30 September 2020

Blending modern marketing knowledge with ancient wisdom for an authentic farm-to-table experience

Blending modern marketing

Warrick Duthy

Bachelor of Business (Marketing)
Co-Owner, Poetic Licensee and Sommelier, The Watervale Hotel & Penobscot Farm
Managing Director, Kilikanoon Wines
Chair, Clare Valley Alliance

Coming out of retirement for the second time to breathe new life into a 173-year-old country pub and transforming it into a gourmet, epicurean destination, equipped with a seasonal menu driven by fresh produce from an on-site organic farm, is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Yet this is exactly what University of South Australia Business graduate, Warrick Duthy and his wife Nicola, former Head Chef at Skillogalee, have endeavoured to create – an all-day casual and fine dining hub for the local community and visitors alike – when they took over idyllic Clare Valley stalwart, The Watervale Hotel.

“We moved into a beautiful farm property in Watervale and decided to turn our home into an organic, biodynamic farm managed to permaculture principles,” says Warrick.

“A lot of people will say – you've retired at least once, maybe twice – why the hell are you doing this? It's a really good question. I don't quite know why, but I've definitely been driven to it a bit.”

“I'm really motivated by the idea of using all the skills I've learned from terroir wine marketing and transferring that brand building into food and hospitality, particularly the concept of provenance brands.”

Watervale Hotel and Penobscot Farm

While provenance marketing – where the region and its intricacies is the selling point – is a core part of wine and champagne industries, it’s not as common in Australian hospitality establishments.

Through showcasing the unique produce Clare Valley’s soil sows, paired with Watervale’s organic farm-to-table ethos, Warrick and his team are reapplying modern marketing with ancient agricultural wisdom to a vertically integrated business model that shows people how fresh produce is actually meant to taste.

The business and marketing expertise Warrick is leveraging to reinvigorate The Watervale Hotel, and Penobscot Farm that informs its menus, is the accumulation of his extensive success heading up major beverage and wine companies for most of his adult life.

Even before he finished his Bachelor of Business (majoring in marketing), Warrick scored a fulltime role as a product manager for Simpsons and then moving onto IBM, before joining the South Australia Brewing Company in 1982.

At only 22, Warrick was in charge of marketing for the whole brewery before they bought Seppelt Wines and he went across to this company in 1986. He was then quickly made General Manager in 1987.

In his first year, Warrick improved the profitability of the three million case wine business – which at the time had eight vineyards, three wineries, and 200 employees across the country – more than four-fold to a 13 million case wine business. All while lecturing at the South Australian Institute of Technology (which would later become UniSA).

Warrick Duthy

He continued to inspire future marketing professionals here, bringing a real practical component to the learning and leveraging people actually out running the businesses, brands, and advertising agencies, up until 1990 when SA Brewing Company also bought the Penfolds Wine Group (which owned Seppelt) and formed SouthCorp, and Warrick moved to Sydney as Marketing Director.

Then, at age 34, Warrick was headhunted by United Distillers and appointed the role of regional managing director for Australasia, where he looked after brands like Johnny Walker and Bundaberg, and 35 per cent of the Australian spirits and ready to drink market.

Here his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in as he spearheaded the popularity of premixed and ready-made drinks developing Johnny Walker & Cola and Stoli Lemon Ruskis. The later product he collaborated and manufactured with a fellow SAIT graduate, Angelo Kotses, Owner and Managing Director of of Bickford's, a connection he made while at university.

After detours in the solar and recruitment (where he hired the entirety of the Campari Australia team) industries, and despite proving that so much of this knowledge and understanding is industry transferable, Warrick realised where his heart laid and was “always going to be a liquor industry guy”.

This was followed by even more senior management roles (and two false starts at retirement) at Allied Domecq – a 20 million case, international wine group based in the UK where Warrick made a gruelling 34 laps of the world in four years – and the homegrown Petaluma Wines, Seppeltfield Estate and Kilakanoon Wines.

From Warrick’s impressive CV, it’s clear he has lived and breathed the beverage and wines industry and has an innate talent and understanding of the sector matched by few others. However, never one to rest on his laurels, Warrick embarked on his next adventure, The Watervale Hotel and Penobscot Farm.

Genevieve Cother

Motivated by transferring his knowledge of wine providence and marketing to food, Warrick is bringing regionality and site-specific farming to your plate at the Watervale Hotel with his amazing team of chefs to enhance the natural flavours of the produce – often picked by the chefs that morning when the sugars are the highest.

“This is the way people used to eat. You ate local. It's not a new concept – it's an ancient concept,” says Warrick. “Unfortunately, when people go to the supermarket, they’re buying homogenised produce that’s a shadow of what it used to be.”

“Our farm is like a vineyard, it’s a very specific bit of terroir in Watervale. Its soil structure is terra rossa over limestone and even the soil we've cultivated throughout permaculture principles has improved in the last two years.”

“As a former sheep farm the soil had been smashed. There's was no nutrition in it. Now it's dark brown with organic matter in it and also holds water more effectively. It's just been brought back to life from this holistic approach.”

“Plus, the diurnal temperature difference – the gap between heat of the day and coolness of night – is very high,” he says. “The daytime heat ripens fruit whilst the cool nights ensure acids are retained.”

“So, because of this large variation, whether it's the citrus or the tomatoes, you get very ripe fruit and lots of acidity.”

The Watervale Hotel and Penobscot Farm are bringing together the mid North Clare Valley community and people that have Warrick and Nicola’s same values, principles and philosophies, not just for their own produce, but for other proteins and meats to show what a difference fresh, organic and biodynamic food can make, proving “categorically that eating ethically produced natural, fresh produce tastes better”.    

Warrick’s career has truly come full circle with this new venture. He is taking everything he learned and gained throughout his high-flying marketing career and is planting it back into the soil for others to relish in the fruitful harvest and ensure South Australia has a healthy and sustainable future.

More about The Watervale Hotel and Penobscot Farm, and how you can pay a visit, here.

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