The Sharp Group owns a range of beverage production and hospitality venues on the Bellarine Peninsula. This includes Leura Park Estate vineyard and winery, a cider production site with associated hospitality venue and a golf course with accommodation and function facilities.
Leura Park Estate joined Sustainable Winegrowing Australia as a vineyard member in 2021 and the winery joined in 2022. The primary reason for joining was a desire to formalise the inherent alignment of the business with the three key pillars of the program, environment, social responsibility, and business sustainability. Leura Park Estate is currently preparing for an initial audit to become a certified member ahead of vintage 2024.
Maintaining community connection and staff retention during Covid-19 lockdowns
The Sharp Group employs 264 people, across five hospitality venues, the cidery, winery and vineyard. As a large employer in the region, community connection is vital to attract and retain high calibre staff. During Covid-19 lockdowns, when all hospitality venues were forced to shut down, 99% of income from hospitality venues was lost and retaining staff and maintaining community connections was a real challenge.
Communication, redeployment and innovation
The Directors of the Sharp Group feel a responsibility to give back to the community and to be an employer of choice. The ethos of the business is to be responsible in the community and to walk the talk. Their philosophy can be summed up as ‘Giving to those in need is who we are and what we do.’ During Covid-19 lockdowns, winery, vineyard and golf course maintenance operations were considered essential services. This enabled Leura Park Estate and Curlewis Golf Club to maintain some activities.
A high level of staff communication was maintained throughout the lockdown periods with edMs providing immediate communications to staff on changes to regulations, their impact on all areas of employment as well as links to all relevant information and resources. A private Facebook group was also established to further enhance interaction between all staff and assist in ensuring that no one felt isolated. Staff were redeployed where possible in areas such as grounds maintenance, vineyard operations and wine deliveries. This provided the opportunity for many staff to develop a new skill base.
When Covid-19 forced repeated closures of hospitality venues, a new home delivery food service was established to provide an outlet for fresh produce which had been purchased, thus avoiding waste and providing a service for the local community. Fresh produce from all hospitality venues was taken to a single site to repurpose into a home delivery food service. This initiative also kept chefs and other team members (who helped promote, pack, label and process orders) engaged and motivated.
The Leura Park Estate cellar door was temporarily converted into a sales and distribution centre for products from all brands of the business, 83 products in total. With a capacity of five customers on site at a time, hospitality staff were repurposed to work in the cellar door distribution centre and it became a point of contact for local people. Staff had the opportunity for ongoing employment. Many locals became repeat customers.
Link with Gordon TAFE and local High Schools
The Sharp Group also has a strong affiliation with Gordon TAFE and numerous local high schools. At least four times a year, bus groups of students spend half a day visiting Sharp Group venues. Career options, job opportunities and job application tips are discussed as part of a motivational presentation which is followed by fun activities such as mini golf and the ‘Great Wait Race’ where relay teams have to carry three plates without dropping the objects on each plate.
Leura Park Estate has been a long-standing sponsor of Gordon TAFE’s annual student awards for hospitality. A Director of the Sharp Group is also active in an industry advisory group working with Gordon TAFE in developing micro courses for hospitality students.
Collaboration with ‘The Paddock’
The Paddock is a seven-acre property located 15 minutes’ drive from Leura Park Estate, which operates as a not-for-profit business providing people living with disabilities or disadvantage the opportunity to work, learn and build social connections. People of all abilities and backgrounds can learn new skills in horticulture, grounds maintenance and cooking. The facility has rehabilitation and training for people living with a range of disabilities.
The Paddock initially grew produce without a market and gave away much of its fresh produce. However, in 2015 the Sharp Group approached The Paddock to grow fresh produce for its hospitality venues and be paid at commercial rates. Thereafter, The Paddock began growing produce on demand for a known market at market price. It expanded to supply other local businesses and develop a commercial kitchen with takeaway coffee, jams (made from its own produce) and a shopfront.
Flying Brick Cider Co, the cider enterprise of The Sharp Group, in looking to source heirloom apple varieties for cider production, approached The Paddock to provide the fruit. The Sharp Group donated trees and all necessary infrastructure including trellis and dripline to aid the development of a high-density espalier orchard. In return, Flying Brick Cider Co. purchase the fruit at a commercial rate and developed a Paddock cider which, via dedicated tasting leaflets detailing the collaboration and all that The Paddock does, helped increase awareness of this great community asset.
The Sharp Group contributes to other charity causes too, receiving approximately 10 emails per week from those seeking donations. More than $50,000 per annum in donations is directed back into the local community. The business is systematic in its decision-making to determine how and where to direct donations. Their focus is primarily on local charities, preferencing the community within which they live and work. If an employee is an advocate, the business is more likely to support a cause. In addition, each hospitality venue has a major fundraiser each year, chosen to fit their profile. Some of these initiatives have included:
- A cider developed in support of the local Men’s Heath Lunch Group and the Variety Bash.
- A charity dinner and ongoing support for the ‘Feed me Bellarine’ group that provides hot meals for people in need.
- Hosting an annual Pink Ribbon Breakfast
- Support for schools, the arts and myriad community groups, partnering with the Geelong Arts Centre, Geelong Gallery, Festival of Glass, National Celtic Festival, Bellarine Sunset Run, Bellarine Arts Trail, North Bellarine Film Festival, Drysdale Art Show to mention a few.
Grapest 5K Run
In another initiative to connect with the local community and educate visitors about vineyard and biosecurity, the Grapest run organisers were approached with a view to hosting an event at Leura Park Estate. Grapest, a 5 km or 10km run through the vines, incorporates footbaths prior to entry into vineyards and tasting stations amongst the vines as part of the event. All participants pass through footbaths and remain on a designated route through the vineyard. In addition, fencing around the vineyard prevents unauthorised access outside of various managed events hosted at Leura Park Estate
The Directors of the Sharp Group feel a responsibility to give back to the community and to be an employer of choice. The ethos of the business is to be responsible in the community and to walk the talk.
In preparing to become certified, community connection is embedded throughout documentation demonstrating the alignment of Leura Park Estate with the Australian Wine Industry Standard of Sustainable Practices. One of their core commitments to sustainability is through actions to collaborate with and give back to the local community. There are numerous ways that social responsibility is embedded into their fundamental way of working. This case study highlights incident management planning, connection with Gordon TAFE, local schools, community groups and The Paddock as approved suppliers and biosecurity management and education through the Grapest run.
Community engagement and staff retention
The work community across Sharp Group venues has become very close-knit since the Covid-19 lockdown period. The challenges of that time initiated collaboration between teams from different workplaces within the group and opportunities to develop new skill sets. Minimal staff were lost thanks to strong communication and retention initiatives; staff remain motivated and connected to one another and the business. Many employees have paved the way for family members to join their workplace.
The Sharp Group has excellent relationships with the local community, is an employer of choice, receives minimal complaints, has minimal staff turnover and an ability to secure high-calibre staff. Involvement in causes close to staff, the community, TAFE and schools have aided staff retention. As a result of the affiliation with Gordon TAFE, students have later joined the staff of The Sharp Group. Brochures promoting The Paddock are a standard fixture at all the group’s hospitality venues to promote the story and value of the not-for-profit enterprise. The Paddock staff also assist with propagation of planting material and other tasks in the vineyard.
Promotion of good biosecurity practices through hosting the Grapest run minimises potential threats to the vineyard in a user-friendly manner, educating the community about vineyard biosecurity while discouraging biosecurity risks.
In preparing for sustainability certification, community connection is a key element for Leura Park, demonstrating its alignment with the Australian Wine Industry Standards of Sustainable Practice. One of its core commitments to sustainability is through its actions to collaborate with and give back to the local community.
The Sharp Group’s core commitment to sustainability is to collaborate with and give back to the local community.
This case study was developed by the Australian Wine Research Institute with support from The Sharp Group and funding from Wine Victoria and the Victorian State Government through the Growing Victorian Wine into the Future Program.