Pouring passion into a family business
Mick Dowling pulls up a chair in his new coastal wine bar and from the moment he starts talking his impressive knowledge and sincere passion for wine overflows.
It is an enthusiasm shared by his wife Sarah who is by his side in the business, Torquay Wine Store, which opened its doors on the bustling Gilbert Street strip last month.
The atmosphere inside the wine bar and retail outlet is warm and inviting – just like Mick and Sarah themselves who can boast many years in the wine and hospitality industry between them.
The pair, who moved to the Surf Coast in 2015, say their love of sharing great food and wine was behind their decision to take the leap into small business.
Two years ago they resolved to put together a business plan for Torquay Wine Store and make their dream a reality.
“We always said Torquay needed something like this – that someone should do this,” Mick says, noting that he was a fan of Seddon Wine store when living in Melbourne.
“Over bottles of wine and dinner with friends we’d say ‘man, it would be so cool if there was a place like this in central Torquay’,” adds Sarah.
Mick says he reached a point where he was ready to jump in and take the risk.
“It wasn’t a race but it was like, if we don’t do it, someone else is going to do it,” he says. “It was a long process but in the last six months it steamrolled along.”
They are rightly proud of the end result which is a venue offering both indoor and undercover outdoor seating where drinks and grazing platters can be enjoyed, as well as the option to takeaway.
Recycled messmate timber benchtops on the expansive bar combine with black industrial detailing to create a sophisticated yet unpretentious interior.
A brightly-hued painting by local artist Lauren Barton takes pride of place behind the bar and there are plans to add more local artwork down the track.
But without doubt the star of the show is the curated 350-plus strong local and international wine list which Mick says is the largest on the Surf Coast. Add to that about 100 boutique beers, ciders and seltzers, along with an offering of spirits and premium pre-made cocktails.
“There are some great places to eat on the Surf Coast but there is nowhere else that I know of where you can go and drink a bottle of Rosé for $30 or a bottle of Burgundy for a grand,” he says.
“That is the diversity of the offering we have. It is about 60 per cent Australian, a good chunk of that local, but being local is not the focus by any stretch.
“I just want to stock great booze and if it’s local, that’s great, but if it’s not, I’ll go further abroad.”
“Particularly with the wines by the glass, there are some really interesting wines on there we are rolling through and there will be some staples that everyone recognises,” Sarah adds.
Everything is available to drink instore or for takeaway, with a tempting variety of gourmet food also on offer including high quality cheese, charcuterie, crackers and small goods.
Charcuterie and sharing plates can be enjoyed instore, along with daily specials such as chicken and leek terrine to keep things interesting.
“We had some really amazing ideas about what we wanted to do and getting open before Christmas was really important so we wanted to keep the offering really tight and do it really, really well,” Sarah explains.
“I think Mick’s knowledge and his passion for wine is one of the biggest selling points we have got.
“He is this great big personality who loves to talk to people.
“We’ve had people come in and sit up at the bar by themselves and Mick will entertain them.”
With Mick previously commuting to Melbourne and leaving for work at 4.15am, the couple says COVID was a motivating factor to establish a business that would allow them to work locally and be there for their two young daughters.
“I was probably ready to make the move anyway and the transition to this was the next logical step – and here we are,” he says, looking proudly around the space.
Sarah says they wanted to establish a business close to the supermarkets, butcher and takeaway food outlets which would work also well for the retail aspect of their business.
“Gilbert Street was always the pick for us because customers could pop in after doing their supermarket shopping,” she says. “Down the beach end is beautiful and lovely but it probably wasn’t going to suit the retail end of our business.”
Looking ahead, there are plans for wine tastings, masterclasses, dinners, events and specials such as $2 oysters on a Wednesday night.
“Once we can take a breath, we’ll hopefully be telling the stories of some of the wines and winemakers and personalities in the industry,” Sarah says.
“I’ve been doing wine events for 20 years and I’ve hosted hundreds of tasting events so I just want to be able to utilise that experience in a really unpretentious way to have a bit of fun,” adds Mick cheerfully.
“I think with anything you sell, whether it’s wine or beer or food or anything you can think of, when you have got a passion it’s amazing how infectious that is for people.”
Torquay Wine Store is located at 19a Gilbert Street, Torquay. It opens seven days from 10am until late. Discover more on the website or follow along on Instagram @torquay_wine_store.