GEEKS TAKE THE CAKE
Australia’s newest cellar door, Cake Wines, isn’t located in some glamorous rural vineyard setting.
It’s in an old industrial space on a narrow street in the heart of inner-Sydney’s Redfern.
The Cake Wines brand was founded six years ago by a couple of mates, Glen Cassidy and Mike Smith, young blokes who didn’t work in the wine industry but who felt there was an opportunity to talk about, promote and sell wine in a new way — one that nonwine-geeks (that is, real people like them) could relate to.
“We saw wine as being part of culture just as much as music, art, film, photography,” Glen tells me as we sit down at a table in the new cellar door with Cake’s winemaker, Sarah Burvill, to taste the current releases and tuck into a pizza Mike has just taken out of the oven.
“That’s our world, so that’s how we’ve promoted the business. We’ve pushed the brand in all sorts of unconventional directions: we’ve given 10 per cent of our proceeds to (Sydney independent radio station) FBI; we’ve just finished a series of community feasts, hooking up with our favourite chefs in community gardens around the city; we’ve supported (short-film festival) Tropfest; held secret laneway gigs — all part of our natural world.”
It’s an approach that clearly has worked: Cake is now quite a sizeable wine brand, selling most of its production to hundreds of bars, restaurants and cinemas around the country through a large national distributor.
Not only has the anti-establishment wine brand become well established but Glen and Mike also have grown to love the old traditions of the wine game just as much as the next nerd.
Which is one of the reasons they’ve now given their virtual wine business (they don’t own vineyards or a winery) a physical home — albeit in an appropriately unorthodox location.
“Oh my god, they have become so geeky,” says Sarah, who makes wines for Cake in rented space in a winery in Langhorne Creek. “When they’re not spending a lot of time with me in the winery, they’re ringing me, asking questions, wanting to learn all the jargon.” Embrace the geekery, I say, because that way great wines lie.
It’s encouraging to see the passionate way Glen talks about the small batches of very good booze produced as part of Cake’s Young Winemaker Series (the company has so far commissioned a super-earthy shiraz from Richie Harkham of Harkham Wines in the Hunter and a gorgeous, juicy pinot from Dave Mackintosh of Ar Fion Wines in the Yarra); the engaging way Mike pours a few glasses of rose and puts another pizza in the oven for the group that has just turned up at cellar door; the excitement in Sarah’s voice as she talks about a red wine she has made from the sagrantino grape that she’d like the boys to bottle as a special one-off.
Unconventional marketing, embedding wine in popular culture, new grassroots promotions — all are great initiatives. But it also pays off to connect with the ancient traditions and joy at the heart of wine, too.
Winemaker Sarah Burvill above; a bottle from the Cake Wines Young Winemaker Series, inset above