Birdwood Lane Cellar

It may only be early days for Sydney’s Birdwood Lane Cellar, but already the future is looking interesting, according to Owner Operator Alessandro Nelli.

Nelli originally opened Birdwood Lane Cellar as a storage space to house the excess wines from his Little Red Robin Restaurant & Wine Bar, located nearby in the same suburb of Lane Cove. However, the growing popularity of wines in his restaurant drove Nelli to open the space as a retail offering this month.

“Essentially the idea behind opening the store was that as the restaurant grew in popularity we realised that we needed an external space to store our excess stock,” Nelli told National Liquor News.

“When the particular site for Birdwood Lane came available, we took inspiration from other restaurants that offer their wine list in a retail format so that’s what we decided to do. We’re not really reinventing the wheel or anything.”

Nelli was born in the Tuscany region of Italy, schooled in Switzerland and moved to Australia in 2001. He uses his heritage and more than 20 years of experience within the hospitality industry to curate a selection of interesting Australian and international wines.

To keep the retail offering simple, Nelli is currently only stocking what is listed at his restaurant, but says the offering has room to grow as the shop evolves.

“Until Birdwood really takes on its own identity through understanding customer needs, what they’re looking for and what they are researching, effectively right now we just offer everything on our wine list for retail,” he said.

“I come from an Italian focus and background when it comes to wine and from exploring what is popular through the restaurant I’ve learned and dived into the wine rabbit hole a little bit further.

“We have quite an eclectic offering of wines from Italy, Georgia, Greece, Turkey, with some streamline normal wines and a few skin contact ones too, so it has become this discovery of other styles that is reflected in the retail space.”

Although Birdwood Lane Cellar only opened this month, the plan behind store has been in motion for more than a year.

Nelli said: “When we secured the lease the pandemic came, so we were scratching our heads and saying ‘oh my god, we’ve taken on another lease, what have we done’.

“But then obviously a lot of other clever people around Sydney and around Australia led the way in business innovation, helped by the Liquor and Gaming Authority relaxing the laws around sending bottles of wine from restaurants for a period of time. That gave us the idea that we can differentiate our business to not have all our eggs in one basket.”

Learning curve ahead

Having more than 20 years of hospitality experience can go a long way to helping run a restaurant and wine bar, but when adding an off-premise element, Nelli said each day is a new experience.

“So far I’ve been scratching my head and asking myself, ‘what do we start looking for and what sort of tastings and educational things do we cover?’ We need to think about what people are going to be drawn to,” he said.

“As a retail offering, it’s something where we will champion small producers and different winemaking techniques and styles, so when eventually we’re able to set up tastings we can give our customers the opportunity to come and try these things that are a little more out of the box.

“Everybody enjoys wine to a certain degree and people are becoming a little bit more adventurous when it comes to wine, so we’re just trying to gather information on what people are looking for, what they search for and what is getting them intrigued.”

When asked if Nelli had any advice for other operators after navigating the opening of Birdwood Lane Cellar, he said: “Every day throws something new at you and so far we’ve just been winging it, which is the fun of it. That would be my only advice, do it if there is fun to be had.

“We now more than ever have a blank canvas where there’s no pre-concept of a good or bad idea. Only time will tell essentially.”

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