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Grasshopper Rock is one of the southernmost made Pinot Noirs in the world. The vineyard was planted back in 2003, but the idea came two years before.

Rocketspark customer, Grasshopper Rock, has been with us for seven years, our inhouse storyteller, Kyra Piccione, recently caught up with the online savvy wine makers to learn about their business journey and their journey with Rocketspark over the years.

In 2001 five families from around New Zealand, who knew each other from farming backgrounds or working in the farming sector, started planning what would become one of New Zealand's world class award winning wines.

Phil Handford, one of the cofounders, said they wanted to find a piece of Central Otago land where they could grow and make pinot noir. 

“We did a whole lot of homework on what kind of land we needed to produce a world class wine and we found the right piece of land in Alexander. It’s got some really good history. It’s been a garden, an apricot orchard and many other things since the late 1800s. It’s always been used for growing and is known as a good property for that,” Phil said.

Four of the five founders all have agricultural degrees, that was how they knew each other. The fifth founder is a sheep farmer, who likes to make a lot of homemade wines and just happened to fall in with the bunch of grape lovers.

Phil lives in Hamilton and is the only member working full time in the business. Most of the other families are in the South Island and still working other various jobs.

“For us it was about getting a single vineyard and getting a really good reputation around that site.

“We all got along really well (and still do) and wanted to build something successful, pinot noir was the thing that pulled it all together. We knew we could do well if we did our homework and now we’ve been going well together for 20 years,” Phil said.

The five families all committed and planted out the vineyard in 2003.

Phil said the vineyard’s volume hadn’t changed, but Grasshopper Rocks reputation had grown and that’s something they wanted to keep building on.

“We made sure everything was done really well so that we’d have the best chance of getting a great outcome with it,” Phil said.

In 2006 they produced their first wine.

By the time the wine was ready to sell, Phil and the other founders had already worked out that they wanted to sell the wine directly to the consumer, this meant an online selling platform was going to be their best option.

“Right from the start it was important to us to have a good online presence. We had our website lined up when we had our first wine ready for sale, which was at the end of 2006. That’s when I started working full time with the company to make sure we got our branding all sorted and got ourselves out there selling some wine,” Phil said.

They used a different company to Rocketspark to start with, but eventually found it too hard to change anything on.

“We wanted to be a bit more hands on. We heard of Rocketspark and found it was really user friendly. There are two of us who work on the website. We’ve been with Rocketspark for seven years now, since 2014.

“What I like about Rocketspark is you’re always improving things and giving us new options on how we can use the site, especially from an ecommerce point of view,” Phil said.

Grasshopper Rock sells all over New Zealand and overseas to the US and Australia. 

Last year, Phil came to the Rocketspark Digital Pop-up Shop to learn a bit more about the ins and outs of Rocketspark.

“That was really valuable, it gave us a whole lot of pointers on what we could be doing that we weren’t doing because we didn’t even know about it.”

Since then Phil said they’ve set up Mailchimp.

“We’ve been using Mailchimp since the end of February, it’s collecting a lot of good information.

“I’ve been getting familiar with it and one thing I’ve started to do is customer journeys. That’s still early days and we’re keen to do a lot more in that space.”

Mailchimp, a marketing automation platform and email marketing service, is available as an add-on that can be easily integrated into any Rocketspark website. It means any data collected from web forms and online shops can be synced through to Mailchimp, making report building and re-engagement with customers and potential buyers easy.

He said they currently send a monthly email, one for club members and one for non-members. 

“We’ve also started doing emails for new online sign ups and they get a single use discount voucher and that’s worked really well, and I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of that kind of thing.

“The integration for Mailchimp with Rocketspark is really good and collects good shop data.”

Covid had an impact on Grasshopper Rock, but Phil said it was something they were set up for, thanks to their ecommerce site.

“For Covid, it’s good that we were set up with ecommerce and we managed to make the best use of it then, we just had to get communications out and Mailchimp has helped with that,” Phil said.

Another Rocketspark feature Grasshopper Rock have been using is Customer Accounts.

“Customer Accounts have been helpful for our customers, it definitely helps them fast track their orders.

“We’ve also been working with Quentin Webber from Unbound, also a Rocketspark partner, he’s been setting up Google Shopping. Working with Quentin and having the connection with Rocketspark has been really valuable.”

Phil said the goal from the beginning was to make the business sustainable and the website played a big part in that. 

“The direct consumer sales have gone up quite a bit since Covid. The whole package of having the website and ecommerce has worked really well. We are looking forward to continuing to work on it.”