It’s with unusual delight that I now sip my morning coffee from a ceramic cup, sitting in the sunshine outside my local coffee shop.

Our cellar doors have just reopened, and our team is delighted to once again be pouring wine and chatting to eager visitors. With family, there’s planning for Christmas, summer holidays, and the anticipation of trips further afield in the New Year. After months of lockdown and uncertainty I sense our collective excitement to finally get on with life.

As I turn it in my hand, I smile to myself about how much better coffee tastes in a ‘real’ cup. Who would have thought the simplest of pleasures and freedoms could mean so much? These are things that, until recently, most of us took for granted. We lost them for a time, but now we are getting them back.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true for everyone. For some of the most vulnerable members of our community, such luxuries didn’t exist before the pandemic, let alone in the aftermath. While covid-19 has affected us all, the pain certainly wasn’t shared equally.

Throughout the pandemic, the infection rates we tracked with a daily, and somewhat morbid, fascination continued to repeat a common trend that was reflected around the world. It was the most vulnerable members of the community that were more likely to become infected, more likely to end up with severe disease and, therefore, more likely to succumb to the virus. The elderly and immuno-compromised were obviously susceptible, but there are also a myriad of socio-economic factors that help to explain this trend. Amongst them, issues like population density and household occupancy, average incomes, the ability to work remotely, and frequency of underlying health conditions, repeat as major contributors.

For vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community, not only was the risk to health greater, so was the threat to livelihood. Emerging data on Australian job losses due to the pandemic already indicate that it’s the younger, less skilled, ethnically diverse, and mainly female, members of society who have borne most of the financial brunt, and will continue to do so. The pandemic has dramatically widened the social divide.

We partnered with Path 2 Change in 2018. As part of the sustainability mantra that now drives decision making across our business, we saw the opportunity to work with this amazing Newcastle based organisation as a way to make a tangible, and enduring, difference to the lives of homeless and disadvantaged young locals.

We share in Path 2 Change’s philosophy; the best way to break the cycle of youth homelessness is through education and employment. And so, via fundraising and a hospitality work experience program at our Hunter cellar door, we have supported Path 2 Change in getting young people into safe accommodation, education, training programs, and crucially – jobs.

Unfortunately, the pandemic crippled our fundraising and work experience activities at a crucial time. Path 2 Change CEO, Jenn O’Sullivan, recently spoke to me of her experience through the recent lockdown.

“We have been seeing an increase in homelessness with more young people being forced into homelessness due to family breakdown because of COVID, and the lockdown. Many families have lost their incomes, causing added stress resulting in an increase in domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Young people are also experiencing increased mental health challenges and are at a higher risk of suicide due to isolation, in addition to already being disconnected from family and social supports. Our young people are requiring more support than ever during this time.”

We recognised similar pressures during the first covid-19 outbreak, and given the ways in which our partnership had similarly been hamstrung, we began working on an alternative approach to support. Fundraising was key, but we also wanted to launch a project that had the potential to further utilise the skills and efforts of Path 2 Change staff and clients.

Fast forward 12 months, and I am delighted to introduce you to ‘The Lived Experience.’ This special release of Hunter Valley Shiraz from the 2019 vintage is a product of our belief in the work of Path 2 Change, and our commitment to improving social sustainability outcomes in the local community. The striking label artwork speaks in powerful symbols of the artist’s own struggles with homelessness, contrasting with other images that evoke a sense of freedom and hope for the future.

And that is really what this wine is about – a better future. The production was a collaborative process that we plan to build on with upcoming releases. From the vineyard to the winery, and then to the customer, ‘The Lived Experience’ offers another exciting pathway to provide Path 2 Change clients with the skills, experience, and confidence to secure employment and break the cycle of homelessness. In addition, 100% of the profits from the sale of ‘The Lived Experience’ will be used to directly support Path 2 Change in their incredible work.

There are just 100 cases of this inaugural release, and is now available at each of our cellar doors, or via our website here.

I thank those of you who have supported this partnership since 2018 – without your generosity, we would not have been able to contribute to such profound and life changing outcomes. I would also like to acknowledge our suppliers ASSTA Label House, Krysten Jade, and the Hunter Bottling Company, who provided their services at cost, or without fee, in support of ‘The Lived Experience.’

Though it is the amazing contribution of two Gundog Estate team members that I would especially like to recognise. They have driven so much of our success with Path 2 Change – their passion and commitment has been an inspiration to us all, so thank you both Cathy Gadd and David Sinclair.


Matt Burton