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Zac Caudo: Grape grower with out-of-the-bottle thinking

Category leadership

Zac Caudo - Grape grower with out-of-the-bottle thinking

Located at Hogwash Bend in the Mid Murray region of South Australia, where the bright sun meets the cool waters of the Murray River, is the pristine Caudo Vineyard. A property that started off as a holiday home for the Caudo family has today become one of the most highly respected Australian vineyards known for its superior quality wines.

The Caudo Vineyard business model has undergone massive changes since Zac took the reins in 2008. The 360-hectare vineyard began in the 1990s by his parents as contract growers to wine companies. However, the grape glut of the 2000s adversely impacted their business. The downturn in the industry along with minimal growth potential in contract grape growing propelled Zac to launch his own wine label at their cellar door in 2012.

In a complex industry like this, you have to keep the ball rolling and continuously come out with something novel.”

Since then, he has been able to sell almost all Caudo Vineyard's wine production. Grapes are no longer sold through contract. They are either used in their own label or sold as bulk wine to other wineries. By going into bulk wine, Zac has introduced an additional revenue stream, as it instantly gives him exposure to the export and trade market.

"This shift has made the Caudo business more independent, unlike when we were in the contract grapes business, where we were at the mercy of big wineries.”

Other than wines being available at its cellar door, Caudo Vineyard has entered the retail business where its wines are available in local bars and shops around town. The family business also has its own distribution network for its products.

We no longer use a third party. This is like being in control of your destiny and not being answerable to anyone.”

The family has also ventured into mixed farming, which involves 70 hectares of citrus farming for limes, mandarin oranges and lemons, small patches for avocadoes and recently two hectares of high-density almonds.

"This has turned out to be a heavy learning curve for us."

It was just four years back that Caudo Vineyard received its legal license to sell wine. For Zac, it is not competition as much as the convoluted laws and regulations of the wine industry that he must combat to keep his business ahead.

There are times when I would have come out with a business strategy, but suddenly the laws would change and I would have to shelve my strategy.”

Generating innovative ideas and running business as usual can be a tall order. But Zac gets time to experiment with the business thanks to his dedicated staff. In order to get more free time to focus on strategies to push the business forward, not every process is carried out in-house – the winemaking and packaging is outsourced to well-established companies.

"Right from the beginning, the focus of the business has been on efficiency and being ecologically friendly.”

This is reflected in Caudo Vineyard's unique practices. The vineyard is on a drip system, which makes it highly economical in terms of power and water usage. The packaging for their products is also recyclable.

When asked about where he would like to see his business in the future, Zac says: "I would like us to be known for the most iconic and prettiest cellar door and the most expansive wine portfolio."

For Zac Caudo, winner of the 2015 Rabobank Emerging Leadership Award, the journey has just begun.

Do you know of an exceptional business owner implementing innovative and forward-thinking initiatives in food beverage and agribusiness? Find out more about the Rabobank Leadership Awards