When the first lockdown hit Australia back in March 2020, and the initial shock of a life altering virus taking over the world wore off (but did it ever?), many of us began to plan our lives in an isolation that we didn't have an end date to, while also figuring out how to support local businesses in the process if we had the means to. Enter: Winona Wine – one of the first natural wine stores in the Sydney area (Manly, to be precise) that delivered packs of delicious, natural wine straight to your door.
At the beginning of 2020, natural wine was still a new and exciting concept for most of us who are not part of the wine world, so to be able to engage in a service that was both supporting local and enjoying special and unique wines as a weekend treat in the process was a no brainer. My girlfriend and I ordered weekly packs for months, and in doing so, expanded our knowledge of natural wine and the many different forms it comes in. Now that the world has returned to a small sense of normalcy, a visit to the shop is a fun weekend activity, or we'll order online if we are time poor. There is still so much out there that the average punter doesn't know about natural wine and all of its unique qualities, which is why we sat down with Cameron Walsh of Winona Wine to talk to us a bit about how Winona came about, the collective move towards natural wine options, and where to start if the whole conversation/drinking experience is still foreign.
Tell us a bit about how Winona Wine came about…
Winona was founded by three friends: Elli and Cam Walsh and Luke Miller. The three of us come from pretty diverse backgrounds. Elli’s an arts writer and editor, Cam has always worked in music (currently at indie record label Inertia) and Luke is in the food scene — he owns three great local restaurants (Chica Bonita, Busta and Sunset Sabi). Our collective love of art, music and food — and wine, of course — has shaped Winona. In addition to good booze, we specialise in artisan foods, handmade objects, and general cool things!
The seed of Winona was a little project Elli and Cam ran many years ago called The Funky Bunch, where we used social media as a platform to profile the natural wines we were drinking and ran local events. We saw a strong thirst for this kind of wine on the Beaches at a time when it was entirely inaccessible (these were the days before the Sydney natural wine bottle shops that you’re probably familiar with now). Cue Winona.
Cause it’s hecking yum! But more than that, wine brings people together. Wine is community. Communion. It is friendship. Wine begets joy. It’s social. The chinking of wine glasses is the anthem of celebration. It is birthdays, weddings, parties. It’s Summer, Autumn, Spring and Winter. Wine is sensual, sensorial. It seduces, and soothes. What’s a meal without a glass of wine? Wine is ancient, timeless, long-loved. We’ve been making and enjoying wine for millennia and will continue to. Wine is human.
What drew you to natural wine in the beginning?
When we first tried this sort of wine, we were immediately drawn to its vitality, freshness and nuance. It felt three dimensional, and the wine we had been drinking suddenly tasted flat. Someone once analogised natural vs conventional wine as experiencing music on vinyl vs a compressed digital format. That’s spot on. There’s much more expressiveness, warmth, so many tonalities. In art terms, it’s Kandinsky not Kaws, y’know? That aside, the ethos behind a lot of this type of wine is so important – sustainability, regenerative farming, organics; steps taken to help, not harm the earth.
For people who are just getting acquainted with natural wine, which Winona is best known for, where would you recommend they start?
From funk to finesse, there’s such a vast spectrum of “natural” wines and it can be hard to find the right ones for your personal palate. Winona actually runs a monthly wine club where we deliver you a really ‘drinkable’ selection of natural wines – nothing too challenging or out there. That’s a great place to find your feet and build confidence around the styles, varieties, regions that speak to you.
Do you remember the first time you tried natural wine?
Of course! It was eye-opening. Many years ago a sommelier friend of ours ordered a red wine at a Sydney restaurant opening. It was light, edgy and spritzy – our minds were blown. Weren’t all reds plush, round and boozy?!
How do you feel your individual creative backgrounds lend themselves to the ethos of Winona?
Although Winona is ostensibly just a bottle shop, we like to think of it as a creative space – where our backgrounds of music, art and food come together. Whether it’s through our collection of objects, handmade by local and international artists, or our epic selection of rare and wonderful artisan foods (we are basically a craft chocolate shop), or our rotating calendar of tasty dinners, tastings and masterclasses, or the collabs we’ve done with visual artists like Jason Phu and Elliott Routledge, or the music spinning at all times – stop us, we could go on. Basically there’s so much more to Winona.
Can you talk about the steep rise in the demand/desire for natural wine in Sydney and across the world, and why you think it’s taken off so well in the past few years?
We’re just going to respond to this intuitively – without any data or stats – but it seems there’s a movement towards better consumption, whether that’s organic food, slow fashion, natural wines etc. People are craving authenticity and individuality, expressiveness, whilst also recognising the importance of taking care of our planet. Supporting small producers who are doing their bit to nurture the earth – through regenerative agriculture, organics/biodymanics, measures in sustainability etc. Of course there’s the trend factor too, with “natty” wine becoming popular because it’s ‘cool’, but that’s just as valid – anything that supports a move towards better consumption (for our bodies and the planet) is a good thing!
What’s your favourite thing about the newfound popularity of natural wine?
Small producers working in the natural wine sphere are taking measures to give back to the land from which they’re taking. That’s important. We should note that ‘natural wine’ is a loose term, and we’re referring to it in the way of: grapes coming from land managed organically/biodynamically and turned into wine with minimal intervention (hands over machines, no chemicals etc).
What’s next for Winona?
Hopefully, a little sister! We’re always evolving, mutating, growing – sign up to our newsletter to be the first to hear about new things, upcoming events and more.