's refocus with its rebranding sends a clear message of what the business is all about.
And unlike many other producers trying to solve their current problems, PLW is not tripping over itself to strike it big in the Chinese market - just yet.
Bond said their target is the North American market, which he still describes as the largest wine market in the world.
'We have the benefit of a sister company in the Hess group as our distributor in North America, which is a real advantage for us.
'China is more of a long-term play with all wine producers there coming off a very small base in a market which is very different to ours.'
The ownership of PLW might have changed but Bond said there was this constant still flowing through it today.

FAMILY BUSINESS
Because it has gone from being a family business to being owned by another family business.
That alone meant there was a long-term view with the Hess family also owning wine assets in other countries.
'Christoph Ehrbar is our chairman and he has been working in the family business for some time,' Bond said.
'Both he and Timothy Persson, who are Donald Hess' sons-in-law, are operational, they understand what is going on and they know what the market is like.
'Unlike a publicly-listed company where the demand for immediate returns, and getting them bigger every year rules, the Hess family sees long term, which can stretch to multi-generational, not just 10 years or so.
'With their expertise it is always good to have them here because they see things with fresh eyes and from a European perspective and that has already proved very helpful.
'To have that understanding at board and owner level is really very useful.'
Hess Family Wines Estates began in 1844 as a brewery and apple juice company. Donald Hess inherited the business - which now included a small winery - when only 20.
'It made horrible wine that more resembled vinegar,' he told Meininger's magazine last year. 'Of our four vignerons, two were alcoholics.'
Today the business consists of wineries across four continents producing almost 60 brands.
And Jeff Bond is just as determined that PLW, the most recent acquisition into this diverse stable, will soon be setting the pace.
Now that would be cool. Uber cool.
Contact: Jeff Bond. Phone: 61 8 8565 9550. Email: [email protected]

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