When The Summertown Aristologist closed in late March for the coronavirus shutdown, its staff got to work.
They toiled in “the patch” – the Basket Range farm where most of the menu’s ingredients are sourced – to sell boxes of veggies that would otherwise go unused. They set up a temporary bottle shop inside the restaurant to move their remaining bottles of wine. And they put the finishing touches on their long-gestating cellar door.
The latter has been 2.5 years in the making for owners and winemakers Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux); Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons); and Aaron Fenwick (Chateau Comme Ci Comme Ca), but its completion was fast-tracked by the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We kept saying, ‘We should open, we should open’,” says van Klopper. “And then Covid happened and we were like, ‘Okay, now that we can’t open, let’s get ready to open’.”
The room, which is next door to the restaurant, had previously been split between office space (at the front) and a coolroom for dry-aging beef and house-made salumi (at the back). The latter is still there, now flanked by shelves lined with 350-odd bottles of natural wine.
“It’s good to do things slowly,” van Klopper continues. The delay proved timely, too, with the shutdown of the hospitality industry underscoring to consumers the importance of buying local and buying direct.
“A really nice thing to come out of [Covid] is community,” says Button. “People are happy to pick up locally produced things and support local industry ... to almost have a ritual where they can every week come and pick up some wine and some food.”
The team is continuing to sell the veggie boxes, house-roasted coffee and loaves of sourdough that proved so popular during the shutdown. “It’s a nice place to drop in on a Friday when you finish work and you’re coming up the Hill and you can pick up your vegetables and you can pick up a few bottles of wine for the weekend,” Button continues.
“It’s going back to a more [simple] way of getting food instead of buying things from overseas and interstate … which can be very convenient and easy, but you lose the quality and you lose the connection with the people growing it and making it.”
It’s this sense of connection and community that underpins the trio’s approach to the cellar door. (During Broadsheet’s visit, winemaker Alex Schulkin of The Other Right stops by for a tasting and a chat. Another two visitors pop in, and we all sit down together to share a drink and talk wine.) “A lot of people coming in have been to the restaurant or they bought wine during the lockdown, so they’re already into it so the energy has been super positive,” says Fenwick.
“None of us really [had] a cellar door and it’s quite difficult to get to our farms,” says van Klopper, underscoring the opportunity the cellar door presents. “It’s technically the first natural-wine cellar door [in SA], that I know of,” adds Fenwick.
In an industry that was until recently still considered inaccessible to those outside it, an open door to some of the country’s best natural wines is something to get excited about. “I think that is actually the role of a wine producer – on some level you have to be able to communicate what you’re trying to do and you need to be accessible to people who are interested in what you’re doing,” says Button. “Hearing it from the horse’s mouth is really valuable.”
To that end, the three winemakers will take turns manning the door each weekend (and Jocelyn Mihalynuk of Basket Range Wines will be there on Sundays). Visitors can pay $6 to taste six wines from their labels, which will all be available to takeaway. Their back vintages are stocked, too. “We’ve got some of Anton’s wines dating back to 2016,” says Fenwick. “So wine nerds that come in here are like, ‘Holy shit!’”
International labels and other Australian producers – such as The Other Right, Jauma, Borachio and Frankly, This Wine Was Made by Bob – line the shelves out the back. (The old cellar beneath the restaurant has been turned into a private dining room – which was a godsend during the tight stage-two restrictions. “Because we sold a shit-tonne of booze [during Covid] we essentially emptied that cellar,” says Fenwick. “There were only 48 bottles in total left.”)
The team sold takeaway booze, intermittently, before Covid, but “because we operate as a restaurant it was never a focus, and it was actually more of a pain in the arse to be honest”, says Fenwick. “That’s why we had to do this space. It’s a huge benefit for us individually and also for the Aristologist.”
It’s also an opportunity for consumers to connect with other natty-wine producers, and the team plans to have monthly guest winemakers offering tastings in-store. Fenwick also hints at cider and beer collaborations in the future, plus new-release wines exclusive to the cellar door.
The Summertown Aristologist cellar door is open Friday from 3pm to 7pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 4pm.