Wander into the Future at Wandin
This month we chatted with Manda Duffy of Wandin about her (relatively) new role at one of the Hunters most scenic and historic estates.
Above: Team Wandin led by Manda Duffy GM (R), Kurt Nilon DTC (Middle), Erin Kemmis Weddings & Events (L). Photo by Chris Elfes.
Please tell us about your role at Wandin. How long have you called the Hunter Valley home and what brought you here?
I have worked in the wine industry for 28 years and in the Hunter Valley for just over 20 years. I first came to the Hunter with a PR role with the RAAF and started studying Wine Marketing and working in Cellar Doors – which is how I discovered my love for the industry.
After nearly a decade at Tamburlaine, my partner and I moved to Queensland for seven years with our baby to be closer to my mum. In 2009 we returned to the Hunter so that I could take on a role alongside Neil McGuigans’ team at Australian Vintage and to majorly grow their Direct to Consumer business. In 2020, I took on the challenge of General Management at Wandin Estate, which I had known for years from when the Davern Family were transforming the property into much of what people enjoy now.
One of the oldest Estates in Lovedale, Wandin is still adored by locals and somewhat of a hidden gem. What are the changes you have implemented and the vision for future Wandin?
Agree, I’m not sure how it’s been hidden being just off Lovedale Road and the first vineyard off the Hunter Expressway, but it is! When you drive through those big sandstone and iron gates and gaze down to the first of many water views, it is blissful and very calming. The entrance road dotted with kangaroos and birdlife takes you up to the high point on the property which provides the most amazing views back over the valley right across to the Brokenback ranges. Wandin has indeed taken a few different directions in the past; more recently, the focus was mainly weddings. However, when COVID hit, two months after I took up the role, it quickly became apparent that there were other vital operations on the site that needed some attention. Once the place was cleaned from top to bottom during the lockdown, it was the brand's opportunity to focus on the wines, the way the wines and accommodation were presented and of course, the awesome food.
Wandin Kitchen rose to the challenge, and I think I can safely say, is enjoyed by all who visit. John Rutherford, Exec Chef and Tim Richardson do an incredible job with all the menus; however, the Friday and Saturday night degustation’s are my favourites. It’s an authentic space run by a team who love the Hunter and appreciate that every customer has chosen, the place they call home, as their tourism destination.
Above: Executive Chef John Rutherford. Photo by Chris Elfes
Will weddings still feature moving forward?
Weddings are still a significant channel but not the only one. That said, just before shut down, Erin Kemmis and the Wandin Weddings team won the Hunter Newcastle Brides Choice Awards for the fourth year in a row.
The wine industry doesn’t have many women driving the industry. You’ve been in it for a while and is that changing at your level? Yes and no. We have a fair proportion of women at that middle management level across winemaking through to sales and marketing. I guess at the GM or National role level, probably not enough. The industry has changed rapidly over the last 30 years, and I am hopeful more balance will come, my team is currently 12, and the split is 50/50.
Tell us a bit about the Wandin range of wines. What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Our range extends from all the varieties the Hunter does well. Like many, we look to the colder regions of NSW for a splash of Sauvignon Blanc to add to some local Semillon – it’s such a simple, easy drink and no oak. We grow some lovely Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, these all have a place in our ranges and vary in ‘drink soon’ styles versus ‘worth keeping in the dark’, like our medal-winning Reserve Shiraz. Rosé is a must-have in my view, and ours is always a small batch produced from one of the Shiraz vineyards.
I have big plans for our Cellar Door and Wandin Membership, and so far I am very proud of the remarkable turnaround, led by Kurt Nilon and his team. We have so many plans for the next 12 months, and I can’t wait to get into the new year where we kick off with the 2021 vintage which is looking terrific at the moment with the grounds cared for by long term team member Greg Hardy.
Thanks for taking time out to share a bit about your journey so far at Wandin with our readers.
It’s been lovely to share my aspirations for Wandin and hope to see you as our guest soon. I should also mention that our Wombat population is growing... great to have Fatso back in wine country!