Like many Nuffield Scholars before him, Toby Bekkers put off applying for a number of years but is delighted he finally got around to it.
While success makes his 2017 calendar look pretty daunting (and he’ll be desperately hoping that picking has been completed in McLaren Vale before his first overseas trip in March), the opportunities the scholarship brings, both now and into the future, are ample reward.
‘The network behind the whole thing, I never realised just how impressive it was behind the scenes’, he said. ‘From the first visit I thought “wow, now if I don’t get this I’m going to be doubly disappointed”. There’s access to people in all corners.’
Toby will be putting those contacts to use straight away as he seeks to set up visits next year to everything from best-practice wineries and high-end wine collectors in California to luxury fashion and jewellery houses in Europe. He’ll also spend time with a French business school at the forefront of education around luxury branding.
Since he and his French winemaker wife Emmanuelle set up their Bekkers vineyard and winery in 2010, they have had a clear focus on the top end of the market. At the same time, they’ve been interested to explore what can be learned from other industries that sell ‘luxury’ products, primarily direct to the consumer.
‘It could be travel, Michelin restaurants, a specialist tailor in the UK, skin care, a super architect or works of art’, he said. ‘People who have got something to sell that people don’t really need to survive. It’s a discretionary purchase at the high end. How do they communicate and give a sense of engagement?
‘Wine has a fairly defined model of how we do it but maybe others have other models that are applicable.’
One industry of interest close to home is Australian cultured pearls, which Toby believes fit the definition of luxury, in part because the industry is able to control its own distribution from start to finish.
However, he’s not really keen on the use of the word ‘luxury’ in relation to wine and says a part of the journey will to be coming up with another way of describing his product. ‘Luxury can sometimes seem a bit contrived and I don’t think bespoke is really right. It’s about putting some polish on something that’s really authentic.’
His personal interests are actually only the third part of the Nuffield Scholarship journey, which begins with a 10-day Contemporary Scholars Conference in Brazil, bringing together participants from all fields of agriculture from all over the world.
Next comes a stimulating but often tiring seven-week Global Focus Program, travelling in a small group on a curated itinerary that will include Singapore, Japan, Israel and the US.
‘I might not see a vineyard for the whole 50 days – and for me that’s perfect’, Toby said. ‘Way back when I did my original study at Roseworthy I did agricultural science not viticulture and I’ve always said that’s one of the best things I ever did – to get a solid grounding in agriculture. There’s stuff out of other industries that I’ve picked up and used. It gives you a broader perspective on farming.’
Over the next 18 months, Toby hopes to gain a broader perspective on how the best brands tell their story and make sales, which he wants to share with others in the wine sector.
Toby’s scholarship is supported by Wine Australia. Further information about the Nuffield Scholarship can be found at nuffield.com.au.