For many, the allure of Sydney is obvious: a gleaming city full of iconic landmarks, bustling beaches and suburban hubs full of hidden restaurants and in-the-know bars. James Whineray, owner of North Fremantle’s Wise Child wine store, has a slightly different read on the city.
“I love all its waterways and the trees, particularly coming from Perth, which is flat and there’s hardly a tree in sight,” he says. “I find Sydney overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s so green.”
Whineray’s speciality wine store sells natural and “low-fi” wines that are rarely found in mainstream liquor stores. He and his partner, writer Lucy Byrnes, first encountered the minimal-intervention and organic wine movement on trips to Sydney, Melbourne and Europe. In Perth those sorts of wines were much harder to find, so they took the plunge in 2018 and plugged the hole in the market with Wise Child (formerly known as Left Field).
Byrnes and Whineray (who is also a photographer) have made countless trips to Sydney over the years for work and play. His last trip was to photograph one of the city’s most famous artists, Ken Done, at his home in Mosman. “It was a riot,” he says. “He’s a pretty interesting guy.”
Here are the entrepreneur’s favourite spots in Sydney. (But by the by, if you’re staying near the CBD and are looking for a special wine to take home, try Handpicked Cellar Door, a traditional cellar door approach that is in the heart of the city, or The Oak Barrel which is one of the city’s oldest bottle shops and champions hard-to-find natural and organic wines.)
P&V Merchants in Newtown
Whineray’s first port of call in Sydney is P&V Merchants on Enmore Road. “It’s a charming little neighbourhood bottle shop in Newtown that specialises in the same low-fi wines we sell,” he says. Run by the who’s who of the Sydney hospo world – Mike Bennie (Rootstock co-founder and “bit of a dude around town,” says Whineray), Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham of Mary’s Group, and Mary’s bar manager Lou Dowling – P&V is the place to find Australian and imported natural wines, local and craft beers, and artisan spirits.
Part bottle-o, part community hub, P&V is guided by an ethos that is friendly, fun and approachable. “It’s all handwritten signs and graffiti,” says Whineray. “And they have really great tastings and parties there.”
When in Sydney, Whineray and Byrnes usually stay around Surry Hills, one of their favourite suburbs. It’s a place where they can “spend days walking around pretty aimlessly”, says Whineray.
Surry Hills is also home to Poly, the sister establishment of Ester in Chippendale, which is already a Sydney institution at just six years old. Ester’s sterling reputation perhaps explains the frenzied anticipation that awaited Poly’s opening in 2018.
True to form, it was worth the wait – Poly was a hit. Striking a delicate balance between wine bar and fine dining restaurant, Poly maintains a casual, inviting air that makes you feel right at home while you catch up with friends. Not only is the food “really impressive”, says Whineray, but Poly also “has one of the most impressive wine lists in the country”.
Another Sydney institution on Whineray’s list is The Dolphin, transformed in 2016 by Icebergs’s Maurice Terzini into a paradise for lovers of good food and wine.
Within the award-winning establishment you’ll find the Wine Room, a space dedicated to, well, wine. Run by James Hird, wine director at Icebergs, it boasts more than 100 wines and its own menu, including a long list of cured meats and cheeses. “It’s casual and fun, but with a very serious wine list,” says Whineray, who is full of praise for Hird. “He’s one of the key figures in making the natural wine movement happen in Australia.”
Grifter Brewing Co.
It’s not all about wine – Whineray is partial to a craft brew too, especially at Grifter Brewing Co in Marrickville.
Grifter started out as a backyard operation from three “bad-ass skateboarders” and homebrew hobbyists in 2012. Their venture soon went commercial when the trio started using Young Henrys Brewery’s tanks after hours, and, in 2015, Grifter moved into its own digs in a Marrickville warehouse that once housed a commercial laundromat.
Today Grifter Brewing Co has a national reach, with its brews regularly popping up on menus on the west coast. “It’s becoming an institution,” says Whineray.