The Board of Vinehealth Australia is delighted to announce the appointment of Suzanne McLoughlin as Acting CEO for a period of one year, starting 1 June 2023. Suzanne’s appointment ensures continuity and momentum for the Vinehealth Board, team and South Australian grape and wine industry.

Suzanne has been the Technical Manager of Vinehealth for seven years and is a well-known and highly respected member of the South Australian grape and wine community.

During this time, Suzanne has been heavily involved in board matters and has worked alongside outgoing CEO, Inca Lee, to develop and execute the current strategic priorities for Vinehealth. In 2022, Suzanne successfully completed the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, providing her a strong understanding of governance and leadership.

Prior to joining Vinehealth Australia, Suzanne served a term on the Vinehealth Australia Board, and completed the Australian Wine Industry Future Leaders Program in 2012.

Suzanne has more than 25 years of experience across a range of technical viticulture and grower relations roles. Prior to joining Vinehealth, Suzanne held a national viticulture role for Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), which included a focus on biosecurity.

Suzanne’s deep interest in science and agriculture began in high school with a love of biology. This progressed through university into a fascination with pests and diseases, plant biology and the vital application of science into practice observed through watching many episodes of Landline.

“When I was young, we spent many holidays on a sheep farm in Western Victoria, which, in the late 1980s, diversified into grape production. This vineyard provided my first experience of planting vines and then of pruning and harvesting, and certainly ignited a passion for me in the wine industry,” she said.

Suzanne followed this passion to university in Melbourne where she studied a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. In her final years at university, she worked part-time on a small family-owned vineyard in the Yarra Valley, gaining valuable insights into vineyard management through to winemaking and cellar door sales.

During her studies, she completed a project to identify suitable culture media that selectively enhanced the growth of Eutypa isolated from grapevine wood samples. “Little did I know that this fungus would still be front of mind for most growers 25 years or so later,” Suzanne said.

Following graduation in 1997 and completion of a two-year graduate development program, Suzanne worked in various technical viticulture and grower-liaison roles in the Barossa, Eden Valley, Limestone Coast and Adelaide Hills. An early highlight was leading a team to develop a grape flower-counting process aimed at early determination of bunch weight, to improve yield estimation.

“This system can be used as a strong predictor for the number of berries you’re going to get on a bunch, as the number of flowers on an inflorescence in cooler-climate vineyards can vary considerably year on year. We were able to accurately forecast final yield early, at the end of November, which was very helpful for operational planning and grape purchasing decisions,” Suzanne said.

While working in the Limestone Coast between 2005 to 2009, Suzanne completed a Master of Agricultural Science by Research through the University of Adelaide on the effect of climate and cultural practices on grapevine flowering and yield components. Subsequently, Suzanne won a national viticulture role with TWE which had a strong focus on managing biosecurity systems.

“It was here that I started to understand the complexity of the state and national compliance programs, when trying to coordinate movement of machinery and grapes,” she said.

“It gave me an appreciation of the practical considerations for managing and operating biosecurity systems for our industry and how difficult it can be for companies to fulfil their obligations. This included deciding on the level of interaction with a company’s contracted grower base, working with differences in biosecurity requirements between states, managing personnel training and record keeping – but most importantly, it gave me insights into what an optimised biosecurity system benefiting both industry and government could look like.”

Suzanne joined Vinehealth Australia in July 2016 in the new role of Technical Manager. Suzanne’s focus was developing, implementing and communicating vineyard biosecurity policy and practices using innovative techniques to improve wine sector sustainability.

Highlights have involved the rollout of Project Boundary Rider, one of the first geofencing projects in the wine industry. “It was great to be able to work closely with a range of growers in two regions to closely evaluate the potential of geofencing technology for a biosecurity perspective for our industry, that was used at that time in intensive animal systems. A few years on, and with rapid improvements in technology, geofencing is now used every day,” Suzanne said.

Another key project focussed on reducing the risk of spread of phylloxera to South Australian vineyards. This involved a comprehensive review of the entry requirements into South Australia for phylloxera risk vectors. After 39 stakeholder meetings and close liaison with PIRSA, this culminated into the current Condition 7 in the SA Plant Quarantine Standard (PQS), ensuring SA’s entry requirements are founded on current scientific knowledge.

“We succeeded in proposed changes being endorsed by industry and PIRSA, including recommendations to prohibit the movement of some items into SA based on risk, and initiated changes to dry heat treatment thereafter adopted by a number of other states,” Suzanne said.

As Acting CEO, Suzanne will continue Vinehealth’s work to support the South Australian grape and wine industry, including the transformation of the Register and creating a practical Biosecurity Toolkit for industry.

“Those who know me, know I value attention to detail, evidence-based decisions, finishing what I start and focus on leaving a legacy to help industry navigate the biosecurity realm. I’d like to think that vineyard owners have built up a quiet trust in Vinehealth now, based on what we do and say, knowing that we always have their best interests at our core,” Suzanne said.  

“I plan to continue working hard to strengthen this partnership and further enhance our service-orientated culture.

“To be given the opportunity of Acting CEO of Vinehealth by the Board is an extraordinary honour and privilege. I look forward to shaping the next chapter of Vinehealth’s legacy for industry, working alongside the Board and team, and continuing Vinehealth’s unwavering focus on protecting South Australian vines from pest and disease threats.

“I plan to share more information on our key focus areas with industry over the coming months.”

Suzanne McLoughlin has been appointed Acting CEO of Vinehealth Australia for 12 months.