Cara Devine is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing Youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
People wait patiently on the pavement to shop at an artisanal bakery or butcher shop. You can spend $5000 on a faux mid-century sideboard, party with drag queens, search for the elusive entrance to one of Australia’s top cocktail bars or queue for (arguably) Melbourne’s best banh mi, but the neighbourhood still has edge. And now, you can duck into a pared back shopfront full of plants, choose a low intervention wine from one of 20 taps and decide whether to perch there on a plush turquoise chair or take it home in a flagon. You’re on Smith Street, Collingwood – called by some the world’s trendiest street and home to Glou Sustainable Wine Dispensary since December 2020.
Glou is the brainchild of Rahel Goldmann and Ron Davis, both hospo lifers with diverse backgrounds including coffee, kitchens, high end front of house and wine retail. Billed as a tasting bar and bottleshop, the menu is picked out on thin black lines across the white wall, announcing only the producers they are working with and encouraging you to engage with staff to find your perfect glass. There is none of the usual bar paraphernalia – the taps are it.
“We started working on Glou out of a glaring disconnect between how we make, sell and consume wine… Glou at its core is Ron and myself creating a product we would have loved to consume and a space we would have loved to shop at, but which didn’t exist.” – Rahel Goldmann
The focus is squarely on sustainability and minimal intervention winemaking (a term they prefer over the less precise ‘natural’, although are careful of scaring anyone off with linguistic gatekeeping), which is perfectly in step with increasingly environmentally aware consumers. So, were they ahead of the curve or following the trend? Neither really; it just makes sense, explains Goldmann. ‘We started working on Glou out of a glaring disconnect between how we make, sell and consume wine… Glou at its core is Ron and myself creating a product we would have loved to consume and a space we would have loved to shop at, but which didn’t exist.’
They emphasise community and collaboration – the artwork lining the walls is that of Goldmann’s father, and while they offer food (such as bento boxes in conjunction with local bar Mono XO or their current resident chef Yolanda Whelan serving up vegan delights), they are happy for guests to sample the culinary delights of the neighbourhood and bring food in from elsewhere.
Working directly with producers to fill their taps, they haven’t stopped at wine. Goldmann acknowledges that opening a venue with only 16 options was risky (they have since added four more taps), but it relies on their commitment to ‘a stunner experience’ and some unusual offerings to keep people coming back. Kombucha and intriguing house cocktails – like the Green Peach, a blend of Australian grown green tea infusion, gin and peach liqueur – are also poured and offer variety to their guests. They only batch using products they can acquire in large formats, with innovative producers such as Applewood, Maidenii and Marionette being happy to oblige.
One winemaker-collaborator is Brodie Comer (a partner in Yugen wines), who believes it absolutely makes sense on the production end as well. `We like putting wine in kegs because it’s better for the environment- it reduces packaging and also the whole bottling process,’ explains Comer. ‘There are a lot of steps involved that consume energy and increase emissions which get cut out when you keg wine.’ It’s a win-win, but not one for the faint hearted – the key kegs they use are recyclable but have to be broken down, a task which takes eight hours a week. This is not a bar paying lip service to sustainability.
At Glou, they’ve also found that having a streamlined system allows them to focus more on the guest experience. As Goldmann says, ‘a lot of our day-to-day is thoroughly and warm-heartedly explaining what we do and why we do it. No one can change consumer behaviour overnight, and especially not when dealing with long established products.’ Cutting out the packaging and the middle-man allows Glou to offer incredible value for money and the try-before-you-buy method eliminates a lot of the guesswork of a conventional bottleshop.
So, a beautiful space, high quality and amazing value drinks, a knowledgeable staff with plenty of time to talk to you, and a clear environmental conscience? It’s a no brainer. Goldmann says operating Glou is ‘an everlasting learning curve’, which I’m sure is true, but I think the rest of the industry has plenty to learn from them too.