It’s late Friday afternoon in suburban Brisbane – around the hour when ‘daily drinking’ gives way 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, pub or even a restaurant. Rather, we are in a business. More specifically, a wine shop.
Queensland Bottle-Os used to be a place to stop along the way somewhere else. And while old-school chains are still the place for a weekend smash and grab, more independent wine merchants in Brisbane have turned to wine shop/bar hybrids that are more Italian-centric Enoteca.
Sommelier and winemaker Danilo Duseli took over Ashgrove’s Arcade Wine four months ago in a retro arcade. He comes from northern Italy, where aperitif hour the locals gather wine cellar who populate even the smallest towns for a neighborly meeting, an aperitif and always something to eat.
“It’s very unusual to drink wine in Italy without eating anything,” he says, placing slices of bread with anchovies and homemade salsa verde on the table.
I fell in love with the tiny bars in Spain and the rest of Europe – this really intimate environment
As we sip our wine, many customers engage Duseli for recommendations or to share previous purchases. Some stay for a while, grabbing a stool at the table or sitting on the couch to enjoy a glass. Next to us, a couple is reminiscing about their recent trip to wineries in Tuscany.
“My goal is to get to know my customers and educate them about wine,” says Duseli, 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 there has been an opportunity to run a combination wine shop and wine bar since the Wine Industry Act was passed in 1994, it’s probably the interest in all things craft that has developed in recent years that has gotten people into it lately prompted to seek opportunities,” says Matthew Jones, a Queensland liquor licensing specialist.
The shops use a “wine merchant license” which allows a venue to sell wine to take away and by the glass. Created specifically to support Queensland’s wine industry, the license is conditional on the venue making an active contribution, whether through the sale and promotion of Queensland wines or, in some cases, its own production. Around two dozen Queensland companies are currently using the license.
“It’s certainly the cheapest and one of the few ways anyone can participate in the take-away spirits market [in Queensland]’ says Jones. “The alternative is a hotel license, which of course assumes you have a proper hotel.”
Wine Experience owner Michael Nolan added a bar 18 months ago after 16 years running a retail wine shop in Rosalie.
“I fell in love with the tiny bars in Spain and the rest of Europe – these really intimate settings – and I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but I never wanted a full-time bar,” he says.
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The Wine Experience’s tiny 12 seater bespoke bar opens at 3pm Wednesday to Sunday with a few extra tables for drinkers or diners on the walkway.
“For us, the bar was about building a community,” says Nolan. “People come in and we get to know them and build loyalty. It’s definitely created a following – people stop by 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 a time, always with a few Queensland wines and some that are “a bit esoteric or harder to come by,” says Nolan.
“And of course, you can take any wine off the shelf and drink it here for a $30 service fee. That’s a huge saving compared to the margin you would 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 staff. Trinkle opened in December last year. A long, tiled communal table dominates the shop, which is used for tastings but also for the evening crowd who come to eat and drink.
It is the personal commitment that he values most.
“I’m surprised at how adventurous people are now,” says Trinkle. “People really want the experience and want to talk about the wines. I can talk endlessly about tannin structure, but it’s great to uncork a bottle and be able to say, ‘Hey, let’s try this and sit down and have a little chat’.”