In recent years, we've watched natural wines go from fringe sectors of the industry to something approaching mainstream acceptance - especially in the world of bars, clubs and restaurants, where it can be wildly popular.
One label that has really capitalised on this newfound prominence is Doom Juice, the Sydney-based cult natural wine business headed up by Sebastian Keys & Zachary Godbolt. Founded in late 2019, Doom Juice has become one of the fastest-growing wine brands on the Kaddy Marketplace and the coolest drink around - especially with the opening of a new inner city cellar door, that comes complete with artist residencies, a rotating roster of chefs/DJs and a massive party vibe.
Here, Andrew Graham exclusively talks to Sebastian about cracking the natural wine success challenge.
Kaddy Community: Thanks for chatting with us. I know you're right in the middle of opening the cellar door, so there's lots going on, I get it.
Sebastian: It's good. It's good.
So to kick off, what's the Doom Juice origin story? Where did it all begin?
So, for a bit of context, I worked in the industry for a while as a wholesaler to restaurants and the like, an issue that I found was that even though I was selling really good wines, nothing was really punching through. Nothing really was going well. So my friend Zach Goldbolt - who is the other half of Doom Juice and who is a designer as well - said, 'let's create a label for this festival I'm putting on called the festival of doom'. So I relabelled some wines and called it Doom Juice. And some people said 'oh this is really cool', we made some t-shirts and everyone liked them. So with all my connections in the industry, I was able to go to different winemakers and said, 'hey can you make us a natural rosé? Unfiltered, unfined and organic? We shopped it around to a few people, and the first one we made was from Marlborough, believe it or not? Then it's changed to Riverlands now, and we have actually got a couple of other projects going on in the Yarra & Hunter Valley. That's the origins, it all started in 2019 into 2020 just as COVID was hitting, and it's been getting bigger and bigger ever since.
That's the hardest time to be starting, too, right as COVID is kicking off and you're thinking, 'Yeah, this is going okay' and then COVID comes in.
Every business that started during COVID is bulletproof.
So, who's making the current releases in 2022? Who made whose wines for you?
So in 2022, we have Dylan McMahon in the Yarra, who's doing our skin contact white. It is a combination of Sauv Blanc, Viognier & a touch of Riesling that spent 100 days on skins. We also have good old Aaron Mercer from the Hunter Valley who is doing our pet nat, which will be really fun. And then we have Mark Thwaites, who is doing the Rosé, Rouge and white blend from the Riverland.
Ahhh, that makes sense when you start connecting up those names - some smart heads in the winery helping out.
So the whole point of doing this really is we just want to make fun, smashable, accessible natural wine. Getting particularly young people - so 18 to 35-year-olds - just into natural wines for the first time. We're making it fun and groovy. That's why we created the cellar door as well, so we can make take bands music, music, fashion, and great food... I mean, I'm getting ahead of myself now...
No, no, I was going to ask about that anyway. So the whole cellar door seems more like a bar than a cellar door. As a concept it makes a lot of sense because so many cellar doors can be really stuffy. This just makes it a lot more entertaining.
That's it, like, we were literally having a rave yesterday. A full-on rave. Jack Fitzhenry from Bastardo was just making some absolutely incredible food. It's actually funny, there have been raves at the venue beforehand, but this was a little bit more tame because everyone was just like having really nice beef tartare and sardines on brioche. It was a little bit more chill.
The next question is, how do you build the hype? The releases have been big hits. What's the secret sauce of all that hype?
It's working out there every day. How do you build hype? Good question. I spend a lot of time on the road, you know, speaking to venues, I mean, I'm there with venues, talking with them, you know, giving them tastings and shirts, and we do a lot of promotional work with events and bands. So all your rockstar idols are drinking Doom Juice. Well, we've got articles on Concrete Playground and Broadsheet that was really good. A lot of media work. We have a great photographer who helps out. And obviously, just making good wine - making a tasty product.
I know that you've de-emphasised variety and region on your bottles. Do you think that that region and variety gets a little bit too overplayed in wine?
I think it is really important. I mean, I think even at the cellar door, we are going to build a big picture of Australia and pinpoint the region where they are. It matters for some people, but most people just don't care. Once people start asking questions like that's what we're there. So we can actually be like, the Yarra Valley has a bit more minerality, and the Riverland is real juicy style. It really depends on the label.
It's one thing I noticed from the first point is that there is no mention of the region or anything like that. It's more about the drink than anything else.
Yeah, most of the wines are organically certified and I don't even put the certification on the label. It's important, but it's not the focus. I mean, there are other people who make incredible wines, and they're all about this vineyard, with this block here. But it's not the focus (at Doom Juice).
So that idea of smashability - what is the secret to getting it?
A decent price point! We take a very small margin on pouring, so that's important, so people are going to have access to the wine, and it's not so expensive. That's one element. Also, just juiciness, so nothing too complex. We don't really do too much the wine to keep it pretty straight, there's not much added to it. I think that brings up that juiciness. Also, if you make we're gonna make it fun. make it different to what's out there.
So from here, where are you going to take it? What's next?
Obviously, we've got the new cellar door, but what we're hoping to do is actually start exporting. We'd love to get the wines into LA, Texas, New York, London, and Singapore. That's where we want to show these incredible wines internationally. We also want to keep finding the best wines from around Australia, working with winemakers and just constantly refining and making the products tastier and better for the customers. Ideally, I want us to be a recognisable, go-to wine label for entry-level natural wine.
Nice, that's the elevator pitch!
Yeah, like with the whole craft beer revolution, where people will say, 'oh that's a good pale ale'. We want it to be like, 'oh, that is a good natural wine.'
Do you think having a quite simple range helps?
Yeah. So we have a core range, which is the screw top range. And then we have some of the wax tops wines which are more expensive. So it's like $29 retail (for the core range) and $36 for the other one. We want to make it simple as possible for people to understand and get around.
When you're going and talking into restaurants or anything like that, what's your USP?
Edgy, groovy, smashable tasty wines at great price points, which people know about.
There you go. That's perfect.
We could probably get it better. But then we also say here is a bunch of merch for the staff too. You know, Zach and I come from hospitality. We know what people like, and we know what they want. So (Doom Juice) has been designed as your first pour natural wine.