The man from Mendoza offers Auckland something more
Right up at the top end of Ponsonby Road in Auckland you’ll find a characterful wine shop with a difference. Proprietor Tomas Tonnelier is a Mendoza-native so there’s plenty of malbec, as you’d expect. But lining the exposed stone walls of El Borracho are also a wide range of wines from other parts the world, as well as a fine selection of whisky and cigars. We chatted to Tomas about the origins of the concept and his favourite wines.
You opened your doors about two years ago – was it always your dream to own a wine shop, and how did it come about?
No, I was actually looking for a location to open a restaurant in. When I was shown 6 Ponsonby Road with its high ceiling, its beautiful stone walls and the contained space, the idea of a characterful wine shop formed. As you know, I import wines from South America, and I realised this would be an ideal place to showcase these.
People always ask me about the name, El Borracho. It means ‘The Drunk’ in Spanish. In the early stages of my relationship with my wife (we have been married 10 years now!), she called me El Borracho (in a nice way, of course).
How did you come to love wine?
I grew up on a winery in Mendoza, Argentina. My father worked as a viticulturist at Santa Ana winery and we lived next door. My playground was the winery and the vineyards. Also, in the European tradition, we were allowed a ‘finger’ of wine with meals. I then worked in hospitality at the Mendoza Hyatt and quickly learned and appreciated wine and food matching. There is a very strong European influence in Argentina and every meal is an occasion to match with wine.
Please describe El Borracho in a sentence (if that is possible).
El Borracho is a local – very friendly, knowledgeable and vibrant, offering an interesting selection of wines, spirits, whiskies and cigars.
Running a wine store is a challenging job. What makes it all worthwhile?
When we receive customer recognition and loyalty; getting to know our customers’ name and stories; when we get it right!
What constitutes a successful wine store to you?
Staff knowledge, excellent customer service, store (product) layout, variety and catering for the local market.
What is your personal favourite wine – if there is such a thing?
That is a tough one. It all depends on the occasion, the company, the food.
What is your personal favourite food and wine match?
I am from Argentina! It has to be a juicy steak with a fine Argentine Malbec or perhaps an excellent Rioja.
Which are currently the most popular wines sold at El Borracho?
Two Argentine wines that we import ourselves: Septima Malbec and Santa Rosa Torrontes (an indigenous Argentine white grape variety).
How did your relationship with Martin and Planet Wine begin?
I am not quite sure. When Martin had his restaurant on the North Shore, he purchased some wine from me. I purchased some of his Cuban rums and Polish vodka for Havana House, where I cut my teeth on the cigar world, and here we are, supporting each other’s businesses and a friendship has developed.
What is it that you appreciate about Planet Wine as a supplier?
I don’t even have to taste the wines. I know that they will be good. Planet Wine offers a wide range of products from all over the world. Martin is a professional. To me that means good communications, quick service and reliability.
Which wines/regions are currently under-represented in NZ (and could be an opportunity for Planet Wine)?
We could do with more American wines. Also, Eastern Europe, the home of wine, is under-represented, as are higher-quality wines from Chile. Our South American neighbour seems to suffer from being seen as a ‘cheap’ or ‘value’ producer only, when in fact there is so much excellent wine being crafted there.
Thank you Tomas. All the best with your businesses and for your support of Planet Wine!