If you stand on the far side of the Chalk Hill Winery in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, you can see the hills of the Mount Lofty Ranges. If you then hold one of the bottles from Never Never Distilling’s award-winning Gin range in your hand and look down at the label, you’ll see the same mountain range outlined.
“We have got McLaren Vale on our bottle,” says Sean Baxter from Never Never Distilling. “That is the image on the label and we’re not even there yet. If there is one way to make sure your dreams are going to come true, make sure you bloody well make it a part of your brand.”
Baxter is standing on the site of Never Never’s new distillery. A joint venture between Never Never and Chalk Hill Winery, the cellar door they are building is set to be a modern, galvanized iron and glass edifice to the best in South Australian drinking, with the winery down one side and the distillery down the other.
When we get to the site, the builders have just broken ground for the footings, with the frame set to be raised in the new few days. But since their start in 2017, the three boys who started Never Never, George Georgiadis, Sean Baxter, and Tim Boast, have always known that they would end up in McLaren Vale.
And as Baxter looks around the site, with its astounding views towards the ranges, you begin to realise what a ballsy move it was for a brand to stick the location of where they want to be, as opposed to where they are, on their label.
“The whole idea of the Never Never is to pick a point beyond the horizon and aim for it; to move forward, stepping into the unknown … stepping into an adventure. It is amazing to sit back and realize that as gipsy distillers, we are finally moving towards that final destination.
“Of course, then, when we get there, there’s probably going to be another horizon that we are going to have to chase.”
With all the awards that the brand has won, including their most recent where they were named as the World’s Best Classic Gin for their Southern Strength Gin at the influential World Gin Awards in London, it’s hard to imagine that when the brand started in 2017, the distillery was located in a tiny space within Adelaide’s Big Shed Brewing.
While the brand has since moved onto bigger digs with fellow distillers, Imperial Measures, their next move, to McLaren Vale was all part of a much larger plan.
“We are not pulling any punches, we don’t want to be a small brand,” Baxter says. “That’s the reason why we don’t talk about craft and micro and all the words. We definitely want to become one of Australia’s biggest brands; we want to be a big South Australian experience.”
And being part of that South Australian experience is take the giant leap into distillery tourism that their McLaren Vale distillery door will allow. Distillery tourism, both here and internationally, is not only an opportunity for brands to express their real nature but also a chance for the consumer to further understand spirits and the cocktails that they can create.
“We are building a distillery with a world-class cellar door experience,” Baxter explains, “so it’s always going to be a slightly more complicated beast. We started the process off almost as soon as we moved into the big shed and we have been looking at where we could go.”
But of course, going from micro roots, no matter what accolades you have acquired, is no tall order.
“When we received a government grant at the start of 2018 to build in McLaren Vale, that was an incredible boost to our business in terms of the energy it provided towards the construction. But there have been a few hiccups in the way.
“We’ve had a few false starts. We had to change designers and architects, which of course reset the whole project in terms of Council applications and approvals,” Baxter pointed out, “but we wanted to make sure we had an incredible space that’s going to do wonders not only for those that love the brand but also for our business as well.”
So how did McLaren Vale opportunity come about? Baxter sighs as he answers. “Knocking on a lot of doors”.
As Baxter points out, you get invited into the McLaren Vale, you just don’t just rock up and expect to start doing your thing.
“Someone suggested we talk to Chalk Hill, so George reached out and it just so happened they were at that stage where they were looking to build a cellar door and they thought the idea of a distillery attached to it, would be a great thing for the area.
“It’s such a beautiful part of Australia. It’s gobsmacking when you are down there. It is very different, from Adelaide; it’s quite Mediterranean, so it’s perfect for a lot of the kind of products that we enjoy. We love things like olives and almonds and we are aiming to grow some juniper down there as well.”
Although Baxter points out that anything they grow will probably be too small scale to actually be used in production, they are keen to educate consumers about botanicals. He goes on to explains that they would love to have an area where people can pick their own juniper and botanicals.
“I like the idea of being able to show people the importance of that natural flora when it comes to the kind of products that we make. There really will be so much we can do down there in terms of education and we are looking forward to what we can come up with and create.”
Ultimately, as with any hospitality brand, the aim is to not only create a home, but also a platform to express the brands ideals and better communicate, to both home bartenders and professional bartenders alike, the essence of its creation.
“What I enjoy about spirit brands is their capacity to be able to invite people to believe in the same dreams as those who have founders the brand are dreaming. There is something very special about a brand home and its ability to welcome people.
“We are a brand that celebrates hospitality. We want to welcome people across our hearth, we want to invite people into our space.
Around the world, distillery tourism has been identified as a key source of economic growth and that is something that South Australia, as a state, is just beginning to embrace. With terroir and providence being so much a part of the modern tourism experience, the distillery cellar door has become a vital part of consumers ability to understand the nature and intention of spirit brands.
Once we arrive back at their present Adelaide distillery, Baxter points out that the building, the area and the view are not the only things that are about to change for the brand. With a new distillery, will come a new, bigger still.
As Baxter looks fondly at their existing still, he says that yes, she will stay and probably be used for R&D and smaller experimental expressions, saying, “She will always be a part of who we are, even as we grow.
“She is not a beautiful hand hammered German or Portland piece of art,” he says as he fondly pats her copper pot. “She was fabricated in China, put back together again in Melbourne and then shipped to us in Adelaide, but at the end of the day, she has created the world’s best classic gin.”