If there is one word to sum up David Vitale’s journey to becoming the founder and maker of the outstanding Starward Whisky, it’s tenacity.
The idea to start distilling and selling a quintessential Australian Whisky was a long process of determination and passion for David, a then 28-year-old, ex-e-commerce / e-learning start up veteran with a passion for home brewing beer. Not content with building an online business, David was passionate about the idea of making a real-world product and marketing that product to the world.
IT To Whisky
A Melbourne native of Sicilian heritage, David sold his IT business and in 2003 and after an eye-opening opportunity to enroll on an Executive Development course at The University of California at Berkeley, he decided to move to Tasmania with his wife Holly to relax and plot his next business venture. There he experienced two of many pivotal moments, which would culminate in the sale of the first case of his own whisky to Whisky & Ailment in 2013. Firstly, he realised that his vision of turning his passion for home brew beer into an international Tassie organic craft beer brand would be limited by the sheer fact that good beer does not travel well but Whisky could. Secondly, in 2004, he arranged a meeting with Bill Lark, widely considered the founding father of Tasmanian Whisky.
A Little Tassie Inspiration
In that meeting in the café / cellar door of the Lark Distillery in Hobart, David saw that everything he wanted to achieve with a craft beer business could be achieved with Whisky and the product could travel well enough for his vision of an international Aussie brand to be viable. Bill Lark offered David a job as a Business Development Officer and the opportunity to learn the intricacies of making world class Whisky from the best. After two and a half great years at Lark, David was ready to strike out on his own. “Inspired by Australian winemakers who took on the world”, he knew he could make great Whisky, and wanted to disrupt the international Whisky market with a new and exciting Australian brand. To achieve this, David knew he had to be different.
“Our idea was to do for Whisky what Australian wines had done , disrupt”
Tasmania has the rolling hills, pure water and great climate required to make great Whisky but so does Scotland. To realise his vision of taking the Whisky world by storm, David took advantage of the creative hub of Melbourne – a place where traditional and cutting edge sits comfortably together in café’s, shops and bars. Couple this with the support of his Melbourne based family and the cultural identity of the city being in his blood, David moved back to the mainland to take on the world. And take on the world he did.In 2008, David got the keys to an old Qantas maintenance shed and a second attempt (after a trip to Bunning’s and a spray of WD40) ceremonially opened the door on his new life with employee number one and current Production Manager, Sam Slaney.
New Kid On The Block
In 2009, the fledgling distillery started production and by 2013, the iconic Whisky & Ailment in Melbourne was wowing customers with a wee dram from the new kid on the block. Starward was in business and David, despite being perpetually 30 days away from insolvency, trusted his instincts until the final round of investment funding came through. When asked what the worst day of the journey was, David smiled and recalled the harrowing tale of getting an eviction notice on his home and his distillery on the same day. The day the final round of investment hit the bank was described as his best day and Starward now has the foundations in place to realise David’s dream from all those years ago.With his vision, business acumen and tenacity, who would bet against him achieving just that?
“To be the iconic Australian Whisky to proudly take to the world”