READ ABOUT HEY TOMORROW IN THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW!
Meet the wine sellers thinking inside the box
The partners behind new brand Hey Tomorrow are out to prove good wine in environmentally friendly casks is the way of the future.
About five years ago, Sacha Imrie was working in an upmarket bottle shop and studying for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust diploma when she developed a surprising interest in cask wines.
“I was given a WSET brief to look at all the different packaging options for wine,” says Imrie. “And what could have been a very boring essay turned out to not be very boring at all, because I became really interested in the environmental benefits of bag-in-box wines.”
She learnt that packaging wine in cask leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than putting the same wine in glass bottles. And she realised that moving more wine into cask was one way her industry could perhaps contribute to slowing the climate crisis.
“Most of the things I read on this topic, like the wine climate atlas, are winemakers asking, ‘How are we going to deal with climate change in the future? Where are we going to plant? Where are we going to get our water from?’ There’s not much about how we can reduce emissions to try to stop it happening.”
But she had trouble rustling up the same excitement she felt about bag-in-box among her colleagues or customers – partly because of prejudice based on memories of dodgy goon-bags, or the fact most cask wines just didn’t taste very good.
“And when the quality isn’t there, it becomes a barrier for people to try cask,” says Imrie. “Even though the problem isn’t with the bag-in-box itself.”
Fast-forward to mid-pandemic last year.
Imrie and her partner Shane Barrett – both now working with Tigerbird International, the group behind Melbourne restaurants including Bomba and Daughter in Law, and wine merchant Samuel Pepys – were locked down at home, and Imrie was expecting a baby.
After having to tip yet another bottle of nearly full wine down the sink because she was drinking only a half glass now and then, the couple realised that if they were able to get the same wine in cask, it wouldn’t go to waste: the whole point of bag-in-box technology is that, because the liquid inside is not exposed to air after the first pour, the wine stays drinkable for weeks on end.
“We realised casks could be a powerful tool to help people drink less,” says Barrett. “It’s not an obvious association. But people are drinking less these days – and at the same time they want to drink higher quality.”
This insight, fuelled by an increasing sense of environmental dread (itself fuelled by the pandemic), motivated the couple to start working on their own range of cask wines.
Importantly, they knew the packaging had to be carefully designed: as Imrie points out, one of the reasons upmarket cask wine hasn’t taken off is that people just don’t want to turn up to a friend’s house with a big ugly box, no matter what’s inside it.
“Also, look at the semiotics of what a wine bottle represents,” she says. “What it signifies is really important: looking at it, straight away people know what to expect of the wine inside. That’s why we have used different colours on our boxes: so people know what style of wine each one is.”
Crucially, says Barrett, the contents of these new casks needed to be really good wine, sourced from really good winemakers.
“I worked at Chin Chin when it opened,” he says. “We had Tom Carson from Yabby Lake winery do wine on tap for us. I saw how you could change perceptions by using a well-known brand to create customer confidence. That’s the core of our cask idea: we’re trying to use the brand or names of the wineries to instil confidence in the consumer.”
The other partners in Tigerbird – Kelly O’Loghlen, Andrew Fisk and Jesse Gerner – came on board, and the group has just launched a new two-litre cask brand, Hey Tomorrow, initially featuring five wines from leading winemakers around Victoria, with wines from other states to come later.
Turns out that cask wine production runs in the family for Jesse Gerner.
“My mum, Jan, and my aunty Heather worked at Coolabah in McLaren Flat in 1973 when the first casks were filled,” says Gerner. “I didn’t even know that until this project was well under way. Which was a bit of fun.
There’s a very serious side to Hey Tomorrow, too.
“I’ve got three kids,” says Gerner. “And what’s happening with the climate is a big question with them, especially the older ones. What is going on? What are we doing about it? So, this is, for me, something we feel like we can do, to raise awareness in the industry.”
One of the ways Hey Tomorrow is addressing the issue is by donating 50 per cent of its profits to the Carbon Farming Foundation’s DIY carbon farming programs, which are aiming to initiate carbon drawdown projects on a million hectares by 2030.
The partners in the business also see what they’re doing as setting an example for others. “I hope that more winemakers take up this style of packaging,” says Shane Barrett. “It’s better for the consumer, it’s better for the environment. Why wouldn’t they do it?”
To help spread the word about the benefits of cask, Hey Tomorrow has plans to offer the use of its cask-filling machine to winemakers who might want to bag small batches of their own wine. They will also start selling five-litre bags to restaurants, using custom-built reusable frames the bags can slide into.
“We genuinely feel strongly that, for our generation and the people who come after us, our effect on the climate is a huge problem,” says Barrett. “This is a way of perhaps having a small hand in making it better: if, in 10 years’ time, all the wine that’s consumed within six months of being released is packaged like this, that’ll be real change. And that will be really cool.”
A decade ago, a group of winemakers calling themselves Natural Selection Theory made waves in Australia’s hospitality scene by installing 30-litre glass demijohns of juicy natural wine in bars and restaurants for pouring on tap – and holding parties in the venues when they did so to make sure everyone knew what they were doing.
One of the people behind this initiative was the late Sam Hughes, a vinous visionary and self-styled “jongleur” with a natural gift for communication. Sam knew that to make sustainability appealing (pouring wine from a 30-litre, refillable demijohn is a good way to cut down on costly – and environmentally unfriendly – packaging), you had to wrap it up in layers of fun and make sure the wine was good.
And you had to have a slogan: Sam called the wine “Nouveau Nouveau – Tomorrow’s wine today!”
I think Sam would have approved of Hey Tomorrow – not just because of the name, but also because the casks look good, the story behind them is good and, most importantly, what’s inside tastes really good.
Here’s my pick of the top three wines on offer; I also tasted some lovely pre-release samples of wines due to go on sale later in the year, including a crunchy riesling made by Ben Haines in Nagambie (Hey Tomorrow is hoping to put this into cask without added sulphites), a mineral-rich gruner veltliner from Lowboi in WA’s Great Southern and a super-juicy Adelaide Hills light red from the Koerner brothers.
2020 Hey Tomorrow & Lethbridge Nouveau White [Strathbogie Ranges]
This blend of fiano and sauvignon blanc grown in the cool, high country in central Victoria was made by Ray Nadeson at the leading Geelong winery Lethbridge. It’s a lovely, complex, textural white (thanks to the fiano, I suspect), with good freshness and cut (thanks to the savvy). I can picture a box of this sitting happily in the fridge ready to be paired with a range of dishes through the week, from healthy salads to indulgent buttery crustacea. $50
2020 Hey Tomorrow & Phillip Lobley Nouveau Red [Yea Valley]
This field blend red from Phillip Lobley Wines in the Yea Valley, north of the Yarra, delivers all the juicy freshness and red berries you would expect in a “nouveau” wine, but finishes with just enough mouth-watering tannic snap and grip to make it pair well with something Italian – sausage pizza, perhaps, or a mushroom risotto.$55
2019 Hey Tomorrow & Syrahmi Syrah [Heathcote]
Winemaker Adam Foster belongs to a generation of winemakers driving Heathcote in new and exciting directions. His Syrahmi syrahs have a loyal following, so it’s great to see this wine in the Hey Tomorrow line-up. It’s a bloody delicious red wine, with intense spicy purple fruit flavours and an undertow of deeply savoury, almost gamey darkness. It would be great to sip while you’re preparing a slow braise of – vegetarians avert your gaze – something deeply meaty (hare, if you can get it), and then while you’re eating it – and when you’re eating it again the next day (because slow meaty braises always taste better reheated). $60
NEED TO KNOW
Hey Tomorrow’s range of wines will be showcased at Maximum Chips, a signature event at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Winter Program celebrating the potato in all its golden deep-fried glory, scheduled to run on Friday, August 6.