The better wine project

3 min·16 May, 2024

There are those of us who really ‘know’ their wine, and those who just know they like it. But the wine experts across Morris Group are making it their mission to close the wine gap and make better quality wines more accessible to more people, without the pretentiousness.


Great wine has always been part of Morris Group’s dining philosophy.

When a guest steps into one of Morris Hospitality’s pubs, a Morris Escapes luxury lodge, or one of the North Queensland hotels, there’s the unspoken promise of a quality drop.

In fact, many of its venues have been hailed for their wine lists, recognised by the industry as being amongst the country’s best.

But, after years of being an important supporting character to exceptional food and service, wine is having its big moment in the spotlight.

Morris Hospitality CEO Tim Fitzgerald is one of the driving forces behind what could be described as Morris Group’s ‘better wine project’, a series of initiatives happening across the group that are bringing good wine front and centre.

“There’s a cohesion between what we’re doing in our retail offering, our new wine club, and our series of wine events that really speaks to the idea that wine doesn’t have to be an exclusive thing that no one really understands,” Tim says.

“We really want more people to enjoy better wine.”

Levelling up

Central to this ambition is Morris Hospitality’s Wine Club.

The idea is pretty simple. By signing up to the club, members have access to discounted wine at Morris Hospitality venues.

“It allows people to enjoy more premium wines so where they might have probably bought an $80 bottle of wine, they might instead opt for one that’s usually $120,” Tim says.

“Not only is that a win for them, but it’s also win for us because it means our venues build an even stronger reputation around really exceptional wine along to go with the high standard of food and service.”

For Tim, cementing Morris Hospitality’s reputation as a leader in wine is key. He and his team have spent the last few years refining the group’s offering, buying and selling venues, rethinking menus, and unveiling a new brand identity earlier this year.

With the Wine Club now live across the venues, the vision is now coming to life.

“There’s no coincidence that we launched the Wine Club very soon after rebranding the group,” he says.

“I saw it as being a really clear and important part of our story that our venues are able to offer great wine at a more affordable price.

“We’ve put a lot of effort and time into resetting our portfolio of venues, the style of service, and the product that we deliver.

“I think there are plenty of pubs out there that can say they have credibility around serving great wine, but what we’ve created is an experience and style of service for wine that you’d usually see in restaurants not pubs.”

“Every venue has its own wine rep there, and the level of knowledge that we have across the group even just in our management teams is really extensive now.

“Because of that, we’re attracting more people into the group with that passion for wine, which is exactly what we’re aiming for.”

But Wine Club is just the beginning. The team is also leaning in on their increasingly popular wine dinners – they have 16 of them planned across the venues this year alone.

Tim says part of that experience is about exposing diners to wines they might not otherwise drink and expanding their wine knowledge in a down-to-earth and accessible way.

“We try to make those events fun and a little bit less stuffy than the typical wine event that’s purely for the wine nerds,” he says.

“It’s really about letting people enjoy wine from a region and getting a little bit of knowledge, rather than sitting down for a lecture about Burgundy for two hours before finally being able to drink some wine.”

Nerd mode activated

Self-confessed wine nerd, Brad Hammond is central to the business’ wine story.

As Morris Group’s General Manager of Wine, he’s responsible for developing and overseeing the wine lists for every pub, restaurant, hotel, resort, luxury lodge, and superyacht in the company’s expansive tourism and hospitality portfolios.

It’s a big job, so it’s probably a good thing wine is more of an obsession for him than just a job.

“There’s just an infinite amount to know about wine. You can never know it all,” Brad says.

“First there’s all the different grape varietals, and all the different areas they could be grown in. There’s the soil types, and the history of the land. And then there’s all the ways the wine can be made.

“There’s just such a level of depth to it that I find really, really interesting because you can never stop learning.”

Brad’s passion for wine was first sparked when he started working in fine dining restaurants early in his hospitality career.

He says there was just something about wine that caught his attention. Any chance to soak up some knowledge from those in the know was taken with both hands.

“I’m completely self-taught. Everything I know is just from my own experience and love of wine,” he says.

“I teach myself in my own time, I buy books, I read things on the internet, I go to tastings, I talk to people in the industry.”

Now, a big part of his role involves passing on that knowledge and cultivating the same kind of passion for wine in the teams working in the venues.

“Our venue staff are key, so we have to empower them with a level of knowledge that makes them confident enough to go to a table and explain the differences between certain styles or varieties,” Brad says.

“I love that side of the job. It can be difficult with such big venues spread between Victoria and Queensland, but I find the best way to do that kind of training is just spending a lot of time in the dining room during a lunch or dinner service and training people on the job.”

He’s making a list…

For Brad, working such a diversity of venues is like being set free in a great big playground. Sure, he could work at one of those small, boutique wine bars, but where’s the fun in that?

“It’s great because I get so many different lists to play around with,” he says.

“There’s everything from Splash Bar and Quarterdeck at The Ville in Townsville which both have very simple and small offerings; right up to places like Albert Park Hotel or The Railway Club Hotel that are known for their wines and have very specific cuisines to pair with.

“Albert Park has a Cantonese kitchen, and The Railway Club is a steakhouse, so immediately there’s going to be some clear differences.

“We can’t get enough big Aussie Shiraz at Railway Club, whereas at Albert Park everybody wants to drink Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and those lighter, white, aromatic wines that work so well with the food.”

So, what is the key to creating a wine list that’s not just good, but exceptional?

“I would say that what sets our wine lists apart from others is the access we have to really premium products that smaller businesses wouldn’t,” Brad says.

“We’re lucky as a big group to have buying power that means we can get premium wines from France and across the globe that others can’t.

“If you look at another venue’s list, it might have 100 wines on there but all of them are 2020 or 2021 because they’re the ones that are currently being released.

“We have a central cellar here with wines going back to the late 19th century which is pretty incredible when you think about it. Having access to those just takes a list to the next level.”

The keeper of the cellar

If there’s someone who knows their way around a wine cellar, it’s Pete Marr.

For people in wine industry circles, he is an undisputed legend. You don’t work in an industry for 40 years without building some serious credibility.

He even has a regular talkback radio spot on Melbourne’s 3AW with renowned chef Adrian Richardson covering all things food and wine.

Pete spent a decade running specialty wine stores around Melbourne before moving into wholesaling and then into marketing and selling directly to private clients.

For the last 15 years he’s been one of Morris Group’s secret weapons, continuing to sell premium wines direct to clients whilst also lending his expertise to the business as it grew its hospitality and tourism portfolio.

A major part of his role has been managing the all-important cellar. And for a wine aficionado like Pete, this cellar is truly special.

“The cellar wines mostly came from our (former) Western Australian businesses that had exceptional cellars,” Pete says.

“Actually, my first job when I joined Morris Group was to assess the cellar at Raffles which was quite extensive. It was a great opportunity for us because these were wines that you can’t access readily.

“Then we opened Print Hall in Perth, which was a big project at the height of the mining boom. It was a very high-end venue with a top sommelier from Sydney. He put together an incredible wine list.”

Tim says having access to this kind of quality and range of product is a major drawcard for Wine Club.

“Because we bought it so long ago and have taken care of it quite well, no one can sell it as cheap as we can,” Tim says.

“We’re talking about wines that are between 10 and 15 years old already. For those people who really know wine, they’ll see this stuff, particularly our European wines that have sat nicely for a long time and realise that it’s extraordinary value that we’re offering.

“There’s going to be a real depth of offer through the Wine Club that creates a situation where it makes sense for people to trade up from the basic house wine to something really nice.”

The full circle

The final but important piece of the puzzle is one that must feel like a bit of a full circle moment for Pete: a new wine store and bar at The Vincent Hotel in Albert Park due to open this winter.

The concept is something that the group has been thinking about for a little while, but the timing hasn’t been quite right. Until now.

“We’ll be able to use the power we have as a group in terms of our wine buying to offer really lovely, premium wines that are well priced,” Pete says.

“It’s going to add another layer to the whole wine story we’re trying to tell. It’ll be more relaxed opportunity for people to come down and explore.

“We’ll have wines opened down there all the time for people to come and taste. There will always be someone in the store that’s got great knowledge that can talk to you and give you some guidance.

“My theory on wine is that it’s there to make you feel better and happier. You don’t need to know a lot about wine to enjoy it, but the more you know the more you will enjoy it.”


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