In the month of May 2023, the team at Saint Clair celebrated not one, but two employees that have been dedicated to Saint Clair for the last 20 years.
Senior Winemaker Stewart Maclennan and Export Manager Sarah Lissaman both joined the company back in 2003, a time when contracts were signed with a handshake and many staff worked directly from the Ibbotson’s family home in Fairhall. A lot has changed since then but Stewart and Sarah’s devotion to the organisation remains as strong as ever.
To celebrate 20 years, we asked Stewart and Sarah a few questions to gauge what it is about Saint Clair that keeps them coming back for more.
Stewart started in 2003 when he was brand new to the industry, he worked his very first vintage with Marlborough Valley Cellars prior to the construction of Saint Clair's winery. What he loved most at this time were the people, energy and level of work involved with a grape harvest.“Being surrounded by passionate people, talking some kind of secret language and all working their tails off in this weird mutually agreed upon desire to create something beautiful but fleeting.”
Fast forward to 2023, we asked Stewart what has changed most since he started out. He revealed he has worn six different hats (figuratively) while working at Saint Clair. “Things have changed a lot for me personally through that process of growth.” Stewart has seen a significant growth in the industry’s size and scale, and comments “we run on an annual gricultural cycle, and each year as Marlborough has increased in size, it has meant the tool you put in place one year, often needs to be updated again the following year to meet those demands, change has been constant here in the Marlborough wine industry.”
Stewart’s favourite thing about Saint Clair is the family orientated philosophy. “Saint Clair’s family first, collaborative values are a feature of its success and reputation.”
When reminiscing on the past, he fondly remembers when there was a driving range over the back fence of the Saint Clair winery where occasionally on a Friday afternoon the team would wander over to play. That and playing in a Saint Clair ‘band’ that performed exclusively at grower Christmas parties over the years. Stew comments, “The entire winery team got together and learned a whole lot of Christmas and other songs which we performed to our, slightly shocked looking, grape grower community.”
Sarah Lissaman is another veteran that has earned the 20-year badge here at Saint Clair. Starting in May 2003, Sarah started work inside the Ibbotson house alongside their family cat and dog. Company directory Judy Ibbotson was there sharing her baking with all the office staff.
Since 2003, Sarah noted that the size of Saint Clair has changed significantly, “When I started there was only Liz Chapman and I in the administration roles, covering a broad range of tasks (wine orders, wine shows, NZ Wine Marketing program, growers’ payments, international samples, export orders) my role has since become specialised to managing export markets.”
The specialisation of Sarah’s role has offered her countless opportunities, including meeting wine buyers from all over the world.
Some of Sarah’s fondest memories over the last 20 years have included weekends away at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. “Saint Clair very generously took all the staff to the Wine Awards with our partners and arranged a lunch before the evening event for many years. We have been to some pretty special places including Queenstown, Napier, Nelson, Auckland and Wellington.”
Saint Clair strives to put people first and maintain a family team environment, we would like to say what a pleasure it has been having both Stewart and Sarah as part of the company. We look forward to many more vintages with them.