There are a lot of similarities between music and wine. They both rely on layers of elements working harmoniously to create the whole, location and producer are big factors, and both are better in the company of good friends. Nobody knows this better than our head sommelier Dom, who spent his time before Attica as a professional drummer touring with everybody from jazz musicians to hip-hop artists.
Is it true that Attica was your first-ever restaurant job?
I started in June 2016, having never worked in a restaurant before. My trial shift might have been the first time I’d ever been in a restaurant not as a patron [laughs].
I grew up in Sydney playing the drums and, after high school, studied jazz at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. After finishing my course, I spent a few years as a professional musician, playing shows and touring with a bunch of amazing people.
What kind of shows were you playing?
I was doing whatever I could and whatever people wanted. I was playing straight-up jazz gigs with slightly older musicians as well as playing contemporary pop music too. The last two major tours I did, I wasn’t in the band but was doing section things, were for Sampa The Great and Lime Cordiale. And then, you know, I’d go back to doing esoteric free jazz gigs – it was really varied.
When does wine come into all of this?
Around 2015, Sydney started getting pretty quiet for live music because of the lockdown laws, so I came to Melbourne.
I’d just spent the summer working at an incredible little indie wine shop in Paddington called Five Way Cellars, where I’d started feeding this desire to want to learn more about wine. I enjoyed the way people talk about wine and the styles and the producers, it reminded me a lot of how people talk about music.
I’d studied some wine courses and realised that you could be a little more hands-on and get closer to the source if you were working with wine in a restaurant setting. So, I arrived in Melbourne and applied to some places, and – right place, right time – someone had just left Attica so I got the opportunity to pour some wine.
There was a lot of internal learning and training that happened before that point, and I learnt so much just by observing the amazingly skilled peers I had. From there, I just worked my way up over the years. There’s so much opportunity at a place like this. If you make the most of that, the world sort of opens up to you.
What’s the most memorable bottle of wine you’ve ever tasted?
There are so many. One that comes to mind is this incredible, almost otherworldly wine from the Montalcino region in Tuscany called Stella di Campalto. Stella took over her family’s winery a couple of decades ago and refined the processes to make beautiful, really transparent, slightly lighter and more fragrant wines. They look, smell and taste like nothing else.
Can you share a wine closer to home that’s got your attention at the moment?
I have two that are quite connected. The first is Mac Forbes from the Yarra Valley, who makes a ton of different wines. He grew up in the Yarra Valley, and his whole thing is trying to make wine that is reflective of that and as transparent as possible. They do an insane amount of work in the farming of their fruit to make sure it’s the best quality possible, and they harvest the grapes early to make these wines, which are very fresh and very, very lean. They taste like nothing else.
Secondly, there’s a guy called Dylan Grigg who used to work as a viticulturist for Mac and overseas at a bunch of interesting places. He’s taken on this amazing, super-old vineyard in the Barossa Valley where he’s only doing grenache. He just released his first wines under the label Vinya Vella and they’re super, super delicious.
Your work life is about wine, is your personal life too? What do you like to do outside of the restaurant?
My partner Claire is an ex-Attica chef who’s now a ceramicist. We spend weekends getting around with our six-year-old Great Dane bull mastiff cross named Bootsy. There’s a lot of time spent going out to visit people in wine. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Melbourne – you’ve got different regions 40 minutes away in every single direction. We’re spoilt for choice, really.
Let Dom take care of the wine next time you visit