Meet Cellr’s weekly crushes, Scott Rogasch and Justin Westhoff, the dynamic duo running the show at winery and social enterprise, Forage Supply Co. The story for Forage Supply Co. goes beyond two friends making the wine they like to drink, from the very start it has been about finding ways to give back and empower the community. Between running the Winery and AFL, the pair have also established several other businesses under the Forage Supply Co. label that work with Hutt Street Centre to provide support and job opportunities for people finding themselves living on the streets. But you’ll find out more about that, and their wines, below.
Photo credit to Charmaine Grieger Photography
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Forage Wine Dog
Scott: This is my dog Paws , she loves it out in the vineyards and wont leave your side. She will be the next main character in our Pooch range this year.
You were both born and raised in the Barossa Valley, growing up did you think producing wine was something you would eventually get into?
Scott: In the past I had worked in the wine industry a little bit doing vintages with big companies out there, and being in the Barossa as a kid you sort of grew up overlooking vineyards. So naturally there was always an interest in wine. That being said, it wasn’t really a goal of mine to be in the wine industry until mum and dad bought the vineyard a few years ago. It sort of coincided with when Justin and I were starting the whole Forage project, and building a boutique wine label really aligned with what we wanted to achieve through Forage.
Justin: Yeah, producing wine wasn’t on my radar either until his folks bought the property. Even then, I guess the idea was to have a bit of fun, more than it was to sell the wine. Which is an important part of our approach. Growing up in the Barossa I noticed that there can be this dream of making a name for yourself in the industry, and a buck while you do. But with Forage that’s not really what we were ever really aspiring to do.
Tell us a bit about Forage Supply Wine Co., how did it all start?
Scott: Four years ago we started Forage Supply Co., which is a social enterprise made up of several different arms. Our motto is the smallest impact on the environment, greatest impact on the community. At the moment there’s a catering business, a winery, a small community garden and we just started the ‘Forage Built’ which is a building project we are running with Hutt Street Centre to build communities made up of 4 x 4 pods for people to live in while they get on their feet.
It all really started for Forage with the organic winery when we ripped up the Sémillon block at the bottom of my family’s vineyard with a few mates, and my parents, and planted the new vines. We wanted to get some lighter, fresher styles of wines that were better suited to the Barossa Valley like Grenache, Montepulciano and Carignan. From that point it took about 4 years for us to get the first yield from those vines. That’s how our most popular wine, Baby Face, started. It’s a field blend of those three vines made into a fun, light minimal style of wine. Easy drinking, as it should be.
Justin: I think if you’ve gotta have a point of difference in the wine game it may as well be to have fun and not take everything too seriously. That’s what we do, and it’s why we have fun labels that stand out and wine that tastes good. So for us coming up with another bottle of Barossa Valley Shiraz and making that our focus didn’t feel right, so we decided to play around with different varieties too.
Scott: At the end of the day you have to make wine that you enjoy drinking. If you sell it, you’ve gotta want to drink it!
Justin: That’s exactly it
Scott, from travelling the world diving and learning about conservation, to constructing community gardens, to slinging plant based meals from a restored food truck and organising clothing for the homeless- where does co-owning an organic winery fit into everything?
As the organic winery is one of the arms in Forage Supply Co., it also follows our overall philosophy of making the smallest impact on the environment and the greatest impact on the community. But overall the winery fits because it’s a mix of passion and fun.
We liked the idea of creating light and enjoyable wine in an environmentally sustainable way. Which is why we make the wine in a minimal intervention style, sort of going back to the old school way, taking out the additives. Since I’ve worked for a handful of bigger companies and I have seen all the additives they used to put in their wines I have been steered towards the natural style of making wine- only using additives when needed.
Then on the community side of things we are able to offer employment opportunities to the homeless in our vineyard. Everything from picking the grapes, pruning to labeling the wines is done through Hutt Streets Aspire program. It’s a fun program, and a good reason to make wine. This extends beyond the wine arm of Forage, in each part of our business we try to create employment opportunities. It’s important to give back.
Justin, similarly how did you juggle being one of the states (SA) beloved Port Adelaide players with running Forage Supply Co. and raising little ones?
Scotty has really played a big part in that, I have had to take a bit of a backseat the last few years. While I have always helped out where I could, between taking the kids to school and other commitments like playing footy it has been a bit tough to be as involved as I would have wanted. However now that’s all finished up I am excited to be able to jump into it all more. I’m keen for both of us to be steering the ship, and save Scott having to do all the running around. It’s going to be good to get my hands a bit dirty next vintage.
Forage Supply Co. has a strong focus around sustainability, in what ways do you promote this through your production and also through your brand?
To build on what we said previously, when we first started the winery we converted all the vineyards to organic practices. So for us that means we don’t spray anything and our winemaking style is minimal intervention, so we only use additives where they are needed. Two of our wines are now completely sulphur free, which I guess goes back to the roots of how it all started. Making wines we like, which are fun and fresh.
Let’s talk juice, what are the main things you consider when sourcing grapes?
Scott: At the moment we just pick all the fruit from the property, and source a bit of chardy through our viticulturists, Johanns Find Viticulture, from Krondorf.
We have our 50 year old vines up the top, which go into our premium range, and 40 year old Shiraz growing on a block by the river. Then we have Jan’s block, my mum’s block that she manages, which is home to 8 year old shiraz vines. And of course there is also the Baby Face Block, which has the vines we ripped up and planted ourselves that go into that wine. This year we also planted some bush vine Tempranillo on another block by the river too.
Our goal is to make everything from what we grow on the property until things expand beyond what it can supply.
Justin: That’s been our goal for the last 18 months, build up to a point where we use the whole property for our own stuff and then go from there.
Scott: Our style generally follows the European practice of making lighter styles that are for easy drinking. We do try to do a traditional older style Barossa Shiraz to hero that varietal, but it’s mainly about the easy drinking light fun stuff.
We love the names and branding. Tell us a bit about the wines in your portfolio and why you chose these blends and varietals?
Scott: Baby Face is easy, it’s the baby of Forage Supply Co. from being from the vines we planted when we first started. Each year we grow so does the wine, so as the vineyard matures so does the wine and the baby picture on the front of the bottle. So one year the label might have it’s baby teeth, and another year it could be missing one all the way until it grows up. We might have to throw it an 18th birthday party.
Justin: Then there is the Pooch Montepulciano, which is a preservative free wine. The wine is based on my dog, a German Shepherd Pointer Cross, with his head on a human body.
Scott: Then there is the Heavy Thinker, another one of our preservative free wines. The notion behind it is heavy thinker, light drinker. It’s about putting more thought into what goes into the wines you choose to drink and being conscious of responsible consumption.
We also have the Chardy Party, which on that bottle shows is a sad clown holding a balloon. So, not your common chardonnay party because it’s an unoaked chardonnay to make it really fresh and fruity. Sort of moving away from Chardonnay being heavy and buttery, and favouring the fresh and light characteristics of the varietal. It’s one that people who don’t usually like Chardy can enjoy.
We are also about to launch a Rosé and just launched Westy’s (Justin) series; The Beard. The Beard went into 280 bottles, which represent the number of AFL games Westy retired on. We teamed up with Tim Dolan, a winemaker in the Barossa to make it a real premium, traditional style of Barossa Shiraz. It sat in oak for 2 year at Eldertons and then was cellared for another two. Safe to say it will be drinking really well.
Justin: We are really happy with the wines right now and it caters to most people, which makes it even more enjoyable to produce.
What is your approach for building the Forage Supply Co. fanbase, and how do you go about engaging people with the brand? In what ways is it challenging?
Justin: I guess trust, people like to hear the whole story. Also it’s about still having fun along the way. If you sell stuff you love people pick up on that.
Scott: There’s a lot more to a bottle of wine than the wine itself. We are not the most polished producer and we enjoy that. We want to showcase a side to wine where imperfection is perfection, and if something goes wrong we want to tell people how. Each year there will be challenges, so we just want to keep being open with our audience and trying to have fun. It goes back to our main philosophy, to have a bit of fun, do it sustainably and give back.
We also do a lot of direct to consumer marketing and sales, and people really engage with that. We go visit the bottle shops and restaurants, and run tastings ourselves. We are happy to slowly grow using that strategy. To us it is more important to get our product into places that align with Forage Supply Co.
Justin: And like we said earlier, we make wines that we really enjoy, which is important. You can’t just dress up a wine that isn’t good, because no one is going to come back for more. We want to deliver a great product and we do that by making small batches, with a focus on quality above quantity. From the start, we knew there was no point scaling up and making a crap product.
Scott: When we started we tried to do a lot in house and work with mates, and now we have subcontracted a winemaker, Richie Freebain, who was with Paxtons. Having him on has been great and really sharpened up our wines to a point where they are smoother and cleaner. It’s really got us to that point where aren’t just passionate about our product, but really proud of it.
At the end of the day we do it all, and we love it. It’s Westy and I doing the back of house stuff, the customer facing stuff and loving it.
Tell us about Forage Supply Co’s partnership and ties to Hutt Street Centre
Scott: I did sport and rec management 10 yrs ago and through that I had to volunteer for a community event. So I teamed up with Hutt Street Centre, and the event ended up being cancelled for the year but I really enjoyed the organisation so I decided to continue volunteering with them. The next year Westy was in his first year playing footy, so I hit him up and asked if he wanted to be an ambassador for Hutt Street centre and it all kicked off from there.
Justin: Seeing the work Hutt Street Centre is doing for the homeless was really eye opening for us. I guess 4-5 yrs down the track when we were starting Forage up we figured the best way to make a good business is to give back. We really wanted to align ourselves with good people and good businesses to try to ensure we could help out as best we can. Safe to say Hutt Street Centre really fits that bill.
Scott: Working with Hutt Street Centre we really wanted to make sure we had a give back system. Unfortunately that meant the wine side of Forage didn’t really fit with the work we were doing to empower the homeless, given the alcohol aspect. But we wanted to sort of flip that, hence we did the catering side of Forage which provided jobs and 3000 meals to people in homeless shelters. The first 15 people we hired for that were through Hutt Street Centre. We have learnt a lot and been able to understand more about homelessness and hear people’s stories- and its all those stories that we want to get across. It’s time to change the perception around homeless people, to hero their stories and not give justice to stereotypes.
Now we have been able to build the wine brand up, alongside the catering business, we have found an approach that we are comfortable with so we can also use that part of the business as an employment agency too. We have someone from Hutt Street Centre pretty much with us full time now helping us prune, pick and label. We have made sure that it’s not about the alcohol, it’s about enjoying a glass of wine responsibly and understanding how it is made.
We want to work with the community to flip homelessness into hopefulness and take out the negative connotation and normalise it more like someone seeing a doctor. It’s just someone needing help and a service. No labels. So if people do find themselves on the street or not being able to afford certain things, they just need a helping hand to get back on their feet.
If the other were a wine, what would they be and why?
Justin: Some sort of cheap bubbly, a moscato
Scott: A moscato, oh please! Justin is just an old Muscat. Really grumpy, sitting there in the cellar.
Justin: As you can see we are polar opposites when it comes to-