The revitalisation of the iconic Chesser Cellars into the Henry Austin restaurant and bar is pushing the boundaries of renovation and renewal to new levels. Not only are they offering an intriguing ‘Aussie yum cha’ menu, but they’ve also developed a basement bottle shop in the old cellars which is reinventing the way we think about buying wine.
“The first time I looked at this building I knew I wanted to have a bottleshop in here,” the man behind Henry Austin, Max Mason, says. “It’s almost the main reason I took the premises. Having a restaurant and bar is great fun but having a bottleshop licence right in the centre of town, and being independent, is really exciting.”
It’s not your average bottle shop, with little to no promotional material and no specials stands vying for attention – just a simple bottle display on one wall, surrounded by columns of crates, each devoted to a single South Australian winery. Within each column are five wines, updated regularly for seasonal and new releases, chosen by the wineries themselves.
The wineries were selected by Max based on his own criteria. “Effectively this is the cellar that I would like – nothing but artisanal, interesting, brave South Australian wines.”
The wines are divided into icons – Henschke, Torbreck, Penny’s Hill – and boutique, such as Sew & Sew, Dodgy Bros and Brash Higgins. There are a couple of mid-level players among them, such as Whistler Wines, snuck in simply because Max loves them, as well as some exclusives he offers up cheaper than in cellar door – Penny’s Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and Charlotte Dalton Semillon to name two.
One particularly exclusive wine available in the bottleshop is Henschke’s Archer’s Vineyard, intrinsically linked to the venue through a shared history. “It’s named after Alan and Mary Archer, who as well as being neighbours of the Henschkes, ran The Chessar Cellar and made it what it was. They were among the first to take Henschke wines out of the Barossa.”
It’s not the wines that make this bottleshop so revolutionary, but the partnership approach behind it – the wines are taken on commission, and shelf space is paid for by the wineries not in cash but in time, with winemakers hosting tastings and working as sommeliers on a semi-regular basis.
“Every Friday one of these winemakers comes down and pours their own wines, explains and compares them, and then they join me on the restaurant floor as a sort of celebrity sommelier,” Max says. “It’s an amazing treat to have the winemaker here telling you about the wines.”
Upstairs, the restaurant has a rolling wine menu featuring four whites, six reds – including Max’s own grenache sangiovese – a Bollinger and a Croser, with the bottleshop acting as the restaurant’s wine cellar.
“If you don’t fancy anything on the wine list, then I’ll invite you down to survey the scene, a bit like you can at the Victory Hotel and Salopian Inn. It gives you that lovely feeling of walking through doors you shouldn’t.”
The Henry Austin is open 10am to 10pm every day except Sundays. You can meet the winemaker Friday nights 5pm to 7pm, and in the restaurant 7pm to 9pm. thehenryaustin.com.au