Home-grown gladiator

Lisa McGuigan steps back into the arena to open her new cellar door, VAMP.

OK, so she’s not your typical country girl. More Joan Jett than Olivia Newton- John. Flashy. Cheeky. Colourful. Charming. In some ways she is the image of her beloved mum and dad, Hunter legends Brian and Fay McGuigan. In many others, she is not. Locally born Lisa McGuigan recently opened her new cellar door venture, VAMP by Lisa McGuigan, on Broke Road, smack bang in the middle of Pokolbin. Her new project is bound to set tongues a-wagging. It will certainly attract those visitors looking for something fresh, new and different in the Valley. Design-driven and hyper-contemporary, it bursts with expensive finishes and quirky touches that reflect Lisa’s very individual style.

The starkly contemporary building was designed by local architect Dominic Warland from EJE Architecture in Newcastle and built by local Peter Petherbridge from PDA Building. Lisa speaks about both with hearts in her eyes. Lucky for them, as I suspect it would have been a pretty interesting experience for all. The two eye-popping centrepieces of the tasting room are a wonderfully medieval lighting sculpture by Melbourne artist Christopher Boots and a towering black-and-white mural by illustrator Brad Nonnenmacher from Art By Brad. Both were created following tight briefs from Lisa. The look is Roman gladiator meets darkly gothic novel, and heavily features the metallic finishes that have become Lisa’s signature aesthetic. Helmets, swords and chain-mail curtains make this the perfect spot for a holiday selfie.

A self-confessed magpie of design ideas and influences, the initial creative inspiration came from an unsuccessful auction bid for Russell Crow’s breastplate from the Gladiator movie. This led to the development of products Maximus and Claudius, highlights of the Platinum range. “Everything here is what I see and feel when I taste my wine,” says Lisa. “It is all about feeding the brand.” Lisa is all about the brand, and the wine drinker, who she feels she understands better than many, having cut her teeth at Tempus Two. All Lisa’s wines are multi-regional, sourced from a network of small growers with the help of father Brian, and made nearby by Liz Jackson’s much-awarded team at First Creek. Interesting variations such as Austrian variety Grüner Veltliner from her family’s vineyard and two vegan Chardonnays, infused with hemp and  fined with potato instead of the traditional egg white, are further expressions of Lisa’s creativity. The packaging across the portfolio is truly unique, featuring custom-made imported bottles and cutting-edge metallic labels, which means careful hand-labelling by the dedicated Lisa.

A designer at heart, Lisa had wanted to study visual arts when she left school in the mid 1980s but her dad was not in favour, sending her off to finishing school in Europe where she studied hotel management and catering. After further hospitality courses in Ryde and Newcastle, and a stint managing events at Monte Pio in Maitland, by 22 she had moved to Sydney for a career at the Renaissance Hotel in Pitt Street, where she reigned over the food and beverage and marketing departments for 10 action-packed years.

As a result of this training, hospitality is a big part of her focus at VAMP, with plans to minimise crowds, provide personalised service and distinctive food offerings such as freshly-shucked oysters on tap. Perch up at the bar on her shiny Philippe Starck chairs with a glass of French Champagne and a dozen of Australia’s finest bivalves from Appellation Oysters, or book the impressive private tasting room for an hour of indulgence with your pals. In addition to both complimentary and paid tastings of her Platinum and Velvet ranges, Lisa is planning to introduce tutored flights of her favorite variety, Pinot Noir, mixing wines from her own range with those of other producers from Australia and beyond.

While Lisa will continue to sell her original Lisa McGuigan ranges Silver and Blac through the Ben Ean cellar door and Hermitage Road Cellars at the Hunter Valley Resort, the brand new Velvet range will only be available at VAMP

Opening hours: Thursday – Monday 11am – 5pm or by appointment 2198 Broke Rd, Pokolbin vampbylisamcguigan.withwine.com lisamcguiganwines.com

Story by Sally Evans, photography by Sally Evans and courtesy of Lisa McGuigan.

Read more in the Autumn issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.