KARIN Adcock sits at a table in the courtyard of the art gallery that is the latest attraction at her sprawling vineyard Winmark Wines, her wrist jewellery jangling slightly as she tucks into the cheese platter before her.
When the lanky Dane with sparkling sapphire eyes arrived in Australia at 32, she had two suitcases and $3000 in her bank account. Her "wide and varied" past included building a school for child refugees in Zimbabwe, sleeping in the slums of Bombay and tackling complex farming and building roles.
Within years, Adcock secured the exclusive rights to retail then unknown jewellery brand Pandora in Australia and New Zealand, ultimately selling it in 2009 with her then husband for a reported $100 million.
Since then, she admits to making a poor decision or three.
On a blustery winter afternoon at Winmark, set on 130 picturesque acres in Broke, in the NSW Hunter Valley, the 57-year-old entrepreneur is candid and reflective as she talks about her high-flying, corporate past and her latest career tilt in Wine Country.
"I lost a shitload of money," she says in her softly accented voice of her thwarted attempts to build a second jewellery brand after Pandora, "but you live and you learn and I have to move forward.
"I am determined to make this business here work, we have to make this work, and I have admittedly invested quite a bit into it but I'm very conscious that we have to actually make this its own viable business. I believe we can. We just have to sell a little bit more wine."
As she gives a quick tour of her estate - by buggy and on foot, Adcock maintains an eagle-eye on her environment - it is clear she is deeply connected to the property.
And yet, when she and then partner, John Winstanley, drove north from their Sydney home to have a look at Winmark, about three kilometres south of the township of Broke on the eastern side of Wollombi Road, Adcock had no interest in it.
Facing an uphill battle to build Alex and Ani, the US-based jewellery brand she took on after selling Pandora, she was deeply fatigued.
"I was not having a bar of it, on the way up I said 'We are not buying a vineyard but ok, we will have a look'. Then we came and I fell in love with it," Adcock says with a smile.
Winmark is an amalgamation of the former couple's names (her maiden name was Enemark) but, ever the savvy marketeer, she has ensured their split won't tarnish the brand.
"Winmark also means fields of vines in Danish," she says, adding that she and her ex remain good friends.
Born in inner Copenhagen, Adcock was a driven child: "I remember Dad at one point saying, 'Karin, for once can we not plan this weekend?' she laughs.
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Adcock was six when her parents separated and, at their mutual agreement, she and her brother resided with their father. (Both parents later remarried and had other children).
At 14, Adcock was sent to a "quite left-wing" boarding school which balanced practical and theoretical work and "from a very early stage I was used to being confronted with challenging projects which I had no idea how to resolve but learnt I had to find a way, so it was a challenge rather than a no-go".
After high school she didn't return home, instead enrolling for four years at teachers college, "not because I wanted to be a teacher, but I just needed to get older and wiser."
Adcock began working for a small engineering company whose clients included a group of schools in Denmark. Soon she was dealing with councils, architects, project managing and boarding a plane to Hong Kong to collect furniture, sold off by luxury hotels as they renovated, to install in the schools of her Danish clients.
In Hong Kong she met her future husband, air force pilot Brook Adcock, and the pair moved to Australia, settling in Perth. When he got a pilot job with Qantas, the couple moved to Newport, Sydney.
Among her early projects were selling party plan jewellery and working as a PR office manager, "but after 12-hour days with a pilot husband and a very young daughter, I vowed never to work for someone else again".
Adcock began a soft furnishings business but became friends with her clients and "gave everyone mates rates, so I worked a lot but made no money".
In 2004, on the same day she and her husband launched a taxi business that required her to man the phones every night, she secured the exclusive rights to distribute Pandora in Australia and New Zealand.
A friend had tipped her off about the then unknown Copenhagen jewellery brand retailing sterling silver bracelets with charms that could be bought separatelyand attached by hand.
She got a $35,000 loan from her father to buy the initial stock. Her husband took on the role of chief financial officer, and steered the IT.
"I had not worn jewellery for years and had no background in it but I just thought it could have potential," she says, adding that the "unique" brand was more modern than its rivals because the wearer could attach the charms rather than pay a jeweller to get them soldered to a bracelet.
Adcock struggled to convince jewellers to stock Pandora. "A lot of them said 'Why would I spend $25 on a charm, as it was priced then, when I can sell a $5000 diamond ring?"
Under pressure, she sat outside a jewellery store and gift store in Mona Vale and noticed her target market were heading to the latter store more often.
"I got gift stores on board who understood the concept but back then it was very much jewellery selling separately," she says.
In 2009 the Adcocks sold 60 per cent of Pandora back to the private equity firm that by now owned it. At that time, their Australian/New Zealand operation was responsible for 15 per cent of Pandora's global turnover and was so successful it was called upon to "school" company executives in sales and marketing.
A year later, when it was listed on Nasdaq in Copenhagen, the Adcocks sold their remaining equity. (Adcock stayed on as CEO for three years; her husband, who had been chief financial officer, had already left).
Adcock doesn't like to discuss the windfall that made her a multi-millionaire.
"When I came to Australia...I had nothing to my name, so to suddenly have that kind of wealth was surreal," she says modestly.
"Also, my strength is not in numbers. It's more people and sales, marketing, creating a beautiful place, I am in tune with what I like to think with what I need to do to get people on board and come with me on the journey.
"It's very strange when you suddenly have money, but for the first couple of years I was still working at Pandora so I had no time at all [to enjoy it]."
By now separated with three daughters, Adcock was suddenly flailing.
"When you have been super busy, it's quite daunting because all you know is work, hundreds of emails a day, people needing you and then suddenly it's like, 'What am I going to do now?' I wish I had taken time out to not do anything and just regroup."
"I jumped into various business ventures way too quick...some ventures that ended up failing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I wish I had taken some time.
"I was lost.... and desperate to find something to be busy with."
That state of being may go some way to explain why she leapt to take on the distribution of Alex and Ani, a move that prompted her former employer Pandora to warn its stockists off Adcock's new brand.
"We started concept stores and got good traction and were on the right track but we just couldn't meet the crazy expectations," she says.
In 2017, she exited the US business, "and at that point I said I am done with distribution".
Fortunately, a year earlier she had bought Winmarkand she could see the potential of the vineyard, formerly named Pooles Rock after the convict that once slept in the hollow of the iconic rock on the property.
In 1988, Macquarie Bank founder David Clarke had bought the property and planted more vineyard blocks which led to Pooles Rock wines scooping more than 80 medals at wine shows, with several wines scored 96 points by James Halliday.
When Clarke died, the property was bought for $2.85 million by AGL Energy but was so neglected that by the time it offloaded the estate, several blocks had died.
Adcock put inwhat she recalls as a "ridiculous" offer of $2.2 million and it was accepted.
Her experience in engineering, building and farming in Europe and Central America in her 20s gave her the confidence to take on Winmark: "I saw the size of the property and the houses and I thought, 'Yes, I can make this work'."
Her lawyer, however, was somewhat blindsided by the speed of the transaction.
"We ended up settling in five days and when I rang my lawyer to tell him on the Monday that it was settling on Friday he said, 'Karin, that's not possible, you haven't even had a building inspection!'," she says.
"I just said, 'Don't worry, I've had a look at it'. I had that [building] background but he didn't know and just thought I was crazy. We did settle in five days, though."
Adcock quickly realised the peace she felt at Winmark, nestled beneath landmark Yellow Rock and with stunning views across vineyards and mountains, and felt inspired to transform it into a multi-faceted business she hopes can "stand on its own legs".
"Initially it was meant to be a place for family and friends. It evolved," she said.
The first priority was to resurrect the 28-acre vineyard's reputation as producer of award-winning chardonnay.
She hired a "brilliant" vineyard manager in Dave Grosser and award-winning winemaker Liz Riley as viticulturalist and also engaged global winemaker John Belsham to work with its local winemaker Xanthe Hatcher. They oversaw the replanting of two blocks of verdelho with chardonnay. A few other blocks were pulled out, creating room in one part to plant a deciduous tree park.
"Wine takes years to learn...I don't have 20 years up my sleeve to learn it all. I surround myself with talented people to maximise the opportunities and use their skillset and follow their lead," she says.
There are now five blocks of chardonnay, a mix of traditional and more recently imported chardonnay clones.
"Each block has its own DNA and own special characters and we are very lucky that this particular property there is very good soil to grow chardonnay," she says.
In 2018, Winmark Wines' vintage was 100 dozen bottles; by 2019 it was 3166 dozen bottles (2020 was wiped by the bushfires). Its 2019 chardonnay Rusty's Run retails for $34, while its reserve chardonnay of the same vintage is $49.
Next year Winmark will release a 2021 "icon chardonnay" made from grapes on a block that will be 50 years old in 2022: "It is barrelled in the finest French oak, it will be a special wine, only 200 cases, it's exciting!"
At present, Winmark sells half of its yield to other vineyards but her ambition is to keep all its own grapes for its own products: "Hopefully we will be there in a few years."
As the first lockdown ended in June 2020, Adcock launched Winmark's rustic but elegant cellar door, featuring simple ply and signature sage green interiors.
She has also slowly created an extensive sculpture park with her private collection, peppering striking pieces at vantage points across the vineyard for guests to enjoy.
Among the sculptures are Biosis, which she commissioned from former Bondi Sculptures by the Sea winner David Ball, who also created a second work, Celest. There are currently 13 on the property, with expansion on the cards.
In February this year, Adcockopened a small art gallery which flanks the cellar door - a space that she is already planning of expanding. The warm, modern space brims with mini sculptures and works by artists including Jenny Green, Felicia Aroney and Rebecca Pierce, all Sydney-based.
"I always had this dream, if everything else fails, I can run an art gallery!" she says with a laugh.
"I am not trained in fine art and I am not pretending I know a lot about art but I am constantly learning and I love art and I have always been drawn to it," she says.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be super expensive, it is just what talks to me."
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Adcock has slowly refurbished the multiple accommodations at Winmark: Mio Monte sleeps 14 and has a pool and tennis court while just down the hill is a rustic tiny house on wheels for couples. Rockview, the home closest to the cellar door, sleeps 10 and has an alfresco terrace, pizza oven and vegetable garden for guests to plunder. Her private residence, with four bedrooms and bathrooms, a private tennis court and pool and views across the vineyard, has limited availability.
Adcock hopes she can encourage visitors to view Winmark not just as a winery but a destination.
"I hope they come as a retreat, ideally to stay a couple of days, they can go for a walk in the sculpture park, have a look at the art gallery, come back to the cellar door, rather than just going from cellar door to cellar door," she says.
Adcock acknowledges that her arrival in the Valley may have raised a few eyebrows but she feels she has worked hard to earn respect.
"I think initially there were a lot of people like, 'What the hell, who does she think she is?' but I was instrumental in getting the Broke Fordwich Wine Trail happening, and it had been discussed for 15 years but we got it happening," she says.
"I worked with local wineries on that and I spent the whole weekend driving out over the valley handing out the flyers and I had no cellar door for people to visit me but it wasn't about me having a place, it was like we needed to get Broke on the map."
"I think there's some respect out that there that I've done it, and I've genuinely wanted to collaborate. It's not just about what [Winmark] does, it's about collaborating with everyone. If everyone does well, everyone does better."
Susan Frazier, winemaker at nearby vineyard Whispering Brook, says Adcock
was "pivotal" in the local wine and tourism fraternity in establishing the trail.
"Karin was often 'out the front visiting and talking to people' to bring them along on the wine trail journey with a shared objective of how best to promote our area and connect with our visitors in a way which was inspiring and," Frazier says, "not the easiest goal to achieve with independent businesses spanning wine, viticulture, olives, guesthouse accommodation and food businesses."
Frazier says her neighbour is "notable for her high energy levels", which is backed up by her willingness to follow up with people in person to be inclusive.
"She has achieved a point of difference with her business in a short amount of time which strengthens and broadens the appeal of Broke Fordwich to visitors. Karin does play to her strengths of innovation and
leadership whilst openly acknowledging her weaknesses when it comes to winemaking and viticulture but has the open minded approach to seek out the input of professional expertise in these areas as required."
Lisa Margan, of nearby Margan Wines, agrees.
"Karin is new to the wine industry and is on a steep learning curve but has added fresh energy to the region both with her revitalisation of the turned Pooles Rock property - now Winmark - as well as being involved in local marketing activity," she says.
All Adcock can see is potential, despite the pandemic setting.
"One good thing to come from COVID is that so many people have come here from Sydney who have never been and realised we have great wine country only two and a half hours from their door," she says.
"Now they see that the Hunter has to offer - over 160 cellar doors. It's such a big offering and I think that moving forward we'll have a much bigger pool coming here."
In a world of continuing lockdowns, Adcock misses her three daughters.
Paris, her youngest, just graduated from International Baccalaureate school in Copenhagen, and her mother was upset she was unable to fly to be there for the ceremony due to the pandemic.
Adcock's middle child Ashley is at art school in Sydney while her eldest daughter, Tiffany, runs a lifestyle business in Byron Bay.
The trio are close notwithstanding some hectic years when the family's business interests seemed to interrupt at every turn.
"It was very difficult that I could not be with my girls as much in their younger days as I would have liked too, but they knew I would always be there for them if the going got tough," she says.
"I think we over the years have developed a relationship which is about quality over quantity - so when we are together we really enjoy it but we don't have to be together all the time," she observes.
"The girls are very independent and are busy getting on with their own lives but if there is a small hiccup or one of they have a challenge I will be the first to know."
Tiffany Adcock, 24, recalls feeling like her parents "weren't around for most of my teenage years, which was challenging at times".
Now a businesswoman herself, she "can see it all from a different perspective and thankfully my mum and I are closer than ever now".
"I have learnt an incredible amount from my mum both in business and in life; she is someone I look up to the most for so many reasons and has become one of my biggest idols," Tiffany says.
Tiffany says her mother's business sense and drive has inspired her, along with the valuable lesson to "kill people with kindness", which she says her mum "applies to all facets of her life, business and life in general. Anyone who knows my mum well would say she is one of the kindest people they know."
Asked what her best qualities are, Adcock says it's simply "getting things done".
"I think I am good at getting teams around me and respecting people," she says.
"My worst qualities? Well, my lawyer and accountant, who are very good friends, are forever trying to teach me to say no."
Her eldest daughter says her mother's simultaneously best and most testing qualities is an ability to see the best in people.
"She knows how to make people feel special by finding those qualities and traits people have and honouring or hero-ing that trait, nurturing them to be the best they can be with love and support," says Tiffany.
"I think this same trait is also sometimes her most testing as always seeing the good and best in people has allowed for some in the past to exploit that trust and belief in a negative way."
Adcock acknowledges that she is a perfectionist but says she likes to empower people and let them run with the ball.
She also hopes to inspire others to choose uncharted paths.
"I do get that a lot of people do think that it's quite daunting what I am doing, you know, how can I possibly do this on my own, but I don't see it that way," she says, placing her hands before her and gesticulating to create a map with her hands.
"Although there is a lot to do, I could look it as a big elephant but I am here working on this part," she continues, motioning to one area, "and then that part. "You keep chopping away at it. It maybe can be daunting if you look at the whole big project."
She hopes to have set an example to inspire women, or people in general, who are looking at business ventures and weighing up the pros and cons.
"I hope to inspire them to dare to do that, if the cards are right," she says.
"Obviously you can't jump into everything, but I hope you are not stopping because you think you can't do it."
Adcock shrugs off any suggestion she may have faced sexism at a corporate level - "if I did, I ignore it and go forwards".
If charged with mentoring younger women, she would ask them to simply back themselves.
"In terms of career advice it would be that they keep believing in themselves and if they have a strong vision that they set out to do it and block out the noise," she says.
"There are always people around you saying, 'You can't do this, you shouldn't...', but listen to those who say, "You can and you should'.
"You can choose who you are listening to and surround yourself in people who trust and believe in you and block out the noise.
"At the end of the day, you can't please everyone, you have to try and stay true to what you want to do, what your vision is, and that's what I am trying to do here. I am trying to do what is right for this place, for me and the people around me."
After decades of travel for work and leisure, Adcock feels very much at home in Broke.
"I have an apartment in Copenhagen and I have to say I feel at home there but in Australia I feel more home here than in Newport, where I lived for 20 years," she says.
Winmark Wines is open seven days and, she admits "it's tricky to stop, because I feel like I have to be 'on' all the time".
Above all, it is a place she is passionate about sharing at all costs.
"I know there will be others who have a place like this and want it to themselves, I guess I am different," she says.
"I don't feel comfortable that it is just for me. I want other people to come and experience it and say 'Wow, it's a beautiful place."
"We often talk about Winmark as a place to connect, and that means to nature and to one another, but it's also to reconnect with yourself."