In 2021 our Movers and Breakers conference flew to the wine and food heartland of Australia, the Barossa, South Australia. To celebrate, we caught up with Business Chicks members (and sisters!) Kristen and Janelle Zerk, founders of Z WINE.
Janelle and Kristen, hi! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves, and about Z WINE? Like where does the Z come from?
Z WINE is seriously dedicated to making some of Barossa Valley’s best wine. It’s a startup owned and operated by sisters (us!), Kristen and Janelle Zerk. Z is for ‘ZERK’ a pioneering Barossa settler family in 1846.
Janelle is the winemaker and has a degree from The Adelaide University (Bachelor of Agricutural Science (Oenology)). She has done 23 vintages and while proud of growing up on a vineyard in the Barossa, she has extensively travelled the world gaining valuable knowledge that she can apply to her winemaking. She spent seven years in the Hunter Valley and completed three overseas vintages; Tuscany, Italy; Sonoma California, USA and Puligny Montrachet Burgundy, France.
Janelle’s very first vintage was at the famed St Hallett Wines in the heart of the Barossa Valley as a laboratory technician – this set her pathway and passion to pursue winemaking. She has led Z WINE through 15 years of production and carved her own unique style which is evident across the highly desirable range of wines and several hundred medals in her career.
Kristen is the Z WINE marketing expert and also has a degree from the esteemed Adelaide University (graduating with a specialised Bachelor of Wine Marketing). She has driven that side of the company as well as being equipped in administration and management of the Cellar Door and Wine Bar.
Kristen believes that being the director and wine marketer for Z WINE has been a life-long calling. She is a sixth-generation Barossan that grew up on a vineyard in Lyndoch (Barossa Valley) that has been in the Zerk family for over 175 years. After completing her Wine Marketing degree at Adelaide University, she went on to work for many well-known South Australian wineries inside and outside of the Barossa. Kristen heads up a fantastic sales team employing dedicated and diverse workers that all love wine. This ensures that her goal of sharing her life-long passion and lifestyle is shared.
Janelle, you grew up amongst the vines in the beautiful Barossa, so was winemaking always the dream career?
I was such a youngster starting the winemaking degree straight out of school, but as I gained experience and finished the degree the ideas and dreams took over. I would definitely put my winemaking career down to fate, even though I grew up on a vineyard in a world-famous grape-growing region.
Janelle, you’ve worked in Tuscany, Sonoma and Burgundy. What did these stints teach you about winemaking?
This is a great question and it’s hard to summarise, but I definitely learned a certain perspective in the wine world that you just can’t recognise without travelling. I also learned what not to do in some cases, and this experience has all been invaluable to my winemaking technique. The biggest thing that I learned is what makes the region that I grew up in so special.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in business and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge has been maintaining our ideas and identity as two females and not conforming to the norm – even if that means being excluded at times. Our decision to be founders and operators of our own business independently without outside funding at times makes it hard to be competitive against the big companies or established family businesses. As sixth-generation Barossans we’re determined to be new-aged pioneers of our beloved region, so we’ve focused on quality and maintaining our personality. This philosophy has only strengthened in the 15 years we’ve been in business with Z Wine.
Looking ahead, what are you both excited about?
Improving our wines and interactions with customers first and foremost – secondly growth, so that our budget keeps up with our ideas!!
Business Chicks is heading to the Barossa in May and we can’t wait! What are the must-sees in the region?
Live and local music at Z WINE every Friday and Saturday night! We have created a Cellar Door and Wine Bar in the main street of Tanunda, where you can not only sample and buy our wines but enjoy them in a fun atmosphere. Come and meet the locals and tourists in a central spot – the couches are very comfy!
And finally, what wine can we not leave without trying?
2018 [JULIUS] Barossa Valley Shiraz – our flagship Shiraz that is the reigning double trophy winner of The Great Australian Shiraz Challenge.