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Clare Burder: Ideas are nothing without action
Name: Clare Burder
AT JUST 32 years of age, Clare Burder has already been involved in the wine industry for more than half of her life. Growing up on the family farm in Whitlands - the highest vineyard in Victoria at 878 metres above sea level - Burder got her start working for the Pizzini family when she was just 15-years-old.
'I was in the vineyard mostly,' she said. 'Then I moved around as the years went on.'
Clearly developing a taste for the family business at a young age, Burder studied wine marketing at university.
'I got in when I was a teenager working in the King Valley and never left,' she said. 'I blame my dad and Fred Pizzini.'
Burder said a few choice words of advice given from a wine producing friend inspired her to work towards a career in the wine industry.
'He said being involved in the wine industry will mean you'll drink the world's best drinks, eat the world's best food and meet the world's most fascinating people. He also said you might never have any money but it seems like a fair exchange so far.'
Since finishing her degree, Burder's list of accomplishments has been remarkable. Her main point of call has been as director of multifaceted wine business The Humble Tumbler, a service which offers unique food and wine experiences with a dash of quirk and a distinct lack of pretension. Along with running the business, Burder also head's up her family's wine label Eminence wines - a small batch boutique producer.
'Eminence to date has always utilised contract winemaking and it's important to disclose that,' she said. 'I'm heavily involved though, and so together we try to make wines which taste like they come from our vineyard - and of course, we are still learning.
'Even 'The Assembly', our sparkling, is definitely a 'made' wine but it still has a sense of origin. I've got no issues with doing it other ways, but it's a privilege to have access to a great vineyard and to pursue that, to me - is the point of making wine.'
Burder said she loves to be busy, and has to divide her time strategically between making wines at Eminence and running The Humble Tumbler.
'I spend December to March at the farm mostly with Eminence, and the rest of the year in Melbourne with The Humble Tumbler - as we don't host classes over summer. And some travel in there somewhere too. In the end, I choose for my life to be in two places and deal with it as it comes. In fact I see it as the ultimate luxury - best of both worlds.'
Burder said The Humble Tumbler was about reengineering the usual wine and spirit education experience, targeting younger consumers with a focus on teaching them how to taste and talk about what they're drinking.
'These consumers have disposable income, they buy a lot of wine, but they want to be able to sound knowledgeable,' Burder explained. 'They have little regard for traditional 'tasting note' wine writing but when they believe a brand is authentic they will engage and even share the stories with their peers.'
Burder said The Humble Tumbler delivered a mix of quality assessment, food matching, style categories, regions and varieties - but has also been about using great wines and telling the stories behind them.
'The one-night format masterclasses are short, sharp, social and fun, the four-week wine course is a bit more in depth - but still very interactive and relaxed,' she said.
'I try overall not to talk down to people - it's not an expert/amateur paradigm. These younger consumers want to feel smart - talking down to them is counterproductive. I can provide a framework and let them make their own conclusions.'
As well as being a passionate advocate for wine, Burder teaches Japanese Sake classes along with lessons on vermouth, gin and whisky.
'I co-host classes with my peers Caroline Childerley, a gin expert, and Fred Siggins, whisky expert,' Burder said. 'Between us we also do plenty of corporate and private events in Melbourne.
'Plus I have a handful of clients who I help manage their private cellars, tough! I write wine lists for, and provide wine training for venue staff. I host the occasional wine tour too.'
Burder said she was inspired to educate young wine lovers after countless phone calls from friends who were at the bottle shop and wanted to know which wine to buy. As well as offering lessons, Burder took the opportunity to write a book called 'Tipsy', which noted wine writer Max Allen referred to as 'a refreshingly accessible guide to booze appreciation'.
'I wrote 42,000 words in 10 weeks - finishing that was like reaching the top of a mountain,' Burder said.
The book, which was designed to echo The Humble Tumber's vision of inspiring an appreciation of wine without getting too serious about it, covers everything from wine regions and styles to how to buy the right wine and match it with food.
'It's been selling really well and was positively reviewed. Box ticked!'
Remaining true to her love of keeping busy, Burder has also been involved with an initiative called 'The Thursday Table', a social group comprising of young guns in north east Victoria who share a passion for 'eating, drinking, laughing and occasionally solving the world's problems'.
'The Thursday Table is a group of close friends who all have micro wine businesses,' Burder explained. 'We are all based in north east Victoria but beyond that, it's quite varied in terms of region, wine range and philosophy.
'Together, we host consumer events and trade tastings with the view of building our brands, connecting with new consumers and getting some attention from the trade.'
Burder said although it wasn't a new concept, it has been working for them and the team planned on travelling up the east coast of Australia when their new website was developed.
'We worked hard to get it off the ground and I feel really proud. Building something from the bottom up is challenging but that's the trade off if you want to actually do things. Ideas are nothing without some action.'
There's no doubt Burder's life is action packed. As well as working non-stop, she has also been studying a diploma in Positive Psychology.
'I find it fascinating,' she said. 'I'd probably choose that if I had another lifetime.'
With the time she does have available, Burder said she is keen to see some other big plans take hold.
'I hope to open our [Eminence Wines] cellar door in the next couple of years and continue to build the farm to a point where it is environmentally and financially sustainable,' she said. 'I want to make the wine myself but that's a while away I think.'
Burder said she was also planning to expand into more industry focused training.
'Overall I'd like to be able to say I was part of a movement which put consumers at the centre of wine communication, rather than the opinions of experts,' she said. 'I believe it needs to flatten out from the top-down model and the obvious catalyst for that is social media. We're on the brink I think, it's bloody exciting.'
Although she has worked hard to build a successful career, Burder said her biggest challenge over the years has been self-doubt.
'There is so much uncertainty, so many reasons not to do anything. It's very public and so open for criticism,' she said. 'I fail regularly - I hate it, but the work is too good just to be a spectator.'
In terms of the Australian wine industry at large, Burder said the issues facing women in wine concern her the most.
'The work done by Women in Wine Awards has been instrumental in bringing this into mainstream media attention,' she said. 'The stats are woeful - the whole industry needs to work together and figure out ways to change.'
To young grapegrowers and winemakers starting out in the industry, Burder summed up her advice in one word: 'jump'.
'Don't wait until your idea is perfect because it will probably change anyway. Get a great accountant - you can't do what you want to do in the long term without any money. Tick the legal boxes so they don't bite you later. Enjoy the work, enjoy the people, enjoy the wines, and enjoy the landscapes. Show your gratitude to everyone who helps you; always return the favour. Don't get caught up in thinking about what other people might think about you, it's pointless. And - if you want to have an opinion, make sure you can argue for it.'
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