Skip to main content

Raise a Glass of Berri’s Fruity Gordo to My Friend Tony Spawton

By Tuesday 27 March 2018April 22nd, 2021No Comments


My good friend and mentor Tony Spawton passed away on 18 March after a long battle with cancer. Tony was considered the founder of wine marketing as an academic discipline and was the inaugural editor of the International Journal of Wine Marketing which became the International Journal of Wine Business Research, the first academic journal dedicated to wine marketing and wine business. Tony also represented Australia at a number of international conferences of the OIV (the peak organisation of the industry worldwide) when Australia was beginning its long road to international success.

Tony grew up in rural Wales raised by his grandmother. He was a reasonable student, but suffered some health issues during his exams. He studied geology at Aberystwyth University in Wales. He met his future wife, Joy, at a summer camp during that period and decided to study a graduate diploma in management at Salford University to be close to her.

Tony moved to Australia as a 10 pound Pom in 1969. He literally took out the phone book in Sydney after arrival and started calling companies from a phone booth in Circular Quay. He was hired and worked as a brand manager at Colgate Palmolive. After a few other marketing jobs, he decided he wanted to work in the wine business and moved to South Australia. He became the first marketing manager for the Berri Wine Cooperative when the company decided to market its own wine in bag-in-box, along with selling bulk wine to many leading Australian wine companies. Tony told some great stories about marketing wine in the US, including having Gallo buy all the available display spots in his original markets in California to prevent Berri’s wines from being displayed. Another story involved negotiation with a distributor who claimed he wanted a fee for all wines imported in the US and emphasised the point by pulling a gun from his briefcase.

This was one of many incidents where Tony managed to not only survive but to gain from adversity. He met a man in his hotel in LA, who managed Air Mexico Airlines in the US. He called him after the incident with the gun and was taken to the LA airport and flown to Toronto that night. The next day the FBI and US Immigration were looking for him, because he reported the gun incident to the Australian Consulate, but by the time they investigated in the morning he had disappeared and had not even gone through immigration to leave.

When I worked with Tony at the School of Marketing at the University of South Australia, several of these kinds of incidents occurred. Tony was coming back from Paris and an OIV meeting, when the taxi he was in had an accident. Tony’s glasses and his computer were broken and the woman cab driver’s dog was frantically barking and running over everything. Tony managed to get another cab to the airport, but he couldn’t see without his glasses. The Air France staff assigned a person to take him through the airport, by passing all the lines, and got him on the plane home, where they arranged for the same treatment in Bangkok and Sydney.

Another time there was an air worker’s strike in Argentina. Everyone was stuck and there were no hotels available. Tony had been chatting with a nice woman in line at the ticket counter, who invited him to stay at her place. She turned out to have a luxurious villa and Tony was pampered for several days sitting and reading by her pool and served by the maids and cook. The woman arranged for Tony to get a back way into the airport and he managed to get back to Adelaide.

The incessant overseas travel affected Tony’s health and caused him to quit Berri Wine Cooperative to look for other opportunities.

Dr Brice Rankin hired Tony to teach some marketing classes for the Roseworthy Diploma and then hired him to develop a separate Diploma in Wine Marketing in the mid 1980s. He wrote the first courses in wine marketing there and was well-known among a whole generation of wine and viticulture students.

Tony became an academic at the South Australian Institute of Technology and remained with the Elton Mayo School of Management and then the School of Marketing at UniSA from the late 1980s until he retired 2008. During this time, Tony and David Corkindale, the Professor of Marketing, received a $500,000 grant to develop and teach wine export classes for the wine industry. As part of that venture, Tony and Klaus Kilov, a university librarian, started the Wine Marketing Database, which exists to this day as the only wine marketing and tourism dedicated list of publications related to all aspects of the wine industry.

While at UniSA, Tony developed and was program director for a new degree in Marketing and Communications, a combined program across two different schools. The degree is still going strong today. Tony became the Head of the School for two years just before his retirement. He excelled at mentoring and providing advice for the younger academics.

I came to the University of Adelaide on a sabbatical in 1994, when Tony was at the University of South Australia. I knew of him due to the International Journal of Wine Marketing. He invited me to the Wine Marketing class he taught as an elective, where I also met Klaus Kilov. Tony welcomed me and soon we were conducting research together. I moved to the University of Adelaide the following year and Tony soon involved me in some of his executive teaching and workshops for the wine industry.

In 1998, Tony got us invited to South Africa to work with the KWV (the government owned largest winery and only legal exporter after apartheid) to help train their staff in marketing. He had met the director at the OIV. After that successful trip, we developed and taught a wine marketing executive course through Stellenbosch University from 2001-2006. Tony and I had many long hours of discussion and development over those long flights and evenings spent in South Africa.

Through his other contacts, we offered three-day versions of this course in Chile and Argentina (twice) and in Uruguay, Spain, France, New Zealand, and Canada. We made a great team: Tony with his real-world experience of building wine brands and developing markets and my skills in measuring and understanding consumer and buyer behaviour. Tony was a patient and knowledgeable mentor and teacher. He helped me become a better teacher of ‘case studies’ and how to relate to the wine industry in my research and writing. He helped me gain contacts in the GWRDC (Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation), the WFA (Winemakers’ Federation), the AWBC (Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation). I was invited through Tony to help in the data collection and analysis for Strategy 2025 and the plan developed five years after. It was through Tony I first became a columnist for the Australia and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal. And through those contacts I was on the organising committee for the Australian Wine Marketing Conferences during the early and mid 2000s.

The discipline we know as Wine Marketing, the original journal, case studies, and wine executive education were all outcomes of Tony Spawton’s dedication to the Australian wine sector. They all came from a 10 pound Pom, who studied geology in Wales, and eventually became the father of the discipline and the career so many of us enjoy.

Let us toast to the life and career of Anthony Spawton with a glass of Berri’s Fruity Gordo, another of Tony’s great successes.

Leave a Reply