By their very nature Dean Martelozzo, Jared Smith, Lachlan Hingley and Thomas Simnadis are very diligent.
So it won’t surprise anyone who knows them how much time and effort they have put in to launching Wollongong’s first vodka distillery.
Mr Martelozzo, an Investment Performance Analyst, Mr Smith, a Chemical Process Engineer, Mr Hingley, a research and development consultant, and Mr Simnadis, a postdoctoral research fellow, have spent the last three years methodically planning how they can help put Wollongong on the map with a quality, new sustainable product that gives back.
Headlands Distilling Company was born with its first product Seacliff Vodka appearing at local markets just before Christmas. But the story of the four friends goes back much further.
“Jared, Thomas and I attended Smiths Hill High School. Lachlan is originally from Canberra. We met Lachlan while studying at UOW where all four of us completed our undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications,” Mr Martelozzo said.
The origins of Headlands started with an innocuous conversation about alcohol at a friend’s barbecue in late 2015.
Mr Martelozzo said it the combination of banter, blazing sunshine and beer led to the synthesis of a grand plan to start Wollongong’s first distillery.
The four mates knew they each had different and unique skills that would perfectly blend to make a great spirit. And they saw a chance to combine their capabilities and introduce something new that would do the city they love proud.
“From the outset we established a clear vision to produce the highest purity spirits and never compromise on quality,” Mr Martelozzo said.
“We grew up during a time that Wollongong was seen as a steel city but as we matured into adults, we noticed the shift away from manufacturing into more creative and lifestyle-oriented industries. The cultural vibrancy of the city bubbled to the surface and along with it, the demand for high quality, sustainable and local products.
“We see ourselves as part of this transition by offering something a little bit different to the Illawarra landscape. We want to represent Wollongong with our products. Ours is a story of four young local guys who are chasing a dream and taking on the big players in the industry. Each of us has a unique skill set that conveniently matches up to begin a distillery”.
In planning the business they wanted to do it right. Now after three years of due diligence and meticulous planning Headlands Distilling Company has a tasting room in Ralph Black Drive and a product called Seacliff Vodka.
“We have spent a lot of time learning how to perfect a high quality product,” Mr Martelozzo said.
“We are also currently working on a gin which is going to be very local. We are hoping it is going to work out with Australian Juniper. And we are also going to have some local botanicals from around the Illawarra region. We will expand from there. We are going to have multiple products. We are working on a whiskey as well”.
Grain is the raw ingredient used in the vodka and is sourced directly from two farmers in the Riverina. The grain is grown by Michael Sinclair at Temora and the barley is grown by Mike O’Hare at Beckom.
“We have forged relationships with these growers and work collaboratively with them to select the best grain varieties for the purposes of distilling alcohol,” Mr Martelozzo said.
“They love the fact they are able to sell directly to the manufacturer. The grain from the farm is delivered directly to us in Wollongong, meaning we have complete oversight of our raw ingredient value chain. This gives us the ability to adopt a ‘grain-to-glass philosophy’ whereby we transform the raw grain into distilled spirits, right here in Wollongong.
All the production activity takes place at the distillery in Ralph Black Drive.
It is a handcrafted process with each batch being overseen in the distillery and carefully monitored to ensure the resulting spirit is of the highest grade
“The water used in our vodka is sourced from springs in the Southern Highlands. The purity of the water aligns our objective to produce a product with the highest quality inputs. We do everything in house. It is quite literally handcrafted. We call it a grain to glass philosophy,” Mr Martelozzo said.
The bottle and lable for Headlands Distilling Company’s first Seacliff Vodka product was designed specifically with Wollongong Harbour in mind. The new business is also sustainable. Headlands uses 100 per cent renewable energy to power its equipment. It also uses recycled materials for its cardboard. And offers a recycled bottle service where customers are encouraged to keep their empty bottles and return them for future refills.
Mr Smith and Mr Hingley are spending considerable time at the distillery handling the production process and have added innovations that minimise the energy required to heat the still. In the process they have managed to reduce that amount of grain residue that becomes waste.
Headlands has arranged for any of the grain husk left over to be picked up by a local farmer who feeds it to his livestock.
“These small adjustments not only maximise the quality of the vodka, but also decrease our environmental impact,” Mr Martelozzo said.
“This is something we will always endeavour to minimise”.
Being a home grown business Headlands Distilling Company is also keen to support the community.
“We sponsor the UOW women’s AFL team. Last year was their first season and we wanted to help support them as women’s AFL grows,” Mrs Martelozzo.
“And we donate 20 per cent of our profit to charity. Specifically to SpinalCure Australia. We see the community as our fifth business partner and would like to operate responsibly on all levels”.
The choice of SpinalCure as the charity is because it is very close to Mr Martelozzo’s heart.
“In 2011, while snowboarding in France, I had an accident where I broke my back. I am now a paraplegic. We would like to support a charity that engages in work that could potentially benefit me as well as other individuals with similar injuries in the future”.
Mr Martelozzo said the response to the new business is already amazing. “We’ve been blown away with the support we’ve received from the local community, with people engaging with our story and taking the time to meet us during our regular attendances at markets around the Illawarra”.
The tasting room in Fairy Meadow will initially open on Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings as well as Sunday afternoons. But sales are already being taken online and at the local markets including Kiama Seaside Markets, Makers Market at UOW and this weekend at Gerringong Market and in coming weeks at the markets at The Farm in Shellharbour. They also intend to apply to have a stand at the Towradgi Beach Hotel’s Beer, Food and Wine Festival.
Headlands Distilling Co also wants to put Seacliff Vodka into independent bottle shops so it can support other local businesses.
The goal in catering for its target demographic is to adopt a hybrid “bricks and clicks” business model where people are given the option or purchasing directly from the distillery or purchasing a bottle at home by logging into the website.
“We are focused on remaining flexible and making it as easy as possible to build a relationship with our customers in the community,” Mrs Martelozzo said.
Mr Simnadis lives in New Zealand where he is an academic at the University of Waikato but comes back regularly to help his business partners.
Future plans include introducing a bigger distillery and creating employment.
They also want to organise tours so people can come and learn the process of how vodka, gin and whiskey is made.
“They can talk to Jared and Lachlan our master distillers who will explain exactly how it is done,” Mr Martelozzo said.
Headlands Distilling Co.
- 12/6-8 Ralph Black Drive, North Wollongong
- Click here to visit the website
Education and qualifications:
- Dean Martelozzo has a degree in commerce with a double major in economics and finance, and followed that up with an MBA in 2013.
- Jared Smith has a double degree in engineering and chemistry with his honors in organic chemistry.
- Lachlan Hingley has completed an advanced degree in medical and health science followed by his honors and PhD in physiology.
- Thomas Simnadis has a double degree in commerce (majoring in economics) and science (majoring in nutrition). He has also conducted research into the scope for innovative grain products to be deployed into the Australian food supply as part of his honors and PhD.