A few weeks before leaving I told an Aussie winemaker that we’d be visiting Innocent Bystander, “lucky you, that’s the best cellar door in the country”. And he was right. Cellar Door is the Aussie name for a retail outlet at a winery. Few of these are actually in cellars but you get the idea of buying wine at source. Innocent Bystander takes the experience to a level that few wineries would dare attempt, or want to. How many things can you do really well? Adding a huge all-day bistro with wood-fired pizza, artisan bakery, cheese room to the challenges of winemaking is testing your limits. Doing it all in open-concept is bordering on madness. Owner, Phil Sexton doesn’t seem to think so.
Phil located in-town (Healesville) so as to bring the experience of winemaking into the culture of the community rather than remaining isolated in the vineyard. The community is engaged in the physical experience and excitement of a working winery. Much as you find in the towns of Burgundy. The building is one huge glass block allowing full view of the winemaking and cooking activities. (Something you’d never find in Burgundy).
I like how the cellar staff post notices of completed tasks, and beers needed. The exterior of the building is clad in recycled timber slats providing filtered light and referencing the wood in wine barrels. As with all interesting spaces it cannot be expressed in words or photos – except perhaps to liken it to a bustling small airport with a Terroni-style café – a buzz of people and imagery. High quality but not serious. Gastronomy meets frivolity. A combination that only a few people can create. Did I mention a wine list of the top 200 wines in the world, excellent beers, coffee beans roasted on site, intelligent staff? After oysters, rabbit terrine, the best ham & cheese ever, some salad, a few whites and rosé – and lots of ooing and aahing it was time to return to reality. But not before entertaining ideas of moving to Healesville and hanging out at IB for morning espresso, lunch and happy hour.
Speaking of happy, guess what sits at the other end of the winery’s parking lot? Mr Sexton’s brewery – White Rabbit. Which is every bit as seductive, entertaining and transparent as the winery. You can actually chat with the guy tasting in the quality control lab. More frivolity. Love those Aussie cellars doors.