Glaswegian Christine Kernohan turned her passion for wine into her livelihood, and started a new life in New Zealand, investing in a winery
When Christine Kernohan, a Glaswegian working in IT, decided to start her own business, she wanted something that would give her that elusive combination – quality of life, opportunities for travel, and the challenge of taking on and growing an international business. She found the answer (and more) in New Zealand’s flourishing wine sector. Since acquiring Gladstone Vineyard in 1996, Christine and her husband have grown the business to become a high quality boutique winery with an international reputation for distinctive, high quality wines of finesse and complexity. Here she shares her story.
- Why did you decide to totally change careers?
It was a happenstance decision – a case of it being the right time and the right place. I had been looking to run my own business and was interested in something that would give me the opportunity to spend a lot of time outdoors. In the past, I had been involved in a farming venture and I wanted something which would give me the mixture of indoor, outdoor, hands on and strategic, in an attractive and growing industry which suited my science background. Taking on a vineyard gave me the perfect balance!
- Did you have any knowledge of the wine business prior to this?
No. I had only been on a wine appreciation course prior to this so it was a great leap in to the unknown – a real mid life crisis!
- What made you choose to start a new life in New Zealand – somewhere so far from home?
The move to New Zealand had happened a number of years earlier – when a job opportunity came up for my husband David. We had married young, had our children young and had never travelled, so when the opportunity to move came up, we decided to travel the 12,000 miles from Glasgow to New Zealand. We initially went intending to stay for three years but that was 35 years ago! It was an adventure that has worked for us.
- What challenges have you had to overcome?
Running a business from New Zealand can bring challenges but also great advantages. Becoming an exporter was very important to me and visiting key markets to meet principals and their sales teams has therefore been essential, so that means travel and lots of it! But I love travel and had always been keen to have a travel component in my own business. The time difference is also something to consider but you just learn to work differently (sales calls at 10pm, or not after 8am). The Internet, email, phone calls and Skype are all fundamental tools in supporting our business. The exchange rate is a quite a challenge for us too at the moment.
- How did you fund the change?
When we moved, we sold our house in Scotland as well as our farming venture. This helped us to fund our new life in New Zealand.
- What has the change in career meant for your lifestyle in general?
Day to day living is so much easier and more relaxed in New Zealand. It may have a small population, but there is a real ‘can do ‘ attitude that helps to get things done. And the weather is a lot better than in Glasgow! The scale and openness of New Zealand provide opportunities to change in a way that can be difficult back in the UK. Freed from both your own expectations, and those of others, in a new environment on the other side of the world the sky’s the limit!
- What are your plans now and for the future?
We have worked hard to grow Gladstone Vineyard and now have 13 hectares of vineyards and winemaking facilities, exporting our award-winning wines around the world. We are very positive about our wines and their acceptance in the market place. We have built a fantastic team here, but my hair is getting greyer and I would like to start having a bit more time for myself and for my family!
For this reason, we are actively planning succession arrangements for the business. We are looking for investors or partners who can join us and can gradually take over what we are doing. We are very flexible and will work with investors’ requirements. Gladstone Vineyard provides an amazing combination of lifestyle and investment opportunity. New Zealand wines are performing well worldwide, and we see a good future for the business.
- What tips would you give to others who might love to do a similar thing?
Just do it and have confidence! Believe what you see and don’t always believe what you hear. It’s so important to build a good team around you – and to bring in the expertise you don’t have yourself. In this business, as in any business, you need resilience and a capacity for hard work. And, finally, I often find myself referring back to a piece of advice from my homeland: “dinnae fash yersel and keep yer heid” – keep calm and carry on!
- Any particularly useful resources and contacts you might like to share with others?
There is so much help and advice out there if you are open to it – neighbours, colleagues, magazines, the Internet, local winegrowers associations, and national organisations. Make use of them all and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
For further information on Gladstone Vineyard: www.gladstonevineyard.co.nz