Sydney’s hottest barista turns his hand to natural wines with a farm-to-bottle venture on Buckingham Street. By Jessica Teas.
Surry Hills might have a reputation for being where hot young hipsters go for a rowdy evening out, but it’s also home to one of Sydney’s top wine bars – 121 BC – and it looks like bottle shop Clementine’s Natural Wines will soon swell the local wine ranks. Sean McManus – aka Sydney’s hottest barista – has a second calling it seems, and he’s on a mission to get Sydneysiders ripping corks on bottles from Australia’s burgeoning band of natural winemakers. “I want people to taste what wine is supposed to taste like,” says McManus over a bottle of Scary Gully pinot noir in the galley of his new espresso bar Neighbourhood on a recent afternoon.
McManus’s ‘ah ha’ moment with natural wine came at the 2014 Australian Brewers Cup Championship in Melbourne. “We went to this bar in Fitzroy... and said bring out the fucking coolest wine that you’ve got. This big, yellow, cloudy bottle came out. It was the most mouth-sucking, gorgeous, lip-smacking bottle of wine I’d ever had… it completely changed my perspective. I was like ‘this is amazing. I need to know why this tastes so amazing.’”
Natural wine is defined by the minimal amount of intervention that goes into it on both the vineyard and in the winery. “The best way someone described it to me is that this is how wine was supposed to be made," recalls McManus. “It’s like medieval wine, just crushed up grapes fermented.” It was his frustration with regular bottle shops (“there is way too much to choose from. It’s so overwhelming.”), a love for the natural stuff and a bit of good luck (“we thought it was a bit of a joke but everything got approved and a wine hobby turned into a fully-fledged bottle shop, which is mind blowing.”) that resulted in the quirky, curatorial concept for Clementine’s.
No more than sixteen bottles from just three natural-wine producers – all Australian – will be available at any given time. The producers they’re launching with are cult labels The Other Right, Architects of Wine and Manon Wines from the Adelaide Hills region. Porter and Maple (the same designers behind the “Roger Moore-era James Bond sauna” aesthetic of Neighbourhood) have been called in to outfit the cosy 17m2 space. McManus says “we’re going to make the whole fucking shop blue. That’s it, crazy blue,” with, he adds, Tassie oak and concrete accents. He describes it as “minimal, sleek, sophisticated… with dark colours and we’ll illuminate where the bottles will sit”. With space maximised (only one bottle per wine on display) there’s room for a small bar where people can buy and open bottles in situ.
It might also be the best place in town for natural-wine tastings and winemaker events. However, Sydney’s oenophiles have to wait until October to crowd around the bar for a tasting at Clementine’s Natural Wines. But it’ll be worth it. When asked to talk about natural wine, McManus’s eyes light up the way one imagines the eyes of a Jehovah’s Witness would if invited inside off the doorstep to talk about god’s kingdom. Except this is an evangelist to whom you’ll actually want to listen and share a glass of (natural) wine with.
The Australian natural winemakers to know right now
Opening Oct 2016. Clementine’s Natural Wines, 16c Buckingham St, Surry Hills 2010. clementinesnaturalwines.com.au.