Weekly Crush: Leigh Clarnette, Clarnette & Ludvigsen
Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: Leigh Clarnette from Victorian Winery, Clarnette and Ludvigsen. Clarnette and Ludvigsen is a family owned winery founded by winemaker Leigh Clarnette and the late viticulturist Kym Ludvigsen. Their renowned wines reflect traditional wine making techniques and a cool climate vineyard in Ararat, chosen based on how its terrior complements their carefully curated vines.
We are sure you will learn a thing or two as Leigh shares with us his love of Shiraz, the brand ethos, his stance on traditional wine making, engaging consumers today, supply chain transparency, V20 luck and more…
Let’s start on an easy note, do you have a winery cat or dog?
Little old Maximus, or Max. R.I.P. to a Very Cross Chihuahua! Unsociable but lovable.
Shiraz seems to be a common denominator throughout your career as a winemaker and is even a focal point for the Clarnette & Ludvigsen brand. What has drawn you to working with this variety?
Well that’s an interesting question. After 38 vintages of Shiraz and in many different regions across Australia. This is the region I love most.
Why? Firstly it has elegance due to ripening in the cooler months, it is not as rushed Vintage as warmer regions are. Secondly, the varietal’s history traces back to 1850’s, and it has been continuously improving since! Thirdly, I worked for a major wine group back in the 1990’s and a Shiraz we made won the most Gold medals by far within that group. At the time of that audit we thought it was another brand of Shiraz within the group that had the most. Just goes to show how humble respect for others makes you do well with what you have!
You’ve spent a lot of time working in wine across the nation, particularly winemaking in Victoria and South Australia, what led you and Kym to base Clarnette & Ludvigsen in Ararat?
Kym and I first met in December 1993, on a Business trip to Tasmania to investigate vineyard and winery potential: we were forced to go! Instantly a friendship took place, and the next year he came to work at Seppelt Great Western as Viticulture manager for Victoria, where I was working as a winemaker. After 6 years I left and Kym stayed until his job was made redundant. I then hired him at Taltarni Vineyards as a viticulturist to look after Victoria and Tasmania. Soon I was working in Ararat at Montara, and Kym said it was about time we started making wine for ourselves. We had the skills and proven record behind us and wanted to prove a point!
Your tagline is “Wines made in the past, made for the future”. Talk us through what that means to you?
It is a tagline from Kym. The wise old owl said he wanted me to make wines with traditional methods, as he believed so many wines of this century were not built to last. As a traditionalist he grew up on pruning Shiraz and Riesling in the Clare Valley where his parents-in-law had a vineyard and winery.
I guess as you get older you like tradition more, you grow tired of new things that don’t last. Open fermenters and natural practices make wines traditional.
On the Wine Market… We asked Leigh to shed some light on his experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for winemakers.
What do you think has been key in building the Clarnette & Ludvigsen fan base?
Family, both sides of the partnership have been key. As the new generations come through they continue to promote their family’s business as they entertain friends with their Clarnette and Ludvigsen wine of choice.
Though more recently it has been restaurants too. The younger generation appreciate genuine wines that appeal to their customers. The feedback we have received is amazing; it just tickles your spine some days
What other channels do you use to engage customers to buy your wine outside the cellar door? What do you do in these channels?
We have an agent in Melbourne who has been with us for nearly 6 years dealing with retail, he has established a good patch.
However now is the time for us to reach out through social media. I am having to learn more about social media, as I am shy about promotion. Just a few doors up in our street I have a mate who is in the know with it so I am hoping we can go further.
Which markets do you feel it is challenging for Clarnette & Ludvigsen to connect with consumers, and why do you think this is the case?
My philosophy is simple, you must conquer your own backyard first before engaging a new one. All markets are challenging and you cannot rest on any occasion. Ever since I started making wine there have always been too many wine companies, and now even more are entering the scene. The biggest challenge is finding the right partner to sell your wine in any new market. Any new partnership must come with a common understanding of goals/purpose, usually be a similar sized operation, maintain focus on a few brands and know how to hold its nerve.
On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Leigh about his views on authentication and his current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how winemakers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they need.
Talk to us about your supply chain, do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery? What impact would be having detailed data showing you where (in the world) and when your wine is being opened by the consumer?
I would love to know when my wine is drunk! That kind of data and connecting with that cohort would be like being omnipotent! If there was something that allowed the customer to send instant feedback to me, that would blow my mind.
With the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify your (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?
Global wine fraud is so worrying. If any brand has its I.P. registered correctly it needs to be able to authenticate throughout the supply chain to the consumer. If that is possible then people far from our shores can know reliably of its authenticity! I also believe if it is authenticated in one country it should be authenticated globally too, linking it back to the original country of application.
What was the most memorable moment in V20?
V20 has many memories- it has been like no other. Extreme heat waves before Christmas and into January, smoke from eastern areas polluting the skies, then becoming cool in February…
While our crop was late and free of smoke taint, the crop itself was barely there! The lowest yield since 2016, if not lower. Surprisingly though the acids were high and pH’s low when the ripe fruit did come in. It has made it to be an exceptional year for our whites and reds.
If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, in your region who would it be, where would you take them and who’s wine would you drink- other than your own?
I guess Hans Irvine who sunk a lot of money and time into making Great Western a focal point and an icon of Victoria; Kym Ludvigsen because he would challenge Hans’s . Hans was a wealthy Mining Engineer from Ballarat in the 19th Century who bought the Bests Great Western Cellars off Joseph Best in 1883.
I would love to meet at the Provincial Hotel in Ballarat opposite the railway station, as Hans would have travelled by train everywhere! I would like to ask him what prompted him into making Sparkling Shiraz, as he is renowned for his White Sparklings. Would it have been the 19th Century exotic opulence of the gold rush era of Victoria? So many different styles were made then than what we do today, even with fewer available varieties than we have today.