Client Story: Lake Breeze Wines

Client Story: Lake Breeze Wines

Over 130 years ago, Arthur Follett established the first vineyards on his Langhorne Creek property. The Follett family went on to become successful grape growers and dairy farmers – but if someone had told him then, that they would become one of Australia’s most awarded small wineries, with a restaurant, B&B, and event centre, he would probably never have believed it.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Arthur’s descendant Ken Follett and wife Marlene began to place a greater emphasis on wine grape growing. They replaced old vines with cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and later chardonnay grapes, which now make up the bulk of the 90-hectare vineyard. In 1987, the first Lake Breeze wine was produced, and in 1991, they opened a basic cellar door.

Today, Ken’s sons Greg, Roger and Tim (pictured above, left to right) serve as winemaker, managing director and vineyard manager respectively, and Lake Breeze offers approximately 25 wines under three different labels. They have a refurbished cellar door, a restaurant featuring seasonal and local produce, a function centre for weddings and corporate events, a bed and breakfast, and serve as the host for the annual “Handpicked Festival” in November.

Their outstanding wines have earned them numerous awards – in fact, 60 trophies and over 180 gold medals at major Australian wine shows, including the Winestate Wine of the Year on two occasions, the Champion Australian Small Winery, Best Red of the Adelaide Wine Show two times, and most recently, the 2022 James Halliday Best Value Winery of the Year.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to win many awards for our wine, which is something we’re very proud of,” says Roger. “I think that the key to our success is having a very good product, as well as being passionate about that product and our business in general.”

Challenges along the way

Any vineyard or farm faces weather challenges along the way, and Lake Breeze is no exception. They’ve had times of too much or not enough rain and times of too much or not enough sun.

“Another big challenge has been the constant bumps in the road regarding oversupply of wine grapes,” explains Roger, “and hence, pressure on price points throughout the whole industry.”

They’ve also dealt with ongoing questions of how, when, and where to market their products and how to adapt to changing customer demands.

“Consumers are looking for far more from a winery than they were 20 years ago,” explains Roger.  “With the changing landscape of wine tourism, we’ve had to move from being cellar door-centric to now running a restaurant and a function centre.

“Doing all this has added a great deal to our business, not only in revenue, but in attracting a wider demographic,” he says. “The restaurant really helps drive wine sales and enhances the visitor experience, which in turn helps us from a marketing perspective.”

Obviously, being a family business has its challenges, too, but Roger says it’s also a strength for them.

“We’re a close family, and every family member has their own skills and key role within the business,” he notes. “We’re all involved in the decision-making process and work together to make good long-term decisions about the way we want to grow the business.”

Oreon’s role in the journey

Oreon Partner Chris Gebhardt has worked with the Follett family now for more than 30 years.

During those years, Chris and the Oreon team have helped in many areas including tax and compliance, business restructuring, strategy, performance, and estate and succession planning.

“Two of the more memorable things that we’ve done for the family have been strategic superannuation planning, involving transferring vineyard property to a superannuation fund, and establishing strategies with guidance for succession planning,” says Chris.

“Chris has literally seen us grow from a small vineyard operation into what we have today,” says Roger. “As a firm, Oreon is nimble and offers a wealth of experience in many fields, and having their team guide us with tax advice and our business structure has been a big part of our success.”

He adds, “The assistance in estate and succession planning really helps put everyone at ease, too. It’s important to all of us in the family to make sure there’s a pathway for our kids to have an opportunity, if desired, to come into the business at some point.”

Future of the business

With everything that’s involved in grape growing, winemaking, running a cellar door, restaurant and B&B, as well as weddings and events – not to mention hosting a music festival – the family is content right now to manage all they have.

“We feel that the only other area that we may explore is some higher-end accommodation on the property at some point,” says Roger.

To learn more, visit the Lake Breeze website.