If you visit our website and click on The 'Other' Room page (our retail wine outlet), you'll see the following:
Enter The 'Other' Room from the alley through the roughly hewn timber door, or through the steel and glass door from Alchemy, and be transported. A sensory experience, let the cool air of the cellar wash over you as you take in the smell of wood, cork and dust. A specialist wine shop, The "Other" Room brings you some of South Africa's lesser known and highly regarded estate wines, small independent wine makers and unusual varietals. Our wine is hand selected by Theo, our resident wino, after tasting only. We're inspired by rarity, the unusual, special people and their craft, and more often than not, value.
That, in a nutshell, describes our approach when it comes to selecting wines. But what does that really mean, and why should you visit?
I used to get rather frustrated when I went looking for a bottle (OK, usually bottles) of wine, only to find that most retailers and restaurants, with some exceptions, all stock the same stuff. There's a place and reason for that obviously - large retailers benefit from bulk purchasing and national distribution. To achieve that, they need consistent supply and enough stock to fill all their stores. We have large wine producers in South Africa who produce really good wine in large quantities, have national representatives, and have built well-known, trusted brands. That's good for wine consumers and for promoting the drinking of wine, but special finds and new discoveries are generally hard to come by.
I've also learnt that wine preferences vary significantly from province to province. At the risk of generalisation, in KZN we tend to go for the "safe" varietals of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. More about this later...
Over the years I've met independent wine makers and small producers who are passionate about their craft, are pushing boundaries, creating truly unique and amazing wines, but have to travel the country to promote their wares and host countless tastings to sell the 2000 bottles they produced.
So when we decided to add The 'Other' Room to Alchemy and obtain an off-consumption liquor license, our motivation was clear: we need to provide the wine lovers in our corner of the world with a place where they can be introduced to extraordinary South African wines often made in small quantities, to the pioneers who are taking risks and blazing new trails, and where they are encouraged to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zone and try something new.
I generally do not stock wine that I have not tasted. Tough job, I know... But this is important - if we want to challenge the wine choices of our customers and promote brands or varietals they have never tried before, we have to be confident that the product measures up. Tastes differ and we all have our preferences, but we know that our wine is good.
At the same time though, craft production methods and small production quantities often lead to high costs, and therefore expensive wines. So we always strive to balance our offering with good value finds - including wines that are not necessarily cheap at first glance, but offer tremendous value for the quality in the bottle. And in an effort to make these wines even more accessible, we do not charge typical "restaurant" prices for the wines. The price when consuming the wine at Alchemy is the same retail price when buying a bottle of wine from The 'Other' Room.
Back to the topic of safe choices: if we could sell one bottle of Grenache or Cinsault or Tinta Barocca for every three bottles of Merlot, I believe it would cause a slight disruption in the supply of those varietals! It is really fascinating to listen to commentary when customers are selecting wines. Most often, Merlot is described as a "safe bet", "smooth" or "easy drinking". When the opportunity arises, I ask customers to taste the Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz from our Windmeul house wine offering at Alchemy, and often, they will select the Shiraz or Pinotage, despite initially claiming not to like these varietals. There are exceptions and you can find great Merlot here, but it is interesting that the Merlots produced in South Africa are generally considered mediocre at best in international circles.
Last year we ran out of our very popular Windmeul Sauvignon Blanc for a week or so. We encouraged customers to try the Chenin Blanc from the same winemaker, and in the process "converted" many, who continue to order the Chenin over the Sauvignon.
So when you visit The 'Other' Room, please chat to us about the wines, look around and once in a while, take a risk and try something new!
I usually end my posts with a comment about the wine I'm drinking at the time. I was in Johannesburg earlier this week for meetings, and was sipping on a KWV Chenin Blanc (courtesy of our national carrier) when I started writing this, but right now I'm actually drinking, for the first time, Blackstrap Raw Rum made by my partner Alex at Blackstrap Craft Distillery. Using an innovative distillation process borrowed from his gin making skills, this is certainly a unique rum, and a welcome new "discovery" in my pursuit of other alcoholic beverages!