It’s late Friday afternoon in suburban Brisbane – about the time when “day drinking” ticks over to the more respectable “knock off” drinks. We sit at a communal table and enjoy a glass of wine with strangers while an upbeat playlist meanders through decades and genres. We are not in a bar, a pub or even a restaurant. Rather, we are in a shop. Specifically, a wine shop.
Queensland bottled cheese used to be a place you dropped in on your way somewhere else. And while the old school chains may still be the place for a weekend ‘smash and grab’, growing numbers of independents in Brisbane have embarked on wine shop/bar hybrids more along the lines of the Italian enoteca.
Sommelier and winemaker Danilo Duseli took over Ashgrove’s Arcade Wine in a retro arcade four months ago. He comes from the north of Italy, where aperitivo hour sees locals gather at enoteche that populate even the smallest towns for a neighborly contact, a pre-dinner drink and, always, food of some kind.
“It’s very unusual to drink wine in Italy without eating a little,” he says, setting down bread rolls topped with anchovies and homemade salsa verde.
I fell in love with the tiny bars in Spain and the rest of Europe – the really intimate environment
As we sip our wine, many customers engage Duseli, eager for recommendations or to report back on previous purchases. Some stay for a while, take a stool at the table or lie down on the sofa to enjoy a glass. Next to us, a couple is reminiscing about their last trip to the vineyards of Tuscany.
“My goal is to get to know my customers and educate them about wine,” Duseli says, and he’s not alone.
A similar ethos exists at Wineism in Albion, Grape Therapy in the CBD, Barbossa in South Brisbane, Baedeker in Fortitude Valley and Honor Avenue Cellars in Graceville.
“Although the possibility of having a combination wine shop/wine bar has existed since the Wine Industry Act was passed in 1994, it is probably the interest in all things artisan that has developed in recent years that has made people look at what is possible. , says Matthew Jones, a liquor licensing specialist in Queensland.
The shops use a “wine dealer’s licence”, which enables a premises to sell both wine at home and by the glass. The license was created specifically to support the wine industry in Queensland, its award is dependent on the venue actively contributing, either by selling and promoting Queensland wines or, in some cases, making it themselves. Currently, there are about two dozen Queensland businesses using the licence.
“It’s certainly the cheapest, and one of the only ways anyone can participate in the takeaway spirits market [in Queensland]”, says Jones. “The alternative is a hotel license which of course requires you to have an actual hotel.”
Michael Nolan, owner of the Wine Experience, added a bar 18 months ago, after 16 years of operating a wine shop in Rosalie.
“I fell in love with the tiny bars in Spain and the rest of Europe – the really intimate environment – and always wanted to do something like that, but I never wanted a full-time bar,” he says.
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Wine Experience’s small 12-seater bespoke bar is run from Wednesday to Sunday at 15.00, with a couple of extra tables for drinks or diners on the footpath.
“For us, the bar was about building a community,” says Nolan. “People come in and we get to know them and build loyalty. It has definitely created a following – people pop in on their way home from shopping, or they stop for an afternoon drink before going to a restaurant or a movie.”
There are regular wine masterclasses and up to 50 glasses available at any one time, always with a couple of Queensland wines and some that “are a bit more esoteric or harder to come by,” Nolan says.
“And of course, you can take any wine off the shelf and with a $30 service charge, drink it here. That’s a huge savings compared to the margin you’d have to pay for the same bottle at a restaurant.”
At Albion’s Wineism, owner Ian Trinkle is a former sommelier, as are all of his shop staff. Trinkle opened last December. A long tiled communal table dominates the shop, used for tastings but also the evening crowd that comes to eat and drink.
It is the one-on-one engagement that he appreciates most.
“I’m amazed at how adventurous people are now,” Trinkle says. “People really want to have the experience and talk about the wines. I can talk about tannic structures forever, but it’s great to be able to pick up a bottle and say, “Hey, let’s taste this and sit down and have a chat.”