May 14, 2021

Beyond the Barossa with Emily Hay

By Angela Oemcke

Meet Emily Hay, one of Wine Australia’s Wine Future Leaders for 2021 and the Marketing and Communications Manager at Barossa Grape & Wine Association. As a 7th generation Barossan and natural storyteller, Emily is dedicated to bringing together the people, stories, food, wine and culture that make the Barossa the iconic wine region celebrated world wide. We were lucky enough to catch up with her to discuss all things Barossa, storytelling, connecting with the consumer and the wine industry.

Stay in the loop on all things Barossa by following @barossawines on Instagram.

You can also follow @emilyhaycreative to explore Emily’s creative portfolio.

Where did your journey into the wine industry begin?

I’m a little bit of an oddity here. I’m 7th generation Barossan, but you can’t say wine is in my blood. I’m actually the first in my family to work in wine! It all started with a life in hospitality and incredible mentors in Mark and Jo McNamara at the iconic Pear Tree Cottage Restaurant. From there I followed hospitality to venues across Barossa and Adelaide, ending up in Restaurant Management with the Sparr Group (Red Ochre and The Playford Hotel). It’s pretty hard not to fall in love with wine when your everyday life involves tasting, sharing and talking about beautiful wine and food.

What led you into your role as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA)?

Creativity and art run deep through my family. I studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at UniSA with a major in photography and minor in digital art. While I’ve always kept my eye in creatively, after graduating I continued on the hospitality path before veering into tourism after moving to Kangaroo Island in 2007. 

When we returned from KI in 2012 (with two young sons now in tow) I jumped at the chance of working with one of my favourite wineries, Turkey Flat Vineyards in a Cellar Door role. Owner Christie Schulz perhaps saw in me a kindred spirit (she holds the same degree) and nurtured my love for all things design, communication and connection.

Wine Communicators Australia has had a pivotal role in my career development, beginning in 2015 when I was named a finalist in the “New Wine Writer of the Year” award. I didn’t win, but it gave me the confidence to apply for – and land – the inaugural WCA Wine Media Cadetship in 2017. After the trip of a lifetime to Shanghai and Hong Kong cemented my career path in wine communications I jumped at the opportunity to apply for a role with BGWA. It can be daunting, but to be able to work with all our wine brands and viticulturists for the benefit of the whole region is incredible.

In 2019 I participated in their Wine Industry Mentor Program, with the incredible Gill Gordon-Smith who helped me understand the strength of the skills woven from my background in art, design, hospitality, tourism and wine.

In the same year, I was honoured to be able to accept 3 awards at the WCA Wine Communicator of the Year Awards on behalf of the BGWA team. I still get goosebumps when thinking about that journey of walking into the awards in 2015, knowing no-one, to walking up to accept overall Wine Communicator of the Year for BGWA just 4 years later.

Photos from the 2019 WCA Wine Communicator of the Year Awards. Pictured with colleague, Annabel Mugford and BGWA’s three awards – Best Wine PR Campaign, Best Wine Website or App and overall Wine Communicator of the Year, and pictured accepting the Best Website award from mentor, Lynda Schenk.

Which BGWA campaign or event have you felt has been the most successful for the Barossa region?

With the depth of programs that BGWA runs, it’s impossible to put a pin in a single one to say “this was the most successful”. What Barossa does incredibly well is collaborate – we’re here for the region first. The love for Barossa shared by our external communities at recent events has been phenomenal:

The energy in the room at the Sydney Barossa Live Auction, where tables were hosted by Barossa winemakers was just electric. Bidders were prepared to fight for their opportunity to take home not only a special collection of wine, but the story about how they met and shared stories with the winemaker themselves.

Our collaborative event for Tasting Australia “Masters Apprentices” which celebrated the talent which is shaping Barossa’s culinary and vinous future put the stories of our chefs and winemakers at the forefront of the event. The result – a deep connection between guests and our talent, and a spontaneous standing ovation from the guests at the end of the lunch! 

With Mark McNamara, chef and my first mentor at the conclusion of the Masters Apprentices event.

What is it that draws people to Barossa wineries, and how would you like to see Barossa brands leverage this?

Barossa has been working on its reputation for producing wines of impeccable integrity and quality for over 170 years. Today we enjoy this reputation and brand recognition that keeps ‘Barossa’ as a highly recognised name in the world of wine. We’ve built this on Shiraz and we should always be really proud of that! What keeps people coming back though, is our people! Far from the intimidating producers of serious wines some may assume, Barossans just love sharing what we have created with others. That’s how our community was built, neighbours proudly welcoming others to their table, sharing the best of their seasonal produce. Now we’re thrilled to be able to extend this invitation to the world. 

How would you like to see wineries better engage with consumers and market their products?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I have asked wineries to move beyond the standard rhetoric of ‘multi-generational, family-owned with old vines’ and tell their *real* story. The standard story is great, as a regional and state story. It’s the PEOPLE and their stories that makes each brand distinct within their regions. 

Despite appearances, most of the people in our industry tend to be very shy, writing their personal stories off as ‘boring’ when it couldn’t be further from the truth! If the past 18 months has taught us anything, it’s the desire to connect and understand people on a deeper level. We just need to put ourselves out there! What I love celebrating through our communications are the personalities of Barossa, human connection over product. People connect with people, not product! 

What do you feel the Australian wine industry should be focusing on in the next 5 years?

We can’t deny that we still have an equality issue in our industry. When we talk about inspiring a more diverse cohort of future wine professionals we have to acknowledge the power and importance of visibility. It’s incredibly challenging to aspire to that which you cannot see, or do not believe is true. To be more inclusive as an industry and finally break away from the old troup that ‘wine is a middle-aged white-man’s club’, we need more people from more diverse backgrounds to be able to see themselves in today’s leaders. It’s up to us all to champion the visibility of the under-represented and the incredible things they are achieving in the shadows.

Now, on an environmental level… Before we start thinking about marketing our wines, we need to ensure that the land on which we rely can support future generations. As an industry we need to move towards regenerative practices, sustainability is no longer enough. I am so fortunate to work alongside our Viticultural Development Manager, Nicki Robins, whose leadership in this area is making a real impact on the Barossa landscape, for today and the future. 

How important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify legitimate products via anti-counterfeit measures?

We can’t deny that counterfeiting is an issue in our industry. To continue to nurture trust in our products (and by extension, in our region) is vital to our future. This authentication process needs to be simple to use and understand by the end user. The way Cellr is tackling this issue is really exciting, because it also allows us to foster connection (and you know how much I love a good connection opportunity!)

Take us on a day out in the Barossa, where are we eating, who are we drinking with and what else are we doing?

Argh! Can we have a week, please? A day just isn’t long enough, but I’ll try to narrow it down.

To eat – Harvest Kitchen. Chef Jamie Wall is doing some seriously amazing things right now and the view is pretty hard to beat, too.

Three75 Bar + kitchen. The way Kyle Johns creates such flavour bombs is just… (insert chef kiss here) Although I am a little dark he’s taken the prawn toast okonomiyaki off the menu *sigh*

To drink: We HAVE to go visit the guys in the Old Barn – the Rieslingfreak himself, John Hughes and Michael and Phil and Michael Hall Wines (they share this beautiful space). So much fun and the wines are just perfection.

Keeping it real we’ll go visit the oldest Grenache vines in the world (yes, the oldest in the world are here in Barossa!) with Marco Cirillo. I am lucky to count Marco as a good friend, but what’s great is he treats all his guests like mates – although he’s not afraid to call the BS when he sees it. His Grenache is impeccable, but real treats are his Malbec and I’ve heard he’s made a 2021 Riesling which I am ridiculously excited about!

A visit to Barossa isn’t complete without popping into VinoLokal on the main street of Tanunda for a glass of something delicious from the Artisans of Barossa team. Perhaps even a little snack or cheeky burger from Chef Ryan Edwards

If we’ve got a little more time we’ll jump into the Two Hands Wines Defenders for their Flagship experience. Or perhaps out to Eden Valley to Henschke for their Hill of Grace Experience. There’s something pretty special about tasting the wines in the vineyards from where they grown.

Something I haven’t done yet, but is on my ‘must-do’ list is the long lunch at Flaxman Wines. Winemaker Col Sheppard is an incredible chef and all reports are the afternoons spent on his verandah, enjoying all his culinary and vinous creations are just spectacular. 

Emily conducting the staff briefing ahead of the Masters Apprentices event

Make us jealous. You get to try a lot of really really nice wines… which has been the stand out so far?

There’s generally a special significance attached to the wines that stand out the most. Tasting my birth year (1982) Para Liqueur Tawny in the Seppeltsfield Centenary Cellar, surrounded by so much history was pretty special. Just last week I had that first ‘ah-ha!’ moment, tasting the 1990 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange. 1990 is my colleague and dear friend, Ashleigh’s birth year and we managed to score the last 2 glasses left from a masterclass tasting (although the trappings of how we enjoyed it would probably make Peter Gago cry – ask me about that later!)  I’ve tasted current vintage Grange on several occasions and while it was always stunning, the complexity and playful elegance of perfectly balanced pristine fruit, spice and silky tannins in the 1990 were simply mind-blowing. 

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