While most of us in The Weekend Edition office openly declare their love for wine, your enthusiasm extends further – you’ve made a career of it! Can you tell us what first sparked your interest in wine and lead you to become a sommelier?
I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the only wine devotee going around! Wine is such a special topic, which has a breadth of reasons to love it. For me, it has always been about farming, community and the culture that wine brings to both of those. Having always worked in restaurants, I used to watch sommeliers address tables with total confidence in the product they were recommending. They had such a depth of information relating to the wine, where it came from and the people who produced it. I wanted to be able to give wine the integrity it deserved by telling its story well.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills one needs to make it as a sommelier?
I have always tried to maintain the attitude that I am there to accommodate the guests and never there to dictate. Mostly importantly, one must be able to adjust the language they use with each guest to make them feel included in the conversation and not alienated from it. You want them to feel what you feel and the more comfortable you can make their experience, the more they will enjoy it. Study is important too, but it isn’t what makes you great.
You ply your craft at beloved Brunswick Heads mainstay Fleet Restaurant – what are some of your guiding mantras when it comes to curating the restaurant’s wine list?
Our wine list at Fleet is very small. We fluctuate with 23 wines on the list that spread across sparkling, white, rosé, orange and red wines. I source sustainably produced wines that have little-to-no chemicals added in their process and are generally produced in tiny quantities. My aim is to never have more than one grape variety or more than the same region represented twice. When you keep a small wine list this helps to keep the offering dynamic and interesting for the guests, but is also a way to gently challenge them. It’s a weekly, evolving puzzle for me to solve!
Can you describe the greatest wine and/or wine experience you have had?
It was a freezing cold evening in the Barossa Valley and a group of somms were having a home-cooked dinner at Tom Shobbrook’s house. Tom opened up an old and rare bottle of wine that he had made ten years ago as part of a project with three other friends. The Egg Project was a pioneering undertaking for natural wine in Australia. We shared the bottle between 15 people as he told us the story of its creation. I remember looking around at the silent table and asking myself, “how can I ever put this moment into words?”.
What grapes, styles or processes do you think will be the biggest talking points of 2021?
We will see the continuous rise of well-made, youthful wines. Wine drinkers are becoming more confident with what they enjoy and discerning about where they get it from, so I think we will see more people gravitating to independent bottle shops! I also think we will start to see a lot more wine coming in cans, with more thought around sustainable packaging.
In addition to being an award-winning sommelier you’re also a budding wine writer – and we’re super excited to welcome you to The Weekend Edition team! What prompted your decision to pick up the pen and share your thoughts on Australian viticulture and conversations with those that work within the industry?
I am honoured to be sharing my thoughts on wine at The Weekend Edition, so thank you for having me! I started writing after trips to see winemakers in Australian wine regions. I felt so consumed with the passion that a lot of small producers have for their contribution to wine and grateful that they were always so generous to share that passion with me. I felt compelled to write their stories in case others wanted to create a deeper connection with the wines these people make.
We don’t want to spoil any of your forthcoming pieces, but we’d love to know what sort of topics you’ll be exploring as part of your upcoming series! Can you share some wine-related subjects that you’re eager to dive into?
I’ll be discussing a modern way to look at how we drink through varieties you may never have heard of, deciphering biodynamics and organics, and profiling winemakers who make positive contributions to the environment. We will discuss how history and philosophy are present in modern winemaking, and the art of collecting wine for your home.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to ask you for some quick tips. Are there any local drops that you’d recommend our readers seek out this weekend?
A great rule of thumb – sparkling wine will get you out of any decision-making debacle. A more wine-specific tip – the 2020 LATTA Vino wines have just been released from incredible producer Owen Latta. His wines are always vibrant and intriguing, made from cool-climate vineyards in the Victorian Pyrenees. Due to bushfire damage LATTA was only able to produce tiny quantities, so I have a feeling they won’t be around for very long! I would suggest seeking them out and only sharing them with people who are nice.
Olivia Evans will be sharing insight into various aspects of viticulture in our new wine column The Drop, which goes live on the last Thursday of every month. Check back next Thursday February 25 for her first piece, which will explore the intersecting characteristics of Mediterranean and Australian growing regions.