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From Virtual To Reality

This article was featured in the latest edition of SA Life Magazine where John Retsas talks about the wine, food and uniqueness of First Drop’s ‘Home of The Brave’.

When First Drop Wines formed a decade ago, it cleverly sat among the first wave of virtual wineries – putting its resources into grapes and wines rather than buildings and infrastructure. Now, the team of winemaker Matt Gant and marketer John Restas has a physical home in the Barossa – the appropriately named First Drop Wine and Tapas Room, which is characteristically out of the ordinary.

“We never expected to have a cellar door, but the landlord of the place we rent to make our wines was keen for us to have a presence – so we thought about what a First Drop showroom should be. How should we present ourselves? Fun is a big part of our image, but our challenge was how to put this across,” explains John.

It starts with their slogan “Home of The Brave” emblazoned large and loud outside the former distilling shed in Beckwith Park at Nuriootpa. “Why should we take ourselves so seriously when wine is about fun and enjoyment,” says John with a cheeky grin. “Having this place has certainly worked to diffuse the virtual winery tag applied to us. That had gone from being a good thing to somehow not being seen as genuine, so it was time for us to make a change while still showing off exactly what we want to be, rather than just another cellar door tasting bench.”

This has been an essential First Drop trait since its inception – a brand that markets its big range of 26 wines with garish cartoon labels and amusing marquee titles: Mother’s Milk shiraz and Mother’s Ruin cabernet sauvignon, Lush rosé, The Matador Grenache, the very naughty Minchia montepulciano, and the racy Does Your Dog Bite single vineyard shiraz.

The wine and tapas room is equally irreverent and boisterous, with loud graphics and banners, a scattered squad of inflatable emperor penguins, and a satirical mural of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with Matt Gant as the central figure asking who else will become a First Drop disciple. Yes, they risk being offensive, but pill off their irreverent humour with affable, roguish charm.

Most importantly, the room has long communal tables where tapas plates are served beside the wines. “The key is trying these wines in the presence of food,” says John. “That’s when they come alive, and the whole package makes perfect sense to the taster.”

This easy marriage of food with the wine is why John initially placed such importance on restaurant sales; 90 per cent of First Drop Wines are sold on premise. Now, it’s why the tasting room tapas selection goes beyond jamon, cheeses and croquettes, to include such gutsy choices as pan-fried chicken livers. “Go on, be bold,” urges John. “It’s all about the discovery here.”

It helps that experienced hospitality front man Ivan Pachnik is running the cellar door, easily guiding tasters through the big range of wines. Visitors will also find a few rarities occasionally open for tasting – from the Fat of the Land series of single vineyard shiraz, through to back vintages that show how the wines are maturing.

“If we show some genuine interest in what we provide, the people who make the effort to come to our door feed off it. They want to be impressed, so we aim to deliver,” says John. “Essentially, we’ve created a place where we want to hang out.”

David Sly – The Best of Adelaide and South Australia – SA Life

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