Marcus Radny, the Founder of Gonzo Vino and former Head Sommelier of Vue De Monde, joins us for an exclusive Q&A.
Marcus shares his ingenious approach to carving a niche in a market dominated by tradition and is the brains behind the playfully named ‘cardboardeaux’ wines, Boomer Juice and Splishy Splashy.
His commitment to sustainability, affordability and a dash of irreverence sets him apart in the ‘Alternatively Packaged Wine’ category. Get ready to dive into his creative process, industry insights and exploration of his relentless pursuit of making cask cool again.
‘Cardbordeaux’ is an ingenious term – talk me through the opportunity that you see in premium cask wine.
Although casks are ubiquitous in the Aussie wine market, there have been very few attempts to explore or take on the premium space within this packaging category. From a commercial point of view, this is exciting, as there’s a real chance to carve out your niche and be one of the first to market, and also establish the ground rules for what makes great wine in cask.
There were a few reasons to take the winery 100% cask: firstly is the uniqueness. There are so many wines to choose from on the market now, and they are all very good, with very similar stories: organic fruit, “minimal intervention” wine making, low preservative etc… but to set us apart, I decided to tackle packaging. The unintentional upside to this was the massive reduction in cost to package the wines. We have been able to cut the packaging costs down by about 80%. This means more wine for less money for the final consumer. The same wines in bottles would be significantly more expensive, solely due to the cost of glass, labels and closures.
The other added benefit is the insane reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by not supporting an energy hungry glass industry, and not shipping heavy bottles around the world. Our carbon footprint has dropped by 94% across four KPI’s. These benefits give us great USP’s for marketing the wines, over and above those that are using traditional packaging.
What’s your elevator pitch for Gonzo Vino – what makes you different?
Gonzo Vino is leading the charge in the “Alternatively Packaged Wine” category. Our wines are made from small, hand-farmed blocks in South Australia, and focus primarily on “climate adaptive” varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano, Grenache, Tinta Barocca, alongside more traditional grapes like Riesling and Cabernet.
We utilise 3-litre bag-in-box packaging to bring the wines to market, which due to their unique design mean that the wines keep fresh for 6-8 weeks after the first glass is poured, giving consumers more time to sample, or be able to bring them camping, to the park or just have a glass every so often without fear of waste.
We’re also able to cut down on the packaging cost by a country mile, meaning consumers are getting much higher quality wine, for less.
What fundamentally inspires you to do what you do and how do you ensure you stay connected to that inspiration?
I’m a sucker for a challenge. I don’t think anything I’ve done in my life has been the easy way, through my choice or otherwise. I like the idea of seeing something being created from a purely conceptual pipedream, to something tangible and exciting.
The contrasting faces that people pull when they see the casks to when they actually taste the wines is inspiration enough. But overall, having a business that I don’t take too seriously, can have a lot of fun with on my own terms and get creative with is what gets me out of bed with a grin every single day.
Your background as the former head sommelier of Vue De Monde would have exposed you to observe a great deal. What are some significant changes that have taken place in the wine industry during your career – and what do you see along the trajectory to come?
We’re going back in time a bit here, but yeah, there’s been a fairly monumental shift from all areas. Something that has continued though, is the general hospitality industry’s thirst for knowledge. From a consumer perspective, there’s definitely been a shift away from flexing on big-name wines in fancy dining rooms, to the real flex of being seen to be supporting small, independent and up-and-coming producers, particularly from their home state.
The flow on effect of this from a wine buyer’s point of view, means that they need to put their thinking caps on, pick up the phone and call these small producers and establish relationships with them. It’s built a more diverse, experimental and supportive wine community for the better, and it’s only just emerging.
The future of a dynamic wine industry both in the winery/vineyard and on/off premise is symbiotic – the more retailers, sommeliers and buyers that support and encourage producers to make interesting wines, the more confidence we have to keep pushing the boat out stylistically.
What are you learning about or exploring at the moment – where are those pockets of information that you find intriguing and why are you choosing to explore that/those things?
The elephant in the room with our casks is the plastic bladder in the box. As we tout the sustainable USP’s of the brand, this is the one point that people keep bringing up. Although the bladders are not recyclable at this time, I have been in conversations with a company in Victoria who is developing technology that can process thin plastic films. I’ve become rather obsessed with this, and am determined to be the first recyclable plastic bladder in Australia and bring our sustainable practices full circle.
Aside from this, I’ve been teaching myself how to distill, with the aim to bring a brand new, unique product to market. Think something along the lines of a carbonated sherry cobbler in a can.
Can you talk me through your process of ideating and then entertaining new product ideas?
I don’t take things too seriously. That’s important. I find if I ruminate on the details of something too long, it kills the magic of it. Ideas for new products come to me firstly from a pragmatic angle: how can I use ‘this’ instead of this, or, why hasn’t someone done this before?
From there, I float the idea to my partner to get some unfiltered feedback, and then we come up with some names for the concept after a few glasses of wine. It’s usually something tongue in cheek, or a bit silly or self deprecating. That’s the vibe.
Then, if the idea seems to have merit, a market, and is able to be put together fairly easily, I just go down the checklist and tick off each stage to get it into production. I’ll keep Jim Grimawade, my designer, across what’s going on, and give him 100% free reign on the design. I just feed him the legal bits, and then before you know it, a new product is born.
From a flow-state, I’m always looking for material and inspiration. Kind of like comedians who are always looking for a punchline, I’m always looking for a drink I can make and make fun of.
Who do you look to for inspiration? Are there specific brands, projects, people or products that you draw inspiration from – and why?
Anthony Bourdain. Is that cliché? After reading Kitchen Confidential as a 17 year old dishwasher, I was enamored. The story of a ragtag group of people, finding their calling in the most insane workplace environments, and rising to the top.
His attitude of getting as far in life as he did by not caring what anyone thinks of him, is the cross I carry through work and life.
What resources do you absorb to stay ahead of the curve in hospitality and the Australian wine industry?
In the beginning of my career it was Marco’s “White Heat”. Those words lit a fire inside me which flamed my work ethic and my desire to be the best at whatever I tried my hand at, and was the basis for how I set my career in motion.
That book may be a little outdated now, so today I find the best inspiration, resources and communities online. Instagram is amazing for discovering new brands, new wines and new ways of doing things. You have legit, world-class experts in any field you have direct access to to ask questions or start an open forum on.
You’d be surprised at how many industry giants reply to inquisitive and thoughtful questions.
What needs more attention in the wine industry and how can that be done?
More wine buyers, retailers, sommeliers and restaurateurs need to spend more time in the wineries and vineyards of those that they admire. Ask questions, get a better understanding of the processes that make the wines unique and get in touch with the sense of place. This is valuable information you can’t get from a book.
Attention and spotlight on smaller, up and coming producers – the big, well established guys have had decades of limelight, and it’s time to refocus some of that energy.
Who would you like to read an article with and what would you like to ask them?
Aaron Trotman, NON Beverages. Legend. He’s had such a great foray into the difficult world of beverages with zero beverage experience.
Marcus will be glad to hear that Aaron’s podcast episode is coming soon.
This article has been edited for clarity and consistency.