Five Questions With Jules Taylor

This is part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the global wine community. Vintner Magazine will share business and personal insights from winery owners, vintners, marketing managers, sales directors, QCQA staff and others to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Jules Taylor is the eponymous winemaker at Jules Taylor Wines, a boutique, woman-owned winery based in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. 

Born in Marlborough in the year the first vines were planted, Taylor has literally grown up with Sauvignon Blanc and is deeply invested in the region and its grape-growing families. 

Before starting her winery, Taylor was a senior winemaker for Kim Crawford. She left in 2008 to focus on making her wines full-time, joined by her business partner and husband, George Elworthy. 

The owner and winemaker focuses on single blocks of Marlborough fruit to express the terroir of her growing region in New Zealand. She also holds exclusive contracts with growers who farm to her specifications (including organic blocks) and visits the vineyards year-round to check on the fruit.

VINTNER: Why did you enter the wine industry, and what makes you love being a part of it and stay in it?

TAYLOR: Well, I didn’t grow up in a family of wine. In fact, my parents weren’t wine drinkers at all. Mind you, wine wasn’t really very available or popular in New Zealand back then. I ended up working in the industry because our region had become a grape-growing area and I liked wine. It’s as simple as that! Like many young adults, I really had no idea what I wanted to do in terms of a career when I left school and I just followed my nose.

I love the wine industry for so many reasons, but I suppose the people, the challenges of running an international business from little old New Zealand, and the fact that every year is different because of Mother Nature, make my job interesting and challenging enough to stay. The other thing is, I have no idea what else I would do because I’m in this so deep!

VINTNER: What do you feel have been new challenges in your position that have helped push you and make you better at your job?​

TAYLOR: Making a variety like Grüner Veltliner, which was only recently introduced into New Zealand, has been an exciting new challenge. No one had made this variety here before so there was no “recipe” or “rule book” for it. I think it is a really exciting wine for Marlborough, but learning to sell a variety that most people are unfamiliar with, at least here in New Zealand, has also been a learning opportunity. The other thing that has helped me to be better at my job has been having a fantastic support network around me. I have been lucky to have some really great mentors as I came up through the industry, and I am now really enjoying paying it forward and being an agony aunt for the next generation of up-and-coming winemakers.

VINTNER: How has the definition of growth for your company evolved and how have you adjusted to be successful in that new definition?

TAYLOR: One of the reasons I left my previous job working for large corporate wine companies, was to avoid the constant rounds of growth projections and reporting. When I started Jules Taylor Wines with my husband George, we figured we would give things a go with a tiny 400 cases, and if we didn’t sell any wine then our family was going to have a really great Christmas drinking it all! I never dreamed that we would be able to feed two hungry teenagers from this business! But now that we do, I guess our goal is to still be enjoying what we are doing at the end of each year without suffering a nervous breakdown or divorce as a result of running our business!

VINTNER: What strategic growth opportunity​ do you feel is still “out there” for your brand and how are you working on capitalizing on it this year?​

TAYLOR: There are so many opportunities out there. We constantly get inquiries from potential distributors in new markets. However, our strategic focus remains on the US. It is our most important export market but I feel we are still only just scratching the surface here. Historically we spent a lot of time meeting with customers and holding events throughout the States. Of course, we have had to work hard to replace all that with digital communications over the past 24 months but with the New Zealand borders having reopened in May, we hope to be back in person stateside soon.

VINTNER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the wine industry, what would it be?

TAYLOR: We have recently implemented a four-day work week at Jules Taylor Wines and have been really happy with the results. The benefits in terms of mental health, productivity, staff retention, etc. are massive, especially in an industry where people often work anti-social hours away from their families. I would love to see this rolled out more widely in the industry.

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