Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: David Hahn the Head of Marketing and Product Development for Dome, the group that owns the popular destination venue the Premier Mill in Katanning, Western Australia. Among many awards the Premier Mill’s Cordial Bar won the WA Restaurant and Caterers Association’s Best Wine List in 2018. What caught our attention about the Mill’s story is that the wine list put together by David was completely sourced from the Great Southern, one of Australia’s wonderful yet less known regions. Furthermore, David’s background is in marketing, and other than being an enthusiastic consumer, he had no prior experience working with wine- so how did he do it? Find out from the man himself in this week’s feature, and even more about what venues are looking for in a wine and from a producer straight from the horses mouth.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Your background is marketing, where you have worked with a number of household names such as Anheuser-Busch (maker of Budweiser) and Sainsbury’s. What was it that led you to Dome and in turn the Premier Mill?
I was fortunate to cross paths with Nigel Oakey, CEO and major shareholder, several times over the years going all the way back to university. Most recently I was trying to sell ingredients to Dome when he asked me to come on board. At that point Dome was exclusively in the fast casual restaurant space. Dome has a proud history of renovating heritage listed buildings for their café network, but The Premier Mill Hotel was a new venture for the organisation as it included accommodation, dedicated function spaces and of course The Cordial Bar, our little underground wine bar.
It’s a story you would have heard and told many times over, about how Nigel Oakey, CEO of Dome Cafe Group, orchestrated the acquisition of the Premier Mill and conversion into a quality accommodation and hospitality hub. Why do you think this story resonates with people so well?
Everyone loves a story of renewal and regrowth, especially one set in a small rural community. The story of the Mill’s renovation became as much about the town as it did about the individual business or the building. The Mill itself really just plays its part. A supporting role, if you wish, in a much larger story.
The basement of the Premier Mill, previously the engine room, is aptly named the Cordial Bar after a former owner who used the space to store the wine and cordial he made. What was the strategy or brief you were given to take the basement of a run down flour mill in a rural town, and go on to become what is one of the best bars in Western Australia?
The bar itself was never meant to be. It wasn’t on the original redevelopment plans. When we acquired the Mill the basement was flooded and the ceiling height too low to be a usable space. We eventually managed to dry out the cellar and climbed down and got our first real look at it and from that moment on the development brief almost wrote itself. The Cordial Bar was the perfect name. This in turn led to the development of our signature non-alcoholic drinks using organic syrups and aerated water, which we bottle on-site, just as Frederick Piesse did all those years ago. The bar coasters became replicas of his old soft drink bottle labels and locals came forward with old bottles to help decorate the shelves.
On wine and marketing…We asked David to shed some light on his experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers at a fraction of your marketing budget. Find out more here.
Furthermore, the Cordial Bar at the Premier Mill has since gone on to win Restaurant and Catering Association Best Wine List in 2018. What is your wine background and how did that plus your marketing experience come together to curate an award winning wine list sourced largely from the Great Southern?
My wine background is pretty simple – I love a good drop! I took some courses run by the WA Wine Industry Association whilst I was at university. They sparked my initial interest. I spent a lot of uni holidays surfing and camping in and around Margaret River and that proximity to world class wines helped fuel this interest. The rest of my education was good old “trial and error”, more commonly known as “take a bottle to your mate’s BBQ”!
When it came to developing the wine list, it would have been easy to tread a well worn path here in WA: populate the wine list with easy to sell (and very good!) wine from the more well-known WA regions of Margaret River, Geographe and the Swan Valley. But the Mill’s location in the Great Southern Wine Region demanded that we give fair representation to the wine that is produced there. Once we started researching and talking to producers it quickly become apparent that there is a plethora of amazing wine produced in the region by a bunch of passionate and talented people. We said to ourselves “let’s do this” and give the Cordial Bar a real point of difference.
Our hotel is situated on the northern end of The Great Southern, a vast and varied agricultural region of Western Australia. It has an amazing array of primary producers, from traditional broadacre cropping, wool, beef and dairy, through smaller producers of marron, duck, superfood crops such as quinoa and of course wine, brewing and distilling.
What made you prefer Great Southern wines over more safe choices?
We knew very early on that the Mill was going to be a destination accommodation venue. That gave us confidence that our decision to be a little more adventurous with the wine list was less risky than it otherwise may have been. Our mantra of “only Great Southern” created a talking point and another story to tell.
It also helped that the wines produced here are of such high quality and so varied. Many people don’t realise but The Great Southern Wine Region is actually the largest GI in Australia. This vast region contains multiple microclimates, soil types and rainfall variations, allowing viticulturalists to plant a wide variety of grapes and produce wines that really reflect their individual sites and terroir.
When creating any wine or drinks list, what do you look for from producers?
We love having a direct dialogue with the winemakers and grape growers. We want to understand their business intimately, what makes them tick, what makes them different to the guys down the street. I’m not saying you can’t get a good understanding of this from a distributor or representative. It’s just different, a more immersive experience.
We also want them to understand our business. For example we choose to state vintages on our menu. So having a distributor “rolling a vintage” on us without prior knowledge or us tasting the product doesn’t work for us.
Having a keen eye on marketing trends, what challenges did you or do you see for the producers you worked with to promote their brand and showcase the story they have to tell?
Wine is very crowded, very competitive. For those selling through off-license premises, they get maybe a few seconds of someone’s attention to tell their story through nothing more than their front label. Those selling direct-to-consumer get the opportunity to have a richer dialogue, but that dialogue is usually buried in someone’s social media feed.
And I see producers trying to support multiple brands within this crowded marketplace, making the process even more difficult. My advice would be to be razor sharp and super focussed on one or two key messages and trim your portfolio to fewer brands.
Of that award winning wine list, which are the three wines that you had to have on it no matter what and why?
Riesling is a personal favourite of mine, and we are lucky to sell James Halliday’s 2018 Wine of the Year – Dukes Magpie Hill Riesling. Duke was very gracious in slipping us a couple of cartons when the whole world was clamouring for the final few bottles of this amazing drop.
There’s a back vintage chardonnay from a small family producer Rickety Gate. Its old school. Rich, golden honeyed colour, lots of oaky buttery notes.
And for a winter’s night in front of the fire I find it difficult to go past a glass or two of 2014 Trevelen Farm 506 Shiraz. It’s my ‘go to’ red.
Do you have any favourite anecdotes from the experience?
Pharoh the Cat is one that stands out. During the renovations of the Mill we found a mummified cat in a wall cavity. It had been in the wall for around 130 years and was perfectly preserved. We heard a story that it was good luck to bury a cat in a wall during building – I’m not sure how much truth is in that! Anyway, we gave it to a taxidermist to mount and he now sits behind that bar and is the bar’s mascot. Lots of people get their selfie with Pharoh, he’s a real celebrity.