Australian viticulture ready to challenge the norm

Nuffield scholar and Wynns Coonawarra Estates vineyard manager Stuart Sharman has been on quite a profound professional journey over the past two years.

Since  winning the GWRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship in 2012, Stuart has travelled to Japan, the Netherlands, India, Ukraine, Qatar, Turkey, France, USA, Germany and Italy.

Initially travelling as part of the Nuffield Schlolarship group and later on his own, to focus on the role and application of continuous improvement (CI) management in viticulture, the travel, Stuart says, has provided him with a new appreciation of Australian viticulture.

As part of the scholarship, Stuart elected to study and report on the role and application of CI management principles in viticulture.  He has now completed a final report, which he says demonstrates CI’s natural fit and value to viticulture.

CI is a deliberate decision by a businesses to address, measure and remove waste from business activities.

‘The over‐arching philosophy of CI is to develop a culture where open‐minded thinking and challenging the norm is encouraged and rewarded’, Stuart said.

‘The principles of employee problem solving, measuring performance, waste identification and elimination and clarity of reward for effort, are all management tools encouraged by CI’.

Though traditionally used in line manufacturing, Stuart said his travels to the Old World viticulture regions in Italy, Germany and France revealed that CI principles have been employed for many years.

‘I think this was probably one of the biggest surprises for me – once I started looking, asking questions and seeing how they managed their vineyards first-hand I could see that CI was certainly not a new concept to them’, he said.

‘Many of the Old World vineyards have been using these or similar principles for a very long time – and so have many vineyards in Australia.

‘Australian viticulture can definitely be considered one of the leaders in employing and using CI principles to its ultimate benefit.

‘It’s not about making dramatic changes. It’s small, focussed changes and building the capacity of staff with the right skills and work environment to make changes where needed.

‘My view of Australian viticulture has definitely matured. I see it as an innovative and highly capable sector producing amazing wines – with fewer ties to history and perhaps less mystique than other regions around the world’.

The scholarship has also broadened Stuart’s awareness and interest in agri-politics and agri-business.

‘Really, one of the biggest eye-openers from this whole experience was to see the levels of government and trade support the US and EU provide to their agriculture sectors compared with Australia’, he said.

‘The fact we still compete at a global level is a credit to the innovation and ability to adapt in Australian agriculture’.

Stuart described the Nuffield Scholarship experience as immeasurable and said he highly recommended it.

‘One of the greatest benefits has been meeting and becoming part of a network of people who share the same headspace as you – who are interested and passionate in the rural and agriculture sector’, he said.

‘It’s also well and truly sowed the seed in me to ask more questions, seek more answers at a deeper or broader level – and to do this more confidently, especially having had this first-hand experience from all over the world’.

Stuart’s report is currently being assessed by Nuffield and will be available on GWRDC’s website shortly.

For more information about the Nuffield Australia Farming Scholars program, visit:


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