The phrase “wine tour” conjures certain associations: barn-size cellar doors, perhaps, or the inevitable up-chuck in a Greyhound. But Melbourne business Wine Compass is helping budding connoisseurs connect with the best of independent winemakers, with passionate experts and sommeliers on hand to guide you.
Wine Compass founder Adam Nicholls was a digital marketer with a growing fixation on the viney stuff. “I love wine. I’d probably been on five or six wine tours in the space of a year before I started Wine Compass,” he says. “Even though I really enjoyed those wine tours, I thought the access could be better.”
As someone dedicated to learning about wine, one of the key problems he saw with the traditional tour was a lack of specialist knowledge. “Cellar doors can be good, but they can often be done by people in their early 20s who are working casually,” he says. “They can be almost on a script; they say certain things about certain wines. It’s all a bit surface-level.”
The problem also extended to the guides, who were often drivers first and guides second. “There are a lot of drivers out there who are more bus driver than tour guide,” says Nicholls. “They’ll give you the two lines before you go in there, and wait in the bus until you come back out.”
Nicholls decided to hire dedicated wine guides, particularly people who had worked within the industry or were sommeliers. Wine Compass has also developed close relationships with the wineries themselves, giving participants direct access to top winemakers such as Kathleen Quealy and Ocean Eight’s Michael Aylward. Instead of going into commercial cellar door set-ups, tastings are often held where the action really happens: next to the fermenters or in the cellar. “Even if you don’t get the number-one winemaker, you speak to someone who is involved in it,” says Nicholls. “It means you get the passion, and the knowledge as well.”
Wine Compass isn’t a snobs-only affair. The tours reflect the interests of the participants. If you’re into natural, biodynamically produced wines, that’s where the tour will take you. But if you just want a couple of chardies to share with your friends, Nicholls is happy to cater to that too.
“We’ve got plenty of options that are lighthearted and fun, with plenty of time to socialise. But then there’s this other stream where you can really get a bit of a better understanding of their wine,” says Nicholls. “We always make a phone call and talk to the person to try and figure out where they fit.”
At present, Wine Compass is touring the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley, and offers a number of special Meet the Makers events. Find out more and make booking enquiries here.