Lessons from young leaders in wine

by | Jun 30, 2020 | Article

As the new generation of winemakers adapts to and shapes the industry, there are many lessons the older generation can learn from the new kids on the block. 

LN Wines founder and CEO Lata Ngoasheng.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the saying goes. But the wine industry needs the older generation of winemakers with the courage to learn new tricks, LN Wines founder and CEO Lata Ngoasheng says.

LN Wines is a premium wine brand that supplies wines to restaurants in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto. The industry needs young people who honour and pay homage to the old world because the new world is not possible without the old, Lata says, adding the old world provides an important foundation for the new world to flourish. “Someday the new will become old but the trick is to leverage the experience of the older generation with the skills and energy of the younger generation,” he says.

The younger generation is known for doing things differently but for Lydia Alfonso, building relationships is all-important. She works in the export industry and says while it’s important to talk to people in the industry and build mutually beneficial relationships, it’s equally important to find the right importers and target specific people.

Sarette van den Heever, the owner of Wijn Bar in Paarl.

Sarette van den Heever, the owner of Wijn Bar in Paarl, believes a community is stronger and more connected if there’s inclusivity. Wijn Bar does this by hosting informal wine tastings. “Wine can easily divide people, depending on your level of knowledge, skill and experience, but at the end of the day what matters is that we all love wine,” she says.

Informal wine tastings that connect wine drinkers, winemakers and wine aficionados are important, she believes. Wineries can only benefit from this because it makes their brands more accessible and creates opportunities for engagement. 

Digitalisation and technology

The digitalisation of the media means consumers are constantly bombarded with brand messages. Consequently technology can disrupt communication between a wine brand and its audience, Lata says. But the new generation adapts easily and Wijn Bar has for example seen the older and younger generation embrace new technology in the industry. “For example, millennials bring their parents to Wijn Bar and are excited to demonstrate how to choose and pour wine from wine dispensers,” Sarette says. This is a practical example of how technology breaks down wine barriers across generations. The older generation are now able to learn about new technology in the wine industry from millennials.

The so-called older generation takes longer to make decisions compared with the younger generation, Lydia says. “We’ve changed our way of thinking and during changing times we can think on our feet.” She believes ecommerce should be the wine industry’s main focus and wine farms need to produce something purchasable.

Wineries such as Oldenburg Vineyards that focus on their customers are already doing well in turning their products into direct sales. In comparison, wineries led by the older generation find it difficult to adapt. “Virtual tastings have happened much faster and when it’s done by an older person it may be disjointed,” she says. “They read questions from their online audience from afar and don’t realise their audience is right in front of them, which reflects in the viewership and engagement.”

 The wine-enjoying audience is becoming more technologically inclined, so it makes sense to communicate with them where they spend most of their time – with their digital devices. While LN Wines utilises digital tools to connect with wine lovers, nothing beats connecting at wine tastings and social gatherings, Lata says. “The older generation may not want to learn about or use technology but it’s still beneficial for the younger generation to learn from them to leverage our technological skills,” he says. “Collaboration is needed to deliver a beautiful wine experience and put us in a better position to contribute positively to the wine industry and South African economy.”  

Innovation

The younger generation of winemakers has not only adapted, but is also shaping the industry by changing the business model of winemaking. You don’t for instance have to own a wine farm to make amazing wines, Lata says. “Young winemakers have created a business model where you can produce small volumes of incredible wine at a reasonable price because there’s not the massive infrastructure cost of a wine farm,” he says.

New distribution models and experiences have been created and have made the wine industry more diverse. These models and experiences are making hard-to-find, small-production wines much more accessible to the general public. This is an exciting development because it’s something the younger generation has created out of changing dynamics in our country and industry, Lata says. 

Knowledge transfer

Wine is more than just the contents of a bottle. The story, philosophy, love, care and attention that give life to a wine are a big part of its identity. Winemakers play a critical role and it’s powerful to hear directly from them, Sarette says. “It would be amazing to have the older generation of winemakers adopt this approach as they represent history and tradition,” she says. “The younger generation can only benefit from sharing stories about the old and the new.” 

Established winemakers need to be open to teaching the younger generation, Lydia says. “Teach us what you know and please share your knowledge,” she pleads. “I’ve learned invaluable lessons from the older generation.” In turn she’s helped the older generation to digitalise their wine clubs. She believes it’s important for older and younger winemakers to join forces to educate consumers so they can get more enjoyment from wine because they understand the story behind it.

“Our new-world thinking allows us to break the rules and create a culture where wine lovers can personally connect to the LN Wines experiences,” Lata says. 

Leadership and management 

The younger generation of leaders is more inclusive in it leadership style than the older generation, Sarette says. “We include our colleagues, customers, suppliers and partners a lot more in decision-making,” she says. “This approach has enabled us to better understand our customers and create the experiences they want, not the products we believe they need. It has also enabled us to innovate quickly and create a community around a business, rather than an old-fashioned hierarchical organisation.” 

Management and leadership principles in the wine business are no different to other industries, Lata says. This makes learning from the older generation key. He believes the older generation has one style and the younger generation another. “Ultimately what matters most is whether your style of leadership and management works for the current times and helps you to stay ahead of the game,” he says.  

Respect the vine 

Old World wines are normally named after the place or estate they come from. “But the younger generation of winemakers may not be connected to an estate or own one,” Lata says. “Instead they make a connection with the story behind the brand.” Many estates produce wines that tell and celebrate a story, and this influence is growing. LN Wines values the older generation and celebrates their stories. 

“Legacy is about transferring generational wealth in skills, tastes and culture,” Sarette says. “That’s the only way we can confidently raise a glass to toast the future today.” A great community of wine lovers could emerge if there’s mutual learning between young and old, wine farm owners and boutique winemakers, wine aficionados and new wine drinkers, and wine hippies and wine geeks, she says. “In the end, the only thing that matters is the love and respect of the vine.”

Management tips

Management principles are the same for the older and younger generation in the wine industry. It’s the style in which these principles are implemented that sets you apart from the rest. Tips to keep in mind include: 

  • Plan your business well. Know what you want in your business and why.
  • Execute with precision and use your resources efficiently to achieve the best results.
  • Reward your people, including suppliers, partners and employees.
  • Invest in people and systems to improve team dynamics and operational processes.
  • Learn and innovate – by becoming better every day you can stay ahead of the game. 

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