After buying a vineyard in the famous South East wine region a decade ago, the family plugged away as grape growers and sold their product to wine companies.
Disenchanted with grape prices and quality judgments made by buyers, Brian said the family decided to embark on a new path four years ago.
Brian and Jennifer’s son Angus, who holds an international business degree, came up with the idea to establish their own label – Whistle Post.
The name was inspired by a whistle post on the railway line which fronts the picturesque property, and also adorns the family’s label.
The family enlist local wineries to make cabernet, chardonnay and merlot.
“When we established Whistle Post wines in 2012 with rejected grapes, we bottled some for our trial and we presented that to (James) Halliday (a senior wine critic) and got 95 points,” Brian said.
“That gave us confidence that we had good fruit on the property and could do a lot with it.
“The next year we negotiated with a large supermarket to supply them with bulk wine, which we have done for the past four years.
“That was a success as we built up our own brand.”
Angus has spent time sourcing markets in the United States and the family expect to begin exporting this year.
“We’re also building an Australian market,” Brian said.
“We sell about 3000 cases of wine mainly in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. We’ve had a 15-20pc growth in that in the last couple of years.
“Even though we’re going to drive for export we’re not going to discount the domestic market. We expect that to continue to grow.”
A key success factor in the Smibert family business has been a focus on quality rather than quantity.
“We try and keep our yields low. It’s more about quality,” Brian said.
The next, and perhaps most exciting step in the family venture, is the pending establishment of a cellar door in Coonawarra.
The family have secured a restaurant licence, are renovating and extending an old cellar door, and have plans to build accommodation to target the international tourist market.
Their story serves as an example of taking matters into one’s own hands.
“It’s been a very tough 6-8 years (in the grape growing industry) but I think you’ve got to make your own luck to a degree.”