Family-owned winery Tahbilk sees unprecedented leadership change

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Stepping down: Alister Purbrick is retiring as the chief executive officer of Tahbilk winery. Photo by Megan Fisher

The Tahbilk winery near Nagambie is getting a new leader and, for the first time since the 1930s, it won’t be a Purbrick.

Founded in 1860 and owned by the Purbrick family since 1925, the family-owned winery is a member of Australia’s First Families of Wine, a prestigious group of multi-generational winemakers.

In Tahbilk’s case, four generations of the Purbrick family have owned and run the property and business on the banks of the Goulburn River and Nagambie lakes, most recently Alister Purbrick, who has announced he is retiring from the position.

The business will remain in the family, but its next leader will be sought from outside the Purbricks.

“From my perspective, it’s been a hell of a ride and there’s been a lot more highs than lows and I’m really pleased with the way we’ve got through those lows. There’s always attrition, there’s not a guarantee,” Mr Purbrick said.

“So I’m really proud of the people we have. There’s a lot of them in this region, quite a few employed in Melbourne now, right along the east coast, sales people. It’s 250-odd people, they’re all quality people.”

In the family: Tahbilk is Victoria’s oldest family-owned vineyard and winery. Photo by Megan Fisher

Mr Purbrick listed the Global Financial Crisis, trade issues with China, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine as major challenges during his time, the latter three he said were still having an impact on the industry.

“I still think we’re in really good shape and it’ll be good for the next CEO to get their teeth into it and make their mark,” he said.

Mr Purbrick said the family would have liked another family member to take over, but it was not the right time.

“It’s not a regret, but it’s sad we couldn’t have another family member to fill the breach,” he said.

“I’m a fourth-generation winemaker and my daughter Hayley has been with us over 10 years, so five generations, and she is absolutely up to the mark.

“(She) married a farmer in Deniliquin and farms and vineyards don’t move, so she commutes up and down, but there’s limitations on how involved she can be.”

Mr Purbrick, who oversaw the winery becoming a net zero carbon emissions business, said he would remain actively involved in Tahbilk’s operations, but as far as being in charge of the day-to-day functions, “it’s time” to step back to play “a lot more golf” and spend “a lot more time with family and friends”.

He is sure, however, that another Purbrick will lead the business some time in the future.

“We’ve got a whole lot of talented next gens,” he said.

“Most of them are making their way in other industries at the moment, but there’s good crossover, regardless of what the industry is. They’re all very engaged, particularly with Tahbilk, and they know what’s going on.”