The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE -

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

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