A mile in the shoes of a sommelier
Rachelle Guastella wants to make choosing wines as easy as possible for her diners.
Step inside the door of Ogee, Hobart’s newest wine bar, and you are greeted by a soft jazz soundtrack and candles flickering on every table. You start to relax as soon as you step over the threshold – which is exactly the effect Rachelle Guastella is after.
“We want you to feel like a friend being welcomed into our home,” says Ogee’s manager Rachelle, who opened the bar with her friend and colleague Matt Breen (the man behind Sonny wine bar and Templo restaurant). The pair were inspired by the small Italian trattorias and Parisian wine caves they experienced when travelling together in Europe.
“I never want people to feel overwhelmed when choosing wine... I’m there to help them.”
“We wanted to recreate these intimate, cosy spaces where you can walk in, have a glass of wine and pasta and be on your way, or stay for five hours if you want.”
At Ogee, tucked just off the main strip in North Hobart, everything is designed to feel easy. Rachelle describes the food as “rustic yet sophisticated”, featuring everything from handmade pasta to schnitzel and white asparagus with mussel velouté. Rachelle’s wine list is equally approachable, with just half a dozen whites and an equal number of reds.
“I never want people to feel overwhelmed when choosing wine,” she says. “If you have too many choices, people can feel they should know all about the wines, but that’s my job. I’m there to help them.”
The wine list naturally includes Tasmanian wines – “one of the first wines I got in was a chardonnay from Utzinger Wines in the Tamar Valley, a very pure wine with pristine fruit flavours” – but some of Rachelle’s European favourites are also included.
“I have a Tuscan wine called Un Litro, a delicious blend of red grapes that comes in a 1L bottle. It’s hard to create a wine that is this easy to drink but still complex.”
It is not just the wine list that has Rachelle’s fingerprints all over it. She and Matt worked together on their vision for the bar, with Rachelle scooping up the vintage candle holders that sit on every table during an Etsy shopping spree.
“I’ve been collaborating with Matt on this since the beginning and I feel such a sense of pride and commitment,” she says.
Rachelle is a hospitality veteran, having landed her first waitressing gig as a teenager, and is a self-taught sommelier. “I liked the idea of exploring for myself rather than learning within a box,” she says. Stints working on vineyards in France and Austria, as well as in wine-centric restaurants in Edinburgh and London, were an opportunity to understand what she values in wine, including the minimal-intervention approach that is showcased on her wine list.
“I really respect that approach, because it takes a lot more work. If you are making low-intervention wine you have to care for your wines like they are living things, to check on them every day, because there are no safeguards.”
Rachelle grew up in Western Australia and first came to Tasmania for a holiday nine years ago. “Within a week, I knew I wanted to move here permanently,” she says. “I always wanted to live in a smaller city than Perth. I never got that sense of community that I felt here instantly.”
Along with the connection to community, Rachelle treasures the city’s easy access to nature. “Being able to drive 15 minutes out of town and feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, or drive 10 minutes and be at a really lovely beach – that is not something you can do in larger cities.” A bushwalk remains her favourite way to unwind. “Actually, Matt and I are going for a bushwalk with the team this afternoon,” she says. “I don’t drive, so I often go up to Knocklofty Reserve and do the summit walk. You get really beautiful views up there.”