Tag Archives: wine

The No-Bullshit Bottle Shop

Keeping with the whole Good Food Month, and food buying theme I thought instead of posting some interesting links that my friend Brendan Hilferty had sent me, it might be nice to profile him instead. Brendan owns and runs The Wine Point – a clean skin wine shop. (Clean skins are wine that are sold as “own label” wines, not branded by the winery, but rather the store that sells them.) The Wine Point has gained a reputation for stocking amazing, quality wine. They even bagged a mention in the 2008 Good Food Guide. His bottle store is a “no-bullshit bottle shop” (I wish I could find that quote on-line…it is a real quote from an article). Most of the wine sold is available for a taste, and the guys on the floor will talk you through them with passion, but none of the “wank-ery” that often goes along with the category. He is also a super-cook and a passionate food guy.  This week he sent me a link to Feather and Bone – who supply meat from sustainably raised animals whose range of products and attitude towards food and provenance is quite rare in Australia, and Bruny Island Cheese Co. – an artisan cheese maker from Tasmania that got us all so excited in my office we are signing up and forming a cheese club to receive a 1 – 1.5k order every 6 weeks. I asked Brendan a few questions this week via email about wine and food and stuff.

KT: Tell us a bit about The Wine Point. What it’s about?

BH: In essence its about getting high quality wines to the consumer via the most direct route, at the lowest cost. In most cases this is direct from winemaker or grower, through TWP to the final customer cutting out any number of margins on the way. In days of yore (before branding) in the UK wine trade the wine merchant would bottle their own “claret” or “burgundy and the consumer trust was with the wine retailer, not the producer. In a way I’m trying to do a similar thing and with our offerings increasingly either commissioned by or bottled exclusively for us we seem to be getting there. I’m also trying to create some value with my own brand. After 20 years in the industry as a buyer there’s no fun in just trying to undercut the next retailer with the same brands. The Aus wine retail trade is entirely price driven, unimaginative, unprofitable and increasingly dominated by the supermarkets. I don’t want to swim in that pond!

KT: Who is the Wine Point Customer? How do they compare with the $3 clean skin buyer?

BH: Much, much more involved than you might think. Without the reassurance of the brand they have to trust their own palates when making their purchasing decisions. All the wines we offer are from specific regions, and reflect the recognised characteristics of wines from those regions. With the increase in wine tourism and a greater awareness of food and wine in general, (Australia has a very high level of wine wine knowledge) our customers can see the high quality and value of what we are selling.  I think the satisfaction that the customer gets from “discovery” at TWP keeps them coming back, and means great word of mouth marketing for us.

KT: How did you first get into wine?

BH: By twisting the opener on a cask of Stanley Leasingham Moselle! More seriously, the 3 month overseas trip i took as a 19 year old ended with me working in restaurants and bars in the UK for 5 years before coming home to establish myself as a sommelier in Sydney. I knew i liked a drink and found an endless fascination in wine that led to a career.

 
KT: And although wine is your bag, you also love your grub!  What came first – food or wine?

BH: For a long time i looked at the wine list first, decided what to drink, then tried to find a match on the menu. Increasingly these days its the other way around. Wine is an accompaniment to food and should be good, but should not necessarily over shadow it.

KT: You’ve sent me links for Feather and Bone and Bruny Island. What other companies do you know of that are getting up to stuff like this?

BH: I think these are 2 examples of passionate people creating more value by themselves by going direct. There are plenty of good small wine producers, especially those using organic/biodynamics which I think deserve more recognition. A current favourite is http://www.ngeringa.com/

KT: Do you think Australia is really behind countries like the UK, with their interest in food miles, and provenance of produce? Or are we there, but just don’t talk about it as much as they do?

BH: Yes. The UK is much maligned when it comes to food quality. There is FANTASTIC produce there and it is possible for a small, specialist producer to create a niche business because they have the population to support it. I know of 1 supplier in London that just sells game birds. He shoots them himself and drives to London once a week to sell to a handfull of good restaurants.. They don’t have to run huge fleets of vans and warhouses to make a decent living. In Sydney there is a SINGLE supplier of game for the entire city. 
Part of that sustainability there is the food miles thing. With our distances that’s always going to be an issue. 

KT: What are your top places for food buying in Sydney?

BH: Betta Meats in Newtown for meat. Marrickville Organic markets for fruit and veg. Faros Brothers in Sydenham for seafoood (forget Sydney Fish markets).

KT: And finally – summer is approaching – what will we be all drinking this year? Feel free to shamelessly plug your wares, as they are all good!

BH: Barossa Valley “Vine Vale” Old Bush Vine Semillon 2008 from The Wine Point. What I think white wine should be about. Crisp, clean, citrussy, dry and perfect with so many summery foods. Move over sweaty sauvignon blanc and out of the way boring pinot gris. Semillon is the place to be!

Brendan has a page on facebook, and has also used images from flickr users to create wine labels. 

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Brands of Emptiness

I just read here about a new term – Brands of Emptiness – that was coined by UK wine writer Oz Clarke.  Like David Farmer, I also think its a great term, not just a catch all for all those appalling Australian “critter brands” that have flooded overseas markets, but also all those other brands out there with hollow cores – sort of like the Wizard of Oz I guess.  From the distance they look full of subsatnce and promise, but get closer and there aint much to look at.

soaking labels off bottles

But getting back to wine; I have been doing some branding work for a few different wine brands – mainly exploring potential brand stories through label design – and it is entirely true that once you give a wine drinker a way into the brand they latch onto it.  An interesting snippet about the history of the winery, a new way to look at a varietal or blend, a quirky piece of packaging – People become interested.  They look at Australian wine in a different way.  It tells people that the wine makers actually care about their product and the people who drink their wine because they are doing things a bit differently, and they are talking about Australian wine beyond the horrible caricature that we have become. The big brands have relied on embarrassing cliches that limit and stunt a drinkers relationship with the brand.  All they can see is cheap and cheerful.  I am dismayed when I hear drinkers from overseas tell me that “Australia doesn’t produce any great wine”. Not their fault – ’cause that’s all we sell them!

As we have to compete more and more with “cheap and cheerful” wine from other parts of the world, we are going to have to rely a bit more on our brands to pull us through.  And people want engaging brand stories (and will pay more for them) than the cliches.

(The picture above demonstrates the sometimes absurd moments of my job. Hungover in Miami, soaking labels off mock-ups of 24 bottles of wine, before I flew back to Australia…)

 

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