Lessons Learned

It has been an interesting six weeks or so. Most people know I managed to shatter an ankle in April, which threw a spanner in the works of both business and play, and has forced me to be a little less… didactic. Demanding. Bitchy.

I have learned a couple of things.

Asking for help makes none of us a lesser creature. On occasion, it makes us better. And sometimes it makes us so frustrated and helpless that we just want to lash out and rail at the world.

Most people are pretty good. Not nasty. Not mean or a variety of urban evil, just nice. Strangers who have opened doors, shifted things, fetched coffee, and just asked if they might be able to help. Just because I might need help and they were there.

Even the guy in the airport who ran his wheelie luggage into me at speed less than 48 hours after my surgery – and apologies to any sensibilities damaged by my expletive tirade uttered at volume at the time – went immediately to the nearest staff and insisted someone fetch medical assistance. And apologised profusely.

I have taken this incident as a lesson in learning how to ask for help, and how to accept it. Neither of which are my strong points.

But helpless is not something I do well, and I would rather not be here again.

And so I come back to a recurring theme: be better. Learn from our missteps, and look to how others fail, and be better.

So, one of my overwhelming memories of time spent in Margaret River, as a child, a visitor, a local and as a local hospo, was that we all cooperatively built the reputation of the area. We recommended, we talked up, we were joyous about the businesses of others. And this was infectious. Margaret River developed a reputation as being engaging, friendly, vibrant. Tourism supporting tourism to support a region and the businesses this region supported. Local council operated the same way. So did state government. And we trained some gorgeous staff who cared about the entire region.

And here we have the question: Queensland, what the hell were you thinking? The Queensland wine industry has its share of detractors, which is distinctly unfair given the youth of the state’s industry as a whole. Chief amongst these detractors should NOT be the state government. A recent Queensland Tourism event, held at one of the more reputable Brisbane restaurants and costing likely a pretty penny, chose to not support its own local industry, instead requesting wines from out of state. I’m sure they were lovely. I’m sure they were well matched to the food. But that kind of behaviour is simply reprehensible. Supporting local industry is the basis for state funded tourism groups. And yet they flew their wines in.

Many restaurants, pubs, bars and bottleshops show minimal support for the emerging local industry, and they are entirely within their rights to do so. It might be nice to see a smarter approach to the proliferation of Queensland wine: one supported by the local government, and perhaps, just perhaps, one which isn’t becoming frustrated and a tad embittered by the reputation of their own industry, and is a little more joyous and innovative.

Dear Queensland: if you won’t support your own industry, why should anyone else?

Look to the regions with impeccable reputations, and see if you might be able to learn something. The New Generation approach by the Hunter Valley young guns. Pop-up bars. Vermentino and Sardines. A more inclusive, less didactic approach to showing off our wines. A sense of fun. A sense of pride.

If a winery owner’s best approach to selling more of his own wine is to purchase pubs, and exclusively stock his own lines, there is a problem. Forcing the consumer’s hand is NEVER a good idea.

People – and I include many Queenslanders in this – have little to no sense of where the regions are, or why they could be great wine regions. Tamborine Mountain wineries? Not much in the way of vineyards up there. The fruit comes from the Granite Belt, Stanthorpe, just about anywhere else. There is no sense of identity or regionality associated with the wines. Just a tourist region with a handful of cellar doors. Surely part of the game is to promote the region? To let visitors say ‘I’ve been there. I’ve walked the vineyards.’ To engage with a producer is more than merely a shop front.

But without a plan in place, without a cohesive approach to branding and building the industry, without government and industry support, there is not much hope of success.

We know you are proud of your wines, your exertions, your land. Look to what has made the Yarra, Margaret River, Clare, McLaren, and so on and so on great. Look how the regional towns work. Look to what the government and tourism bodies have done to work with these towns.

The wine industry in Brisbane is growing. There are tasting groups like Swirl Sniff Spit, and restaurants and bars actively looking for something different. Wine Experience has a great selection of local vino, and Clovelly was amongst the first urban cellar doors in the country.

And yet the key tourism group in the state chose to ignore an opportunity, and an entire industry. Symptomatic, perhaps, of the greater problem. There is no shame in asking for a little help to fix the core problem.