There are times when Dan Sims looks around at the people gathered at his events and thinks: “This is just ridiculous.”
With 400 people expected at the upcoming Game of Rhones event this weekend in Adelaide, it is clear people see them as seriously good fun.
Sims began Bottle Shop Concepts with the idea of creating entertaining, meaningful events around his favourite beverage – wine.
Taking inspiration from pop culture, the events aim to make people feel less intimidated about wine.
The upcoming Game of Rhones started as a joke between friends that spread to seven cities and is now into its fourth year.
Inspired by the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin and the subsequent TV series Game of Thrones, Game of Rhones sees more than 100 wines of different varieties from the Rhone Valley battle it our for the People’s Choice Award, the Iron Rhone.
“It’s a wine tasting. People rock up, they get a beautiful big glass – there’s no excuse for bad wine glasses at an event – and all wine tasting is free,” explains Sims.
While the dress code is casual, attendees are encouraged to dress up if the mood strikes them.
“The producers turn up and, hilariously, they dress up, too.”
More than 40 producers from Australia and New Zealand, including 21 from South Australia, will be represented, including Shaw + Smith, Olivers Taranga and Henschke.
Sommeliers at the event are called “spirit guides” and attendees are invited to do a blindfolded tasting in the “Torture Chamber”.
Duncan Welgemoed from Africola will be taking care of food at this year’s event, where dishes will be cooked over coal. There will also be cheese on offer, and Young Henrys will provide beer.
Sims says Iron Clad Academy of the Sword Inc, a local medieval re-enactment group, will be staging a battle.
“They just rocked up unannounced at our first Adelaide event on horseback,” he says.
“This year they’ll be doing an actual fighting demonstration. It’s just a little bit of theatre and fun.”
Since 2013, Sims says Bottle Shop Concepts has doubled the number of events it runs every year.
“We’re a very small team. I call them my merry band of misfits.
“We’ve all got diverse backgrounds and I think it’s important to have people from outside of the wine industry in our team.”
Sims has worked in and around wine for the past 20 years. He did wine training in restaurants around the world and took out The Age Good Food Guide 2008 Sommelier of the Year in its inaugural year.
He believes traditional wine events have become stale and boring.
“The wine industry has done an incredible job of isolating its audience: ‘We will be the teacher, you will learn’,” he says.
“People want to learn about wine the same way they consume it – socially.”
Fun first, facts second, has become the philosophy at Bottle Shop Concepts, which he says is why events like Game of Rhones and Pinot Palooza are successful.
“If you’re into music you don’t go sit in on a masterclass. You listen to bands; you tell your friends about them, you buy tickets to gigs and go to festivals.
“People connect to people; they don’t connect to stainless-steel tanks or fermentation.
“I don’t think about product or place, I think about story. We want people to have fun and connect.”
Around 55 per cent of the attendees at Bottle Shop Concepts events are under 35, says Sims.
“Young people are interested in wine; they’re just not interested in the way it’s sold.
“We like to think of ours as wine and food events. Never before have people been more interested in what they imbibe.”
Game of Rhones is being held as part of Tasting Australia on Sunday, May 1, at Published ArtHouse, 11 Cannon Street, Adelaide. Tickets start from $60 per person.
Other upcoming Bottle Shop Concept events in Adelaide include Wine Day Out, a day of TEDx-style short talks and panel discussions on the wine industry taking place on May 3, as well as Pinot Palooza, a celebration of Pinot Noir on August 8.
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