August 18, 2021

Getting Wined-up With Annabel Mugford

By Angela Oemcke

The wine industry is runs on passion, and with people like Annabel Mugford involved passion is always in abundance. Annabel was enthralled by the world of wine long before entering the industry, attaining a WSET Diploma and taking on marketing and managing roles in Wine Australia and the Barossa Grape and Wine Association. We recently gained a sneak peak of her career, invaluable insights and experiences that stem from her 30 years in the wine, food and agriculture industry.

Let’s start off with a photo of you in your element…

My husband and I were in Paris for a week staying on a barge just across from the Eiffel Tower. One night I devised a “Natural Wine Bar Tour” (I can’t help myself – I am an explorer and adventurer) and took us to many parts of Paris that neither of us had been to before.  And tasted many natural wines – some delicious, some less so.  This is in one of those bars (I can’t remember where or the name). As you can see I was in my happy place!

Annabel in Paris at a natural wine bar

What inspired you to first start your journey into the wine industry? 

My grandparents were friends with some of the original wine families of South Australia (Tolley’s, Seppelt’s and others) so they had lots of interesting wines in their cellar. In our family we enjoyed wine with family dinners and celebrations, and I always asked to smell and taste the wines because to me, they smelt of so many different delicious things. My uncle studied and worked in Europe and the UK in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so would come back with stories about vineyards and wineries which I absorbed like a sponge. I then had an early career crisis working as a Registered Nurse in London and was talking with my brother-in-law (Keith Mugford) about what else I could do. He suggested wine because of my obvious interest in it. From London, I quickly applied to Roseworthy, got accepted into wine marketing, and found my ‘true north’.

You have spent a portion of your career in the Barossa, what drew you in to work with this region?

I have worked at Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA) for 8 years (of a 30+ year career in wine, food and agriculture). In 2013 I was working at Wine Australia and James March (CEO BGWA), who I knew through Wine Australia and personal connections, rang me up and said “come and have some fun in Barossa”. In my role at Wine Australia I had interactions with most of the wine regions around Australia so knew the strengths and weaknesses of each. Barossa is genuinely a step above the other regions. Its history, strength of community, innovative and collaborative spirit and of course the wines, made James’s offer impossible to turn down. I have to be honest and say it hasn’t always been fun, but I have worked with some fantastic people and it has always been challenging and fulfilling. It is a privilege to work at BGWA and I am proud of my micro input into the continuous process of taking Barossa to the world. 

Barossa Grape and Wine Association Team

Talk to us a bit about some of the recent projects you have been involved in (we loved the Barossa Wine Game!)

I have been very lucky working at BGWA, with James giving me the scope and freedom to work on some great projects including the Barossa Wine Auction, which I ran for six years, and leading and managing the Barossa Wine School, which is still my key project. We are currently taking the Barossa Wine School into a dynamic online space (which is stretching and expanding my technical skills). The Barossa Wine Game is the first step of this dynamic space and is a fun entry to all things Barossa (Have a play – you can find it on barossawine.com under Education). 30 years ago I could never have imagined that this is how we would be communicating to the global wine audience. 

How do you feel the Australian wine industry differs from the rest of the world?

The Australian wine industry is made up of some very passionate people who at the same time, behave in a laidback, and often maverick, manner. This makes them different to wine industry people in other countries, where the same passion exists but not the casualness.  Plus, in Australia, we are not tied to strict appellation laws (that so many other countries are) which means that the mavericks get to play, create and innovate with their vineyards, wines and experiences.  

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

Technology and place. Technology because it is the future and place because that is what is real and makes us different.

What do you think the future of engaging export markets with Australian wine will look like?

The same as above, using technology and place.  The events of the last 18 months have shown us that we can still engage globally through technology in its many different forms.  Whilst it is not the same as in person, it does mean that the tyranny of distance can be overcome. And the people we are trying to reach now and into the future are native technology users so to them, this is how it should be. And even though place seems the opposite to this, it is place that truly differentiates us from our competitors. Using technology to impart place is the ongoing aspiration.

How important is it for wine consumers to be able to authenticate their wine in the global market?

It depends upon who the wine consumers are. If they are casual drinkers who are happy with drinking a dry red from anywhere, then it is not important. However, once you move into engaged wine drinkers who enjoy the story behind the wine and understand enough to know the difference between a cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River or Napa Valley, then provenance and the authentication of this becomes important. And then there are the people who see fine wine as an investment (who we reach with the Barossa Wine Auction) just as they may invest in fine art or antique books. For these people, authentication is paramount. The advances that have been made with the use of technology in this space, for example Cellr, in a few short years is fascinating to watch.

How has the way that Australian wine regions and producers engage with customers changed over the years?

In many ways it has changed but in many ways, it is still the same. It is always about connecting with people. 30 years ago, it was advertising in its various (non-electronic) forms, pr and publicity, hosting wine writers and wine buyers, hosting lunches/dinners/tastings/events and cellar doors, conducting winery tours and mailing lists. It is now all these activities but using technology to connect and enhance relationships, augment experiences and target the right people. Technology has allowed the immediacy and vastly improved the targeting. In my first job at Chateau Reynella, we still used a telex machine (google it). We can now reach each other in an instant and send formal contracts by using various apps on our devices.

What was it that motivated you to complete your Diploma in Wine through WSET, and what did you gain through this experience?

After finishing my studies at Roseworthy in 1989 I actually wanted to do the Master of Wine.  At that time it was too hard to access the wines required for this level in Adelaide and with a husband and a baby, it wasn’t feasible to go to London.  So that dream was tucked away. Fast forward to 2014 and I decided to resume my wine studies through WSET because I wanted to learn more about the global wine industry and expand my palate and knowledge beyond Australian wines. I am now a WSET Diploma of Wine graduate. As well as achieving my original goals, it has also given me a technical framework to use when tasting and communicating about wine, plus much more confidence in my own tasting ability. And no, I am not going to do the MW now – I know when I have reached my limit.

WSET Graduation

What role does wine education play when it comes to engaging consumers with wine? 

At BGWA we use education as a soft marketing tool – edumarketing and edutainment. With the right consumers, wine education empowers them with their wine and travel choices and gives them the confidence to trade up and across with their wine drinking experiences. It also creates an emotional connection. There is nothing like creating an ‘aha’ moment to form a positive memory and connection for life (see Q12 below).

Barossa Wine School Alumni

What do you feel it is that draws a person to certain wines, regions and brands, and how can producers leverage this?

If the value set of a wine/region/brand is similar to a value set of a person, then that will resonate and a connection is created. So producers need to identify their own value set (their own brand dna), become really good at communicating this at every touch point and then target people who have a similar set (or aspire to something similar). And do it again and again. Marketing and branding 101.

Bonus: What is a wine you feel sentimental about, and why? 

Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac. This was a preferred wine of my uncle’s which he would regularly drink on different occasions. Including when I was 20 years old and he took me to his favourite Chinese restaurant in Sydney Chinatown and drank a Chateau Coutet with dumplings.  Interesting combination but it worked! He recently died and I was fortunate to inherit a number of bottles of this wine. They are still in my cellar waiting for the right dumpling.

Stay in the loop on all things Barossa by visiting their website or by following @barossawines on Instagram.

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