Dan Gillett of Scotch Wine Bar & Wine Shop
You could describe Dan Gillet as a brave man. Firstly, to run a wine bar in the competitive heart of our premier winemaking region. And secondly, to lead the charge in New Zealand when it comes to the sometimes polarising natural wine movement. But he’s made considerable success of both his Blenheim Scotch Wine Bar & Wine Shop, and as the country’s first commercial importer of natural wines through his business Wine Diamonds NZ.
Dan answered a few questions for us about both businesses:
You are rapidly building a reputation in the restaurant/bar scene in Marlborough, but how did you first get involved in the industry, and what was the journey that brought you to own a wine bar and shop?
Three years ago I was co-owner of a café and coffee roastery just down the road from the wine bar. We were expanding into the nights and my sister Lauren, who is a winemaker, helped me out with our first wine list. I guess it all started then.
Tell us a little bit about Scotch Wine Bar & Wine Shop, what makes it different to other local offerings?
Product and service ... On the food front, we write a weekly menu that focuses on small plates that can be shared around the table, so lots of dishes brought out one by one. On the wine front, a wine list with depth and balance, with a weekly by-the-glass list. On the service front, all this is done in a fun, easy-going and approachable manner.
You are positioned in the heart of New Zealand’s largest wine producing region. That can be both beneficial, and also possibly slightly intimidating. How has the local winemaking community responded to your business?
Just over two years ago when I took on Scotch most of our customers drank craft beer and the change in ownership seemed like a hurdle that would take forever to overcome. It’s always intimidating writing a list for people with so much more experience and knowledge than yourself, but that’s the challenge. Now, we sell more wine than anything and I reckon 3/4 of our customers work in the wine industry too.
Through your import business Wine Diamonds, you’re recognised as a forerunner in the fledgling natural wine movement in this country. Tell us about your philosophy on natural wines, and why they play an important role in your import and retail business.
Separate to Scotch I run Wine Diamonds, a natural wine import and distribution business. In a simple sense we only deal in organically farmed wines that aren’t added to or taken from. My love for natural wines comes from all the qualities in them that you won’t find in anything else. Getting to introduce a lot of these wines to New Zealand has played a massive part in the success of Scotch too.
You have over 300 wines on the Scotch wine list, all available from your shop. What constitutes a good wine list to you?
A good list should have depth and balance, and while I try to have ‘staples’ from every corner of the world, be it Burgundy, Loire, Marlborough, what I really look for are unique wines that have character and something different about them.
What questions do you ask a customer who isn’t quite sure what they are after, to help direct their choice?
I tend to start with talking about what they like to drink, then work from there. I’m always thinking about what they are eating, etc, but try my best to avoid talking to the customer about that – I reckon 99% of the public find food and wine pairings a little antiquated and intimidating.
What would you suggest to a customer who comes in to the wine shop looking for a knockout wine to impress their dinner guests?
We’re lucky because when you have 3-400 different wines on offer, you can generally offer a knockout wine in every category. So if it’s Champagne, I’d be suggesting Egly-Ouriet, Prévost, etc. Burgundy, we have Rousseau, Vogüé, etc ... It gets a little easier when you have more wine on offer.
Which are currently the most popular wines you are currently selling?
We always do best with the wines that we like to drink ourselves. They’re honest suggestions rather than up-sells. At the moment it’s the Viura/Malvasia from López de Heredia / Viña Tondonia. It’s a 2002 Rioja Blanco that’s made in a beautiful, rich, oxidative style. We all love it.
Scotch also offers a frequently updated menu featuring seasonal and local food. Can you match two wines from Planet Wine to two dishes on your menu?
I really like the sherries from Delgado Zuleta, so a Manzanilla with something savoury or briny such as olives or anchovies is a great way to start a meal.
The wine I mentioned before, the López de Heredia / Viña Tondonia Rioja Blanco, with Pork Belly. The almost sherry-like component in the wine works really well with the richness and fat with pork belly too.
How did your relationship with Martin and Planet Wine begin?
I was first introduced to Martin and Planet Wine through a friend, Melissa, who runs Ponsonby Road Bistro. We were talking about the wines (and tonic water!) from Adi Badenhorst in the Swartland.
What is it that you appreciate about Planet Wine as a supplier?
Martin’s list is endless. He has wine from just about everywhere, and when you try to write a list that has a similar philosophy, working with people like Martin seems only natural. He’s also a bloody nice guy.
Which wines/regions are currently under-represented in NZ (and could be an opportunity for Planet Wine)?
America. I’d love to see some more wine from the likes of Russian River Valley, Oregon, etc. and if there’s anyone likely to find it, it’d be Martin.