A love affair with wine that started in the Hunter Valley has come full circle. More than 40 years ago, Leigh Dryden was introduced to Hunter Semillon and fell in love with the varietal and its uniquely distinctive characteristics that make it one of the greatest white wines in the world.
“It was like a light-bulb moment; I wanted to know more about quality wines,” Leigh said.
Growing up in a north-east Victoria vineyard region, Leigh believes wine was always in his DNA, but it was not until his early 20's that it fully kicked in, and quality wine became a hobby that grew into a passion and then a profession.
With his corporate marketing career, Leigh lived in New York, Singapore and Zurich, and it was during his time in Switzerland that his interest in French and German wines grew – especially those wines from family-owned small producers using sustainable, bio-dynamic and organic methods.
He found each vineyard had an incredible story due to the family’s multi-generational connection and respect for the land and terroir (micro-climate) of the vineyard and the hands-on approach to winemaking. However, he discovered many of the vineyards were relatively unknown, as their passion was wine, not marketing.
“I met Yann Vadin from Champagne Vadin-Plateau, a family-owned, 100 per cent biodynamic enterprise in Marne Valley near Epernay which had been making wines since 1785. Yann is a ninth generation winemaker and one of the region’s most innovative small producers. Yann makes cracking wines, but no-one had heard about them.”
In 2009, Leigh established Decante This, as a concierge and sommelier service, mainly for private clients who wanted quality wines at reasonable prices. It has grown to also supply selected restaurants such as Aria Restaurant in Sydney, wine merchants and liquor stores across Australia, which become the bulk of the business.
In the past two years, Decante This has refined its focus to specialise in the supply of handcrafted French wines, in particular from the regions of Burgundy and Champagne – the world’s oldest wine regions.
“Australians love to travel, and many go to France. If they are wine lovers, they will usually visit Burgundy and Champagne, where they are exposed to the region’s handcrafted wines. On their return home, they discover that they can’t find, access or afford them. That’s where I come in,” says Leigh.
Decante This has created a broad portfolio of wines to help fill this gap. As a business, it has access to hundreds of wines due to Leigh’s personal relationships with wine families throughout Burgundy and Champagne. Leigh has also formed a business partnership with one of Burgundy's best organic winemakers Domaines Albert Bichot as well as Stephane Pommier and Brune Reillantare, who are also from Burgundy winemaking families.
“I spend three months of the year in France, being part of the process from the vineyard to winemaking. Working side by side with the families, from harvesting to processing, I know the wines, the makers and the stories. “
“We know our wines are good and clean. Our aim is to expose people to a range of exceptional wines, and wines they have never seen or experienced before.”
Last year, Leigh started building relationships in the Hunter Valley with restaurants and liquor stores. To date, he has 30 new customers that include Muse Restaurant, Bushranger Bar and Brasserie, Restaurant Mason, Queens Wharf Hotel, Lucky Hotel and Tighes Hill Cellars.
“I love Newcastle; it is a burgeoning and fast developing city. I found it is a place where people are open and friendly. They say, ‘what can I do to help?’ then we have a chat.”
Usually, Leigh will look at their wine offering and suggest ways to help attract new clientele.
“A good wine list is differentiated. We don’t want to dominate it – we aim to lift the offering to the clientele. Our wines are different, not better than other wines. There is room for all of us in the market.”
In August 2018, Leigh and the business moved to Newcastle, as did Stephane (who is the head sommelier at Muse Restaurant) while Brune is waiting for her visa to move to Newcastle.
“I have been drawn to this hidden gem, a very special little place with its great lifestyle, diversity, pace, vibe and potential. I love it here – this is now home!”
He has already built trusted relationships and partnered with customers to put on events such as tastings, dinners and master classes.
The next event is Bastille Day Long Lunch to celebrate the French national day in the much-loved traditional style but with a Novocastrian twist.
A long lunch is considered a very important ritual in France – a social time spent with family, friends or colleagues to share food and wine as well as a way of establishing a connection with them.
For this event, Decante This has joined forces with Restaurant Mason owner and head chef Chris Thornton and Longworth House, to create a unique culinary and gastronomic experience.
“For this degustation lunch, Chris has requested six wines be selected, and he will pair six traditional French-inspired dishes with them. It is usually done the other way around, though I know it will be something really special as he a very talented chef,” said Leigh.
Guests will be greeted by the old-world charm of Longworth House’s bar with aperitif and canapes before being seated at long communal tables for lunch.
Leigh promises there will be at least a wine from Domaines Albert Bichot and Champagne Vadin-Plateau.
Before each course, there be a talk by Leigh and Chris about the wine and its origins, followed by the culinary expertise and thinking behind the dish and its match to the selected wine.
“A degustation is always so much fun, and this Bastille Day Long Lunch will be a sensational mix of the best from France and Australia - something very different and special.”
It will be a formal but informal affair for up to 100 people, and Leigh believes this is the first time Newcastle has hosted a long lunch of this scale. The plan is for it to be an annual event.
There are also plans in the pipeline for a few more events such as dinners and deep-dive master classes; information will be available at the Bastille Day Long Lunch. On the day, guests will also be able to purchase the wine being showcased.
WHAT Bastille Day Long Lunch
WHEN Sunday, July 14, 2019, from 12.30pm
WHERE Longworth House, 129 Scott Street, Newcastle
TICKETS & MORE INFO www.ticketbooth.com.au or email email@example.com