Margan Family Wines - Sustainable, Integrated Wine and Food Experiences
When you put your name to a product, you need to be passionate about what you are creating. While that may be easier said than done for some, it’s certainly not a difficult task for Andrew and Lisa Margan, who live, breathe and proudly advocate the values behind their award-winning winery, vineyard, cellar door and restaurant.
The experienced winemaker and the highly-trained chef set up their family-owned and operated business in Broke during 1996 after spending several years living in Bordeaux, France.
Andrew already had a long history in the Hunter wine industry, having spent 20 years learning the art of growing grapes and making wine under the late, great Murray Tyrrell.
Coupled with two science degrees and his experiences overseas, Andrew was keen to apply his unique hands-on approach to producing his own range of wines.
Lisa came from a background in teaching, with a Bachelor of Education and Applied Science.
But after moving from Sydney to the Hunter when she and Andrew married, Lisa shifted her focus to food, re-training as a chef under the expert guidance of respected Hunter restauranteur Robert Molines (Bistro Molines).
The couple’s years spent in France left a lasting impression on Lisa as well, who developed an appreciation for quality produce, technique and the unique appeal of dining in a premium wine region.
After returning to the Hunter she completed a Master’s degree in Science and Nutrition, focusing on organic food production – a decision that would clearly flavour the direction of the food operations she would establish alongside Andrew’s winemaking brand.
Lisa said the business was initially set up to complete contract winemaking, allowing them to slowly establish their own brand on the side, but it wasn’t long before their plan was turned on its head.
“Andrew and I had been living and working overseas, mainly in Bordeaux France for a few years, and it was there that we conceived the rough plan of starting our own business,” she said.
“The business started as a contract winemaking business with a tiny volume of our own wine label Margan, on the side. Within one year, this business plan was turned upside down, and we made more of Margan and less under contract for others.
“Since then the wine brand has gone from strength to strength, and we now have 100 hectares of our own vineyards and produce around 25,000 cases of wine annually, which is sold domestically and to select export markets.”
In the past 24 years, the couple has carefully evolved Margan into the leading winery in the Broke Fordwich sub-region, with a commitment to creating single-vineyard wines produced from grapes grown wholly and solely on their vineyards.
Margan’s Fordwich Hill vineyards offer a mixture of old vines planted in the late 1960's and more traditional Hunter Valley varieties, as well as some newer alternative varieties and field blends, with Andrew pioneering the introduction of Barbera and Albarino into the Hunter Valley.
Lisa believes this homegrown focus is one of the key elements that sets Margan apart within the market.
“We are dedicated to producing only Hunter Valley wines made from our own vineyards and made on-site by us,” she said.
“While other regions produce grapes that we would love to make into wine, like the cool climate varieties Pinot Noir and Riesling, we choose to stay loyal to our region and make the wines that grow best here.
“Our ethos has always been ‘Estate Grown – estate Made’, and we think people who love our wine have come to trust that.”
The estate-grown focus has certainly not placed any limits on Andrew’s winemaking process, however, with Margan offering five different ranges of wines that contain numerous varieties within each: Originals, Breaking Ground, White Label, Aged Release, and Margan’s ground-breaking ‘Field Blends’ of Shiraz Mourvedre and Tempranillo Graciano Shiraz.
In 2007, Andrew and Lisa expanded their operations with the construction of a unique rammed earth cellar door and restaurant.
“That launched the wine tourism part of our business, which allows us to better connect Margan wine and food with our guests,” Lisa said.
“Wine, food and good company… it all just comes together nicely.”
Unlike many wineries, which lease out their on-site restaurants to someone else, all Margan’s operations are 100 per cent estate-owned and operated, another factor Lisa believes sets them apart.
“We entirely own and operate our wine tourism operations. I run the restaurant and cellar door, and Andrew runs winemaking and viticulture,” she said.
“This presents an integrated wine and food experience for our guests, and we can control and curate this as we are across all operations.”
Maintaining control of the restaurant has also allowed Lisa to apply that same ‘Estate Grown - Estate Made’ ethos to the food side of the business, which is widely regarded as ‘acclaimed agri-dining at its finest’, having pioneered the kitchen garden concept in the region.
“As farmers, our first goal is to showcase the produce that we grow here and to build our menus around this in a true collaboration with the Hunter seasons,” Lisa said.
“I was first inspired to do this when we lived in France decades ago and saw the absolute dedication of farmers towards quality produce. I also loved the regional pride that came with it and the unwavering allegiance to seasonality.
“I wanted to create a dining experience that tapped into that and respected the seasons, so we planted a very large vegetable garden and over the years have expanded this to include an orchard, free-range chickens, olive groves, estate-reared lambs and beehives.
“This ‘hyper-local’ approach also supports our EMP (Environmental Management Plan) by keeping our carbon footprint low. Additional produce is sourced from local farm-gate suppliers and meats and seafood are sustainably produced and as local as possible.”
This focus on sustainability sits at the heart of Margan’s operations, with Andrew using his second degree in Environmental Health to oversee the emergence of their Environmental Sustainability program.
Margan is now the most accredited environmentally sustainable winery in the Hunter Valley. Lisa said their next goal was to become an organic operation - not a surprising direction given her own university studies.
“As farmers, we always have been committed to looking after the land we are on so we can hand it over to the next generation in good condition. We have been doing this in some form for decades and are considered leaders in this area,” Lisa said.
“In 2010 we decided to take this up a level and developed an EMP to reduce our impact across all business operations, which included calculating our carbon emissions.
“In 2013 we became certified under the Winemakers Federation Australia Entwine Program, which benchmarked to the ISO14000 series for international best practice. We were the first in the Hunter to achieve this.
“In 2019 this certification was updated to Sustainable Winegrowing Australia and Freshcare, which is certified via independent on-site audits of our EMP.
“We have been heading towards carbon neutral for the last five years, which has involved reducing our emissions via the four basic pillars of sustainability: reduction of greenhouse gases; energy efficiency; waste reduction and water management.
“Our ultimate goal is to become carbon neutral and to off-set the amount of emissions we can’t reduce any further.
“This can be achieved quite simply through purchasing carbon offsets, which would see us carbon neutral almost immediately. However, many of these companies are not Australian and the money goes to offshore projects, so we decided not to go down this easier path.
“We want the carbon benefit to stay close, so we have just completed regenerating our local riverbanks, planting 450 native trees. Additionally, our Ceres Hill (home) property is officially ‘In Conversion to Organic Farming’. Full conversion with certification will take another three years and it is a big job but we are learning lessons along the way and enjoying the journey.“
Thankfully, Andrew and Lisa have a talented and passionate team to help Margan reach its lofty goals, with the original two-person business having grown to now incorporate a team of 40. Additionally two of the three Margan children, now adults have completed their University studies and are returning home to join the business. Eldest son Ollie is a qualified winemaker and will join the winery team while daughter Alessa has now begun her second degree, a Bachelor of Viticulture and is working within the vineyard operations and in particular across the property’s transition to organics.
Youngest son James works in finance in Sydney but looks forward to returning home to the family business and being the boss of his elder siblings one day!
The business soon celebrates its quarter century milestone and has come a long way in 25 years. Lisa and Andrew feel fortunate to survive the fires and smoke damage from the 2020 harvest as well as the COVID shutdown.
“Given we operate in three challenging industries of farming, the wine industry and restaurants we are actually pretty fortunate to still be in business almost 25 years down the track,” she said.
“We have been awarded some industry accolades that we are very proud of, including wine trophies, cellar door of the year and the restaurant being recommended in leading guides and awarded its ‘hat’ in the National Good Food Guide.
“We have also been three times awarded Excellence in Food Tourism at The Australian Tourism Awards in recognition of all our onsite experiences such as tours, cooking schools, winery experiences, garden workshops etc. That is a major accolade.
“On top of that, Andrew and I have built this business from the ground up, work pretty hard to keep it all going and are still married so that’s an achievement. We also had all three of our children work this 2021 harvest in the winery, and it was great to see the whole family pulling together.”
To find out more about Margan and what else is on offer at their picturesque Broke property, visit www.margan.com.au