Leadership in Wine #23 - Ben Longhurst
Ben is a well known character in Auckland's wine scene. Being awarded the Outstanding Sales Representative at the Lewisham Awards in 2016 and 2014 did not surprise anyone in the wine trade as Ben has been excelling for years as key-account manager, wine ambassador for EuroVintage.
Ben has eight years of experience in wine in France and now, nearly 15 years in New Zealand.
How do you define leadership?
Leadership to me is the art of inspiring people you connect with to get better at what they do and what they represent. Leadership is all about getting people to care. In the wine world, a true leader’s first quality would be a true love of the wine world. For that, I believe you need to embrace history and stories, cultures, geography and climate, travels, food and diversity but more importantly you need to be in tune with people.
In my opinion, a true leader is a very open-minded person who gets the best out of people. My reference, my leader is Hugh Johnson: humble yet hugely knowledgeable.
What are the main challenges of being a leader in the wine industry today?
Sticking with my definition of a leader in the wine world, I’d say it is all about adapting to a new generation of staff and consumers: the millennials. My challenge is to understand who they are, what they want and how to make them fall into the wine world.
It is harder than one can imagine. I do a lot of staff training across many restaurants and hotels, most of the time to people twenty years younger than me, who have hardly any or no background at all in wine. It was easy for me as I was born in it. I always wonder after those training sessions if I have managed to be the “trigger” that will make them want to know more, to learn more and discover all the richness and fun of the wine world. Now and then, I can see it happening and this is such a thrill.
What are your major breakthroughs in your career to become the leader you are now?
Some people would say a promotion, a WSET win, a Lewisham Hospitality Award, a big contract with a major customer, but as far as my career in New Zealand is concerned, I can summarise my breakthroughs in three lucky events.
The first one would be to have met my kiwi wife at a wedding in Corsica in June 2004. I wasn’t even sure that I would be invited to that wedding and had hardly any money to afford the trip from Bordeaux. Thanks to that wedding that I am in New Zealand today. It was an incredible opportunity at the time for a young wine guy from the Old World suddenly and unexpectedly able to access the New World (and well before the French invasion we have been experiencing in Auckland in the last few years!).
The second one came quickly afterwards. As soon as I landed in New Zealand in October 2004, I started working for Glengarry, moving pallets of beer in a beer fridge. One night, I was the only one closing the Victoria Park shop. A guy walked in, I sold him quite a bit of top New Zealand wines that I had no idea about but made sure I had a good story to tell him for each of them. He just happened to be a rich American guy who was touring the world in his luxury yacht. Things changed pretty quickly for me after that.
The third one would be hosting the legendary Champagne dinner at Huka Lodge. It was a dinner I had discovered very early on when I arrived in New Zealand. This special dinner has been going on for maybe 25 years.
I was dreaming about going to that dinner, staying in this incredible place, where the Queen had stayed four times, and here I was, hosting it for Louis Roederer champagne! As I told the guests at the beginning of the night, I had to pinch myself! And I still do!
If you were starting your career in 2019 in the wine industry, what advice would you give to yourself to become successful and content?
I would do what my father did. When I announced in 1996 that I wanted to study and work in the wine business, just like my father and his father before him: buy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. And I would also tell myself: “always remember that whatever you know about wine, you know nothing!” I think about those words almost daily.