For most couples the mere suggestion of living and working together borders on the repulsive. That great combination that works at home doesn’t always translate to success in business.
But as with any rule, there is always an exception — just ask Angela Brown and Lynette Rae. Their decade of domestic bliss has easily transgressed that professional barrier and today they run one of Sydney’s unique wine experiences in The Rocks.
Both realised their passion for wine early in their relationship — Brown having grown up near the Barossa Valley and Rae just a stone’s throw from the vineyards in South Africa — and three years ago started to turn that passion into Wine Odyssey.
Far from being just another wine bar catering to Sydney’s locals and visitors, Wine Odyssey is more discriminating than most. It only stocks premium drops from boutique wineries around Australia. Before a bottle can find its way into the
Wine Odyssey offering it must meet exceptionally high criteria that cover everything from taste and cellaring ability to business independence.
“We’ve both always indulged in wines and both knew we loved fine wines,” Brown told Sydney Star Observer over a glass of flavoursome pinot noir.
“When I moved to Sydney to work in the financial markets at age 17 the first thing I did was join the wine society. I bought my first case of wine and lived on microwaved potatoes and a cab sav for the next month.
“So wine has always been a parallel love affair with whatever I’ve been doing.
“With Wine Odyssey, we had seen wine business ideas from around the world, seen a few things in New Zealand, came up with a few ideas of our own. So we decided to only do Australian wines and only premium quality — hidden gems.”
And by hidden gems the couple means unusual varietals not automatically recognised as being grown in Australia, usually by small producers with minimal means of getting their product to an audience.
“We have one wine maker who comes to see us once a year. He doesn’t have a cellar door or a website. He comes to visit and says ‘These are the wines I made last year, I can give you four cases of each — take it or leave it’, ” Rae said.
“In Australia 22 companies account for 90 percent of wine sales. Four companies account for 50 percent of wine sales. It is obscene. These smaller companies have an extraordinarily difficult task getting their wines out to the public — it is almost impossible.”
It is this passion for quality that has seen Wine Odyssey transform from a dream to a reality. As well as offering a cellar door in the city, there’s a restaurant run by a Michelin-trained chef, specialised tasting and education rooms and a private dining room.
“That’s the frustration and the joy of what we do. We are able to bring beautiful wines — varietals people don’t realise we do in Australia — to a wider audience,” Brown said.
“And most people would never think to pull them off the shelf and they don’t get a showing in any of the wine stores. And what we are about is showcasing them, giving people an opportunity to try these more obscure varietals and see what Australia can do.”
Rae believes Australians have been misled when it comes to choosing and drinking wine. While higher prices don’t always mean good quality, good quality tends to always mean a higher price. But that also comes with its advantages.
“Our motto is drink less, but drink quality,” she said. “When you’ve got quality you get the length of the wine, it lingers longer in your mouth, so you don’t have this constant need to refresh that taste, so you end up drinking less wine anyway.
“Drinking wine is about enjoyment, it is about the texture of wine, matching the food — it is all about education and that is our underlying philosophy.”
Their passion for a quality drop also spills over into wine education.
“When we started the business we made a conscious decision not to be snobbish about wines. People don’t want to feel like a fool if they ask, ‘What is a Zinfandel?’, ” Rae said.
“People need to feel comfortable asking questions about the wines or they won’t learn. And we’re not experts. We learn something new every day as well, but we then have better answers for people.”
So has their 10-year relationship changed since the pair became partners in business as well as life? And don’t forget to factor in the three children the couple are raising.
The short answer is yes — and for the better.
“If Lyn was not in this and was still doing her other job I don’t think she’d comprehend the pressures of the business,” Brown said.
Rae agreed: “We work 14 hours days — but we understand the frustrations because we are doing it together.
“It’s fantastic because we don’t ever stop talking. As soon as couples stop talking to each other that’s the end of the relationship — and after 10 years you’d want to be able to talk.
“Plus, it is so good to have a vision together — you know where each other is heading, you know what you want to do.
“It is very rare we are stuck for words about each other. But when you are starting up a new concept business, you have to be focused.
“We really do love what we do — we come to work to do what we enjoy and love. And we love each other too.”
info: Wine Odyssey is at 39-43 Argyle St, The Rocks. Ph: 1300136 498 or visit www.wineodyssey.com.au