A self-confessed wine nerd, Lyndon Kubis heads up Toorak Cellars, Milton Wine Shop and The Alps alongside his equally passionate partners. A celebration of craft, each of the stores share a common thread: a beautifully designed space that showcases boutique bottles. Here, he talks wine, mentors and making time for yourself.
Photography by Daniel Gurton.
How have you gotten to where you are now?
Like most people in this industry I fell into it; I had been working at Toorak Cellars for five years before taking it over in 2010. Two years later, I opened up Milton Wine Shop with my good friend and long-time mentor Mark Nelson, along with our other two partners Renton Carlysle-Taylor and Mark Hopkinson. Then last year we opened The Alps in Prahran. Spending every day surrounded by incredibly passionate people that both produce and sell these wines continuously cements the idea that I will be around wine for the rest of my life in some way. Grapes are amazing!
What was the idea behind The Alps?
The name came from the idea that most of the significant wine regions in Europe form a ring around The Alps – think Piedmont, Jura, Burgundy and Savoie. So in a sense the mountains are really the centre of it all. That and the fact I have a bit of a thing with snowboarding. The idea, like with our other bars, was to create an environment where it’s like a second home to our customers. We never wanted it to be slick or fancy, rather a place you feel comfortable putting your feet up.
What inspired the interior?
Cyprus Pine, the wood we have used throughout was never in doubt. To me, it’s the absolute most beautiful, warming and durable wood that just seems to get better with age. Warmth, homeliness and comfort are always the main inspiration when it comes to our interiors.
Do you think there's becoming more of a focus on boutique goods?
Absolutely! Especially with food and wine. We want agricultural products that taste like where they came from, and with the wines we serve this is crucial. We believe that first and foremost the wine must reflect the soil and sky from where it was grown, and this is a very hard thing to do in a highly commercial volume. It must be thoroughly considered and usually requires a farmer with dirt under his fingernails doing things by hand. I think there's a large desire for a return to quality craft in every aspect of our lives.
My typical work day routine looks like:
The mornings and afternoons are for meeting and tastings with winemakers and importers, as well as running between the stores sorting out all the little things that come up in any given day. Most nights see me on the floor at The Alps pouring wine.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I get to spend my day surrounded by people who are dedicated to creating wines that taste like where they are from, to literally translate dirt into glass. The passion of the vignerons and importers we work with is both inspiring and humbling. At night I get to look after people. Being able to show true hospitality and hopefully elevate someone's day, even slightly, is an awesome feeling.
The biggest challenge is:
Splitting time. As the stores grow, learning to let go of the personal relationships that I have had with each of my customers has been hard. I'm lucky that our staff are so incredible. Their constant support and passion has made it possible for us step away and to grow our businesses.
How do you maintain a work life balance?
It's important to make appointments with yourself. And just like any other appointment, don't be late.
Do you have any advice you wish to impart for someone starting in your industry?
Surround yourself with people who know a lot more than you and are willing to share. Then taste, talk, visit, read and repeat.
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