Delicious wine and progressive coffee are two increasingly overlapping worlds—it's something we're endeavoring to document and cover as a matter of policy here at Sprudge—and also because great wine is just…really great, so why not write about it? I think there's a couple of explanations for why wine & coffee are snuggling up together. One is that, over the years, coffee has increasingly gained a reputation as a product to be considered and served with respect to its origins. This has a profound echo with wine, and earns the respect of wine types around the world. Another is that baristas who care about quality coffee tend to gravitate towards other things that taste good—like wine—and in turn, sommeliers who care about quality wine and beer tend to gravitate towards good coffee (especially in the morning, after closing the wine bar the night before).
Maybe I'm just biased. Perhaps my own interest in wine has been catching up with my interest in coffee, and as such, the cross-cultural mingling of wine and coffee has become even more prevalent on my radar. Whatever the reason is, the gap between the wine industry and coffee industry seem to be quite a bit closer these days: from coffee cocktails at a wine bar’s first birthday, to WBC 2015 champion Sasa Sestic’s coffee utilizing carbonic maceration, to the head sommelier of one of the world’s best restaurants serving some of the best coffee in the world.
As such, when I found out that Handmade—a celebration of delicious wine (with a side of coffee)—was to be held at Builders Arms in Melbourne, the decision to cover this event was obvious. To contextualise, Builders Arms is a prolific bar and bistro in the inner-city suburb of Fitzroy by renowned chef Andrew McConnell (also of Supernormal, Cumulus Inc., Cutler & Co., and Luxembourg Bistro). Food here is deliberate and delicious, and the wine list, curated by in-house wine buyer Campbell Burton, is home to a number of quality wine producers.
Burton, the creator of Handmade, explained that the idea came from the footpath tastings often held at Caves Augé, one of the oldest wine bars in Paris, where they often feature winemakers pouring their own wines alongside charcuterie and conversation. “I really loved the notion of this,” Burton tells me, “lots of delicious things, not much money, and lots of great communication about good wine.”
With this in mind, he chose to create a similar event in Melbourne, bringing together local and international winemakers, as well as importers presenting some fascinating wines from around the world. This year, there were thirty importers and producers presenting their wares—and with a ticket price of $25 AUD allowing endless wine tasting and plentiful snacks, it was that rarest of Melbourne treats: a spectacular bargain.
Let me set the scene: you walk in, are given a glass, then directed to the many tables for tasting. First, there are the European wines, where many importers are pouring prolific drops from the likes of Jean-Pierre Robinot, Gut Oggau, Frank Cornelissen, Alexandre Jouveaux, and La Sorga—with many of these wines being made naturally and without any additions (and also quite rare to find in Australia). After this first bout of wine tasting, it’s time to take advantage of the delicious food moving around the rooms, such as tartare in mustard green leaves by Meatsmith, or one of the many delights from chefs Josh Murphy, Luke Burgess, or Andrew McConnell himself. Once sated, it’s time to perk up in the dedicated coffee corner with some self-serve batch-brewed filter roasted by Single Origin (from Sydney) before diving into more wine.
One of the most exciting things about this event was the opportunity to try numerous delicious Australian wines and talk to the producers of those wines, with many winemakers traveling across Australia to present at this event. Encompassed in one room you could drink wines and talk to the likes of Anton Von Klopper (Domaine Lucci and Lucy Margaux), James Erskine (Jauma), Gareth Belton (Gentle Folk), Patrick Sullivan, Tom Shobbrook, Alex Shulkin (The Other Right), and many more.
While to be fair, coffee wasn’t the focus of the event, the fact that there was a dedicated and quality coffee service speaks to the cross-industry interests of the Melbourne hospitality scene. In fact, the first time I met Burton properly was while serving him at Patricia Coffee Brewers, with his interest and fascination in the coffee he was being served sparking a conversation.
Chatting to Burton, it’s clear that this sort of industry crossover is something he feels strongly about, and he explained it to me like this: “I love a collective mentality that is about making everything more delicious, and for the experience in every Australian restaurant and cafe and bar to be constantly evolving and improving. I’m also very excited about the next decade in Melbourne and Australia, where this culture of really enjoying the work of others will become even more prevalent.”
This collective mentality is something that seems to pop up in many of Burton’s creations, with his next event, Soulfor Wine on July 5th, taking it to the next level. A celebration of sulfur-free wine, alongside delicious food and live music, the event will also be presenting a particularly special coffee service. Tim Varney of Small Batch Roasting Company and Jenni Bryant from Market Lane Coffee will be teaming up to brew and serve a carefully curated selection of filter coffee to the thirsty masses, while wines by prolific sulfur-free producers such as Gabrio Bini [one of this planet's great natural wine producers in the world—Ed.], Le Coste, and Pierre Overnoy are poured.
The word “celebration” tends to be a constant that’s used in much of the description of Burton’s events, and it’s one that rings true. We're talking about the union of quality wine, coffee, and food under one roof, curated by people who care passionately about these elements and their origins. Who could possibly resist?