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Rachael Carter: SOHO Wines

SOHO Wines’ Havana Pinot Noir 2015 was recently awarded a Gold Medal, the Trophy for Best Marlborough Pinot Noir, and the Trophy for Best New Zealand Pinot Noir at the International Wine Challenge – one of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions. We caught up with Rachael Carter, founder and Managing Director, to hear about her journey to success.

Q: Can you tell us more about how you got involved with making wine?

A: My father owned a company that produced everything a winemaker needs to make and package wine, such as corks, barrels, and caps. I left my marketing studies early to help him out when a competitor started up, and have been involved in the industry ever since. In 2000 my father sold his company and reinvested in vineyards, including one on Waiheke and two in Marlborough. Around this time screw caps for wine bottles were just becoming popular. I decided to start importing screw caps from Italy and gained a 75% market share in 3 years. Eventually, with the support of my family, I decided to manufacture screw caps in Auckland and entered into a partnership with the Italians I had been importing them from, which grew our market share to 97%.

In 2008, the Waiheke vineyard my father had invested in was struggling, and the winery couldn’t afford to buy his grapes. I had always wanted my own wine company, so I sold our share in the screw cap company and started SOHO Wines to take my father’s grapes. It’s all grown from there!

Q: Your business model has been referred to as a virtual winery. How did you come up with this concept?

A: I think it is better to invest in good quality fruit rather than a winery, and investing in a winery is expensive! Our winemakers either use their own existing wineries to make our wine, or use a con-tract winery. We source our fruit from three of the best New Zealand wine regions, which means each wine has its own distinctive premium style and regional personality. Combined with the best fruit, I have handpicked three wine-makers, who in my opinion are the best wine-makers in New Zealand  they are specialists in their realm.

Our Marlborough winemaker is Dave Clouston, our Central Otago winemaker is Grant Taylor, and our Waiheke Island winemaker is James Rowan.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had known before you started out?

A: It has been quite a roller coaster ride, I wish I had planned things better. There are also lots of things I wish I had known before I started, instead of learning the hard way. For example, I have learnt that it is a good idea to get trade insurance on large clients you deal with. It is not uncommon to have a large order cancelled at the last minute in this industry. However, this does open you up to finding other markets and channels for your brand  things happen for a reason!

Q: What has been your career highlight to date?

A: Our recent success with the Havana Pinot Noir 2015 at the International Wine Challenge is fantastic, it will open up a lot of doors. We’ve had a lot of calls for orders and are already having to allocate stock so we don’t run out too quickly. The icing on the cake is that the grapes were sourced from my father’s vineyard.

My daughter, Maren, is the highlight ahead of any career though, she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me!

Q: Your wines are uniquely named, how do you choose these names?

A: I actually come up with the names first – I have an idea of the style of wine that I want our winemakers to produce, and the name captures this. For example, the Havana Pinot Noir is inspired by a city with infectious energy. The wine reflects this with a core of spicy black cherry and sweet dark chocolate, a hint of oak, and a subtle smokiness. The back label on each bottle describes who or what the wine is inspired by, it’s a real point of difference for us in a crowded market. When I came up with this concept, I also wanted to reflect the people drinking the wine – SOHO Wines is a totally unique name in itself because it’s not reflective of mountains, hills or rocks like many other wine brands are. For me, wine reflects our life and the amazing people we share it with.

Q: What have your experiences as a woman in business been like?

A: It’s been pretty good, aside from my time man-aging the screw cap plant! My business partners were all Italian men. When we first started out I had to email them from my dad’s account to get a response, because they would ignore any-thing I sent as myself. They were very surprised when they came out to New Zealand and realised it was me who had been instructing them on how to make good quality screw caps!

Q: What sacrifices have you had to make along the way?

A: My social life! When I was running the screw cap plant I would work long hours, but party quite hard as I didn’t have a child. Now, I try my best not to sacrifice time with my daughter  I think I balance it ok, and I would rather be at home with her than go out. I have been very busy lately, but I find that as you go you go through stages, it will change.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring business women?

A: Believe in your passion and don’t lose faith when you face adversity, but don’t let it rule your world either! Enable your-self to have some down time – this is one thing I haven’t done well and have learned from.

I think the difference between people who are doing okay and those who are really successful comes down to meeting commitments and being responsive. Successful people don’t miss opportunities because they always get back to you when they say they will – it’s a mark of respect and integrity. It seems so basic, but it astounds me how many people don’t do this!

soho wine bottle