In case you haven’t noticed Café Affaire at the top of Trafalgar St was renamed as Bacco Restaurant and Wine Bar about 18 months ago.
Owner Terry Milton set up Milcrest Wines about 10 years ago when he “bought a chunk of land, dug a hole and threw all my savings in to it, I was keen on wine but wondered what the heck I had done and then 10 years later had another crazy notion of buying the restaurant and putting in a wine bar with a central city cellar door.”
In his former life Milton was a Detective Sergeant in the NZ Police force based in Nelson at a time he says it was a totally different organisation that had to deal with completely different community issues than those in the force do today, “there was no methamphetamine, the police were separate from the traffic police and the whole feel around policing was quite different but I guess now I am working behind the bar I have a real appreciation for the things today’s police have to deal with because I have been in their shoes dealing with the public issues around over-consumption of alcohol.”
Milton told me he had always enjoyed wine as a drink and while he was still working in the police force he completed the Diploma in Winemaking and Viticulture through EIT, “it was a great course because I was ale to complete it by correspondence and by attending block courses, I just used my annual leave to go on courses rather than have holidays.”
So having bought a piece of land in Haycocks Road he planted Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes in the mid 2000’s and Milcrest Estate’s first vintage in 2008, it was one of those wet vintages Nelson has every few years so for someone new to the industry it was a challenging start.
Now in its 10th year Milton has sold the vineyard and sources grapes for his Milcrest Wines from growers in the region “there aren’t enough hours in the day to grow grapes and run this business as well as traveling the country selling my wines.”
Over the years Milcrest Wines have won gold medals for their Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay and a “heap of silver medals”.
When it comes to the restaurant and wine bar it was named after Bacco, the Roman God of wine (Baccus being the Latin version).
The restaurant downstairs is treated as a separate entity to the wine bar on the mezzanine floor and has had a full menu makeover since the days of Café Affaire, “we changed the menu totally, moved away from the café culture and more to a restaurant, I employed a new head chef who started in July and who brings a huge amount of experience to the restaurant.”
Chef Charlie Boyle is from London and Milton says he is a very good fit for what he is trying to create at Bacco, “he is really creative and has an excellent palate so he can taste the wines and then create dishes to go with them rather than him giving me a menu and me having to match wines with his food, the focus really is on enjoying great food that is designed to go with great wines.”
Like any other hospitality venue Milton says it is hard work finding staff with a strong wine knowledge and good work ethic, but he says “young immigrants want to work as many hours as we will let them”
He also says compared to seeing the industry from the police side it is interesting to see it from an operator’s view, “we meet some really cool people and some are a bit challenging but the hospitality sector is about hospitality so no matter what you really think you need to be very careful because people are very quick to complain on sites like Trip Advisor.
“It is a bit frustrating when someone rubbishes you in such a public way when something small that could easily be fixed goes wrong, I would rather fix it if someone has an issue with a meal rather than read about it but I guess that is the power of social media so we just need to try and make sure every customer has a great experience.”
Milton says he spends most of his time working in the wine bar because he loves encouraging people to try different varieties, “many people have strong preference for a particular variety but some also have quite strong regional preferences too, the ask for a Central Otago Pinot so I give them two tastings and ask them to pick which is Nelson and which is from Central, very rarely to they get it right and they have a huge respect for the fact I have helped them take their blinkers off.”
Upstairs in the wine bar at Bacco they have an enomatic machine to keep wines fresh and vibrant, this is an Italian wine dispensing system that can be set to pour different size servings of wine and then replace the poured wine with an inert gas so it doesn’t oxidise, this means not only does it reduce waste but Milton can have more expensive wine available by the glass.
“At the cellar door we threw out a lot of wine every three of four days, we had to open it for tastings but if it was quiet, especially during winter months out it went after a couple of days.”
Bacco also has tasting platters specifically designed to match different varietals and they give you a wine/food match sheet, “it can be really interesting to see people’s reactions as they try food and wine matching, it is something many people don’t really think about so by us serving wine and food like this they start to understand more about why wine and food should really be consumed together.”
Something else that sets Bacco apart from other cafes in the region is the fact they have an off-licence so if you taste a wine you like then you can buy some to take home with you.
Milton says the idea was to set up an inner-city cellar door outlet because a lot of tourists don’t get a chance to get out to the wineries, “they are only here for a couple of days so I wanted to give them the chance to go to a cellar door, it is just in the centre of town.”
Generally restaurants aren’t allowed to have an off-licence so to get around that little bit of alcohol policy they set up a separate entity upstairs and run two licences, on-licence for the restaurant downstairs and an off-licence with tasting room upstairs.
“Nelson City Council was fantastic, they really tried to make it happen but also had to work within legislation, and I get that, but they saw the value in what I was trying to add to the tourism sector in the city.
“Since I got the off-licence at beginning of July I have sold more wine than I did all of last winter, but it isn’t just takeaway wines, people have started to realise we are a wine bar and the atmosphere means it is a great place to relax.”
Milton also sells more than just his own wines by the glass at the wine bar, you will find Champagne, a good range of local premium wines, wines from most other regions in New Zealand as well as imported wines, some of which he imports and distributes throughout New Zealand.
The wines in the tasting machine change regularly making sure there is always something interesting fore you and me to try.
Milton has also set up a wine club that you can join for free and get invitations to special events including degustation dinners where you get six courses of delicious food paired with six wines, the last one featured Elephant Hill from Hawke’s bay and the next one is Pegasus Bay from Waipara, all you have to do to find out more is sign up to their wine club by giving them your details at the front counter, registering online, or send Terry an email at firstname.lastname@example.org