Mikela Dennison-Burgess

Marketing Manager | te Pa Family Vineyards | Marlborough


Mikela grew up in Auckland wanting to be a professional dancer, before deciding to study Communications Studies and getting hooked on Public Relations and the art of storytelling. After working at an Auckland based PR agency and working closely with te Pā, she packed her bags, moved to Blenheim, and joined the team as their Marketing Manager in 2016.

Mikela Dennison Burgess
Mikela Dennison-Burgess

So, tell us about where you grew up, what you wanted to ‘be’ when you grew up, and generally what led you to your role today?

I’m a first-generation Kiwi - my parents Sandie and Steve were born in the UK and raised in Kenya and Australia respectively before both moving to New Zealand, so we’re a global whānau (family) with family in a few different continents.

I grew up in Tāmaki Makaurau - Auckland, with three beautiful sisters. At high school I wanted to be an investigative journalist (or a professional dancer and was very close to doing a Dance degree!).

I graduated with a Master of Communication Studies from Auckland University of Technology and in my first year at university, I discovered Public Relations as a discipline and was hooked on the idea of storytelling. I have to share my gratitude to my post-graduate supervisor Dr. Petra Theunissen for all her ongoing support in my studies and beyond.

In my early career years I took every opportunity I could - I volunteered alot (working for the student radio station as a journalist and occasional radio host and weather reporter) and interned at an agency that worked with the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) and the New Zealander of the Year Awards. I also worked as a researcher and a lecturer at the University while I was studying, as well as database management projects with the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand.

When I graduated, I joined PR and message development master George Hulbert at The Clarity Business. The agency specialised in business communications so our key sectors were commercial and residential real estate, law, recruitment, education, and infrastructure. This gave me a solid grounding in understanding how our business environment is interconnected and I cut my teeth on media relations, message development, strategy, content creation, social media and community building, and understanding how to most effectively communicate with vast and varied audiences.


How long have you been involved in the wine industry and what made you want to become part of it?

I’ve been looking after marketing here at te Pā for just over 5 years and was involved with the company as a PR & social media consultant for a couple of years prior when I was a Senior Account Manager at The Clarity Business.

Initially it was the people that brought me into the industry; working with Haysley MacDonald (the owner & founder of te Pā) and his team was exciting, engaging, and I saw the potential of the business and the brand immediately.

When I was consulting to te Pā in my previous role, I’d often return to Auckland after client visits to Marlborough with fresh caught crayfish, kina (sea urchin), fish and a few bottles of wine in my carry on, which was always very novel to me as a city girl!

When I was asked to join the team in-house, the lure of a change of scenery to Marlborough and this fabulous industry lured me in and I’ve never looked back. I’m forever grateful that my gorgeous husband Nick supported me to shift our lives for my work. You often hear about women moving for their husband’s job, but for us it was the other way round and to see my husband thriving in his role after making a huge sacrifice to support my career goals, is something I will always be grateful for.


What do you love most about your role?

I love my role as a marketing manager because communicating, storytelling, value adding, and relationship-building are all built on passion, authenticity, consistency, and a genuine desire to connect with people. When you represent a brand as the voice of the company and see the tangible and commercial results that can bring, there’s a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.

For me, those things are all real energy-givers so I’m fortunate to have been able to make a career out of it. Haysley traces his ancestry back to some of the earliest Māori landings to New Zealand, around 800 years ago, so the history and heritage of the Pā story is a real privilege to be able to share with the world.

I also love the variety and opportunities my role has created for me. Any given day might include content creation, pitch presentations, customer service, database management and e-commerce, photo shoots, events, liaising with media and working with trade partners on training, and business development.

I’m also really inspired and humbled by the work that goes into growing the grapes, and the hard hours our vineyard team puts into looking after every inch of the land, and how our winemaking team create liquid sunshine from those grapes. It’s pretty special to be able to capture and articulate that mahi (work) to our customers.

I also love to travel and am fortunate that my work has taken me to California, Hawaii, Dusseldorf and all-over New Zealand. We’re all excited to visit our customers again soon to tell our story and share our incredible wines with the world.


What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

As a business and as an industry, New Zealand wine has some challenges on our plate with high demand, short supply, and ongoing freight issues due to global shipping constraints. Communicating with customers, anticipating their needs, and balancing that with what you can deliver is key at this time.

Within the marketing and communications sector, the ever-changing nature of social media and data, and how quickly the landscape can change is a challenge.  You have to stay ahead of the curve, constantly and obsessively learn about future trends and best practice, and then put your own distinctive brand identity forward.

On a practical note, social media management means you’re ‘always on’, and I like to respond to every comment, tag, or message within a few minutes because that’s what our customers deserve when they have taken the time to make contact with our brands. This can put some pressure on disconnecting from ‘work’, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!


To you, what makes the New Zealand wine industry special / unique?

Our young industry is dynamic, with exciting domestic and international growth prospects. We are growing some of the best wines in the world on this land, and we have a compelling, unique and exciting story to tell.

New Zealand wine is in hot demand in every export market and here at home, so it’s our job to do this place, our wines, and our individual brand stories justice.

Of course, having a career that involves interesting people, beautiful wine, food, and fun, is special and unique in and of itself.


Do you think there are gender-specific challenges in the wine industry? Do women have a harder time becoming successful/being taken seriously, or is that a thing of the past?

From my experience so far, the wine industry seems to have less of the apparent barriers than other industries.

There are so many incredible, talented and hard-working wahine (women) in our industry - from female winemakers to the ladies in logistics, admin, and finance, to all the many and super sharp wine marketers, sales reps, wine buyers and sommeliers.

There are so many smart and driven women (many of them working mothers, which is a whole other chapter I’ve not embarked upon myself as yet) who inspire me.

As a professional, your career is what you make of it - I would just say; be loud, be seen, and be assertive. Make the effort to seek out mentors who will put your name forward and challenge you to go further. Look for opportunities to develop your skill set and identify your areas for improvement, and don’t be scared to negotiate and be compensated and recognised for the value you deliver and the unique approach you can bring to the table.

As a woman, I would say that having a supportive family, and / or partner, and ‘hype girl’ friends that will encourage you to go for opportunities, is one of the most critical elements to help you get ahead in any industry. You need cheer leaders to push you further, and I hope that I’d be seen as a cheer leader to my friends and family too, in whatever they do.


What goals in the wine industry are you still wanting to achieve?

My focus areas for 2022 are continuing my love for professional development, and building my skills around strategic and commercial acumen, proactive relationships with our distribution partners and trade, e-commerce and data analytics, community building through social media, photography, content creation and product styling.


What would you say to women considering a career in wine?

A career in wine is such an exciting, developing, and rewarding area to work within, for all genders!

Even within the marketing discipline, you could cover areas and skill sets as diverse as social media management, content creation, PR, e-commerce and database marketing, data analytics, event management, customer service, trade / media relationships, sales, wine education and training.

At the heart of all those work streams are interesting people, incredible stories, stunning wines, and endless opportunities to build your personal brand, and to connect the brands you represent with people who love your product and brand identity.


What is your favourite place in New Zealand to visit and why?

I couldn’t possibly pick one favourite place, because Aotearoa is so abundant with magical spots.

Auckland always has my heart as that’s where my amazing family and friends are.  Beyond that, I love the Ngakuta - Momorangi walk in the Queen Charlotte Sounds, Marlborough. St Arnaud and the Whiskey Falls Walk at Nelson Lakes National Park, Nelson, is a must do. The Mirror Lakes & Milford Sound in Fiordland took my breath away last year when visiting with my husband over summer.


And finally, what is your favourite wine variety?

Oh don’t get me started! I love cooking at home so I’m always eager to find fun wine matches with different cuisines.

I am partial to a delicious glass of oak-heavy, well-balanced Chardonnay (our te Pā Chardonnay is heaven in a glass), however recently I’ve fallen in love with the fresh, expressive Sauvignon Blanc from the 2020 and 2021 vintages from Marlborough. I love seafood so a chilled glass of Sauv, with a delicious seafood dish, is heaven to me.


You can view Mikela's LinkedIn profile here.

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