Dave Winmill didn’t take the traditional route to become a wine connoisseur. The 26-year-old is now a trusted name in the Canberra wine scene, but five years ago he couldn’t tell the difference between a shiraz and a cabernet sauvignon.
“I had to be very upfront with people about my lack of knowledge,” says Dave. “The thing that improved my understanding of wine was just drinking and talking about wine every day. I was living and breathing it.”
In 2013-2014, Dave was working in real estate and sales. A year later, he ran into Matt Farrah, an old water polo friend of his father, while doing a hospitality job between gigs.
In true Canberra fashion, the pair reconnected over breakfast and even started planning a venue together. That fell through and they took different paths before a phone call changed everything.
“Matt was doing wholesale around Canberra with a product he owns called Rogue Wines,” says Dave. “It was something he started but needed to take a step back from. He asked me to jump into that without any experience or wine knowledge at that point.”
Despite some apprehension about his lack of know-how, Dave threw himself straight in.
“It took off from there,” he says. “I was with Matt for no more than two weeks before he put me out on the road by myself and I just figured it out. Over time, the more I drank, the more I got to know it.
“I was going to all the winemakers around town and talking to them about stuff, learning off everyone I could. You start picking things up.”
In 2019, Matt founded Farrah’s Liquor Collective, a Fyshwick-based store that sources and stocks wines, spirits and craft beers directly from producers and aims to pass the savings onto customers.
Upon opening, Dave was the first name on Matt’s list and he soon joined the store’s ranks full-time as well as becoming part of a six-person tasting panel that meets almost weekly. The panel’s ages range from 20s to 60s and caters to a full spectrum of tastes.
“Some people like your basic sort of beer to the more full-on styles,” says Dave. “We’ve got people who like white wines, red wines – the idea is that people have different opinions on these things and stay impartial.
“We all sit down, try the wines and discuss the positives and negatives. Then we look at the price and decide whether it’s right.”
Dave is now a jack-of-all-trades, running digital channels alongside catering for wholesale clients and members of the public. In February, the store’s three-person crew became just him and Matt, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We went from working five days a week to every single day,” says Dave. “Like everybody, there was a lot of stress. We weren’t sure what was going to happen – whether we were going to stay open, whether it was safe.”
Luckily, Farrah’s Liquor Collective had just launched a new website before the lockdown and was able to continue trading. Dave spent almost every day delivering products across the nation’s capital.
“We had quite a boom during COVID-19, getting out in front of people as well as the website going up,” he says. “So we actually got busier, which was quite surprising.
“We ended up getting a lot of deals for things that were meant to go away for export that we picked up because export became much more difficult during that time. So we had a lot of good deals through the store.
“A lot of people noticed how quick home delivery was because we were trying to get things out within 24 hours of them coming in.”
In the time since restrictions eased, Farrah’s Liquor Collective has continued to embrace its new online market. But Dave is aware many suppliers aren’t as lucky.
During his wine journey, Surveyors Hill Vineyard in Hall has become one of his favourite wineries. Its Tinto blend, a Tempranillo Graciano, is his favourite drop.
“They’re a small family-owned business and during the lockdown they weren’t able to make any sales because they pretty much exclusively did cellar door and supplied restaurants and bars,” says Dave.
“So they gave us the products at a really good price for what they are and I’ve been super impressed with them.”
Dave says there is no better time to support local suppliers following the past summer’s bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information about Farrah’s Liquor Collective, visit its online store.