Success Stories

Cake Wines: Rejuvenating Aussie business

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

It’s after lunch on Saturday and you’re ready for a night out. You don’t know where the event will start, let alone where it’ll end. Are sunset parties the new all-nighter?

Sure, it’s not the first time a drink brand has sponsored an event, though this one’s something special: it’s a proper all-hands-on-deck collaboration between Melbourne underground party crew Wax’o Paradiso, artisan Chippendale bakery Brickfields and Redfern-based label Cake Wines. Wine will be flowing, music from your favourite DJs will be cranking and fresh local produce will be cooking. Who knew the wine scene could be so young and lively?

Mike Smith and Glen Cassidy

How it all started

The real people you should be thanking are Mike Smith and Glen Cassidy who started Cake Wines in their late 20s and noticed that their friends were ditching beer and spirits for a more grown-up beverage – the sophisticated vino. Mike and Glen wanted to find a way of connecting with the new generation of wine drinkers – people in their late 20s or 30s. So, along with the launch of Cake Wines came the idea of opening pop-up bars and events to mix their wines with creative culture.

“When we started doing wine and cultural events, we wanted to break down some of those barriers and share our passion for wine with our friends (and people like us) in a way that made more sense to them,” says Mike Smith, co-owner of Cake Wines. It was about being inclusive and having a fun, shared experience. For us, that’s what wine is really about – not awards or scores out of 100.”

Producing their wines

Its chief winemaker, Sarah Burvill, heads up the growers and winemaking teams in Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Sarah focuses on supplying the best quality wines. “Rather than owning vines and being involved in the capital-intensive (and highrisk) part of the winery and fruit management business, we negotiate fruit supply contracts with specialist growers so we can pick the best parcels of fruit from the best sites in the Adelaide Hills and surrounding regions in South Australia and then spend our time and energy (and capital) focusing on making the best possible wines,” explains Mike.

"We’ve just finished our fourth vintage and I think we’re getting pretty close to hitting the nail on the head now,” says Mike. “We’re always trying to push things further and Sarah is constantly refining her techniques and styles each vintage. One of the beautiful things about winemaking is that it’s different each year – no two vintages are ever the same.“

Eventful collaboration

The business oozes talent, vision and unexpected behaviour for a wine brand and, through its strong cycle of collaboration, has become a great champion of the Australian arts and culture scene. It’s a natural fit for the two co-founders who love music and have played in bands since high school. “We’re inspired by creatives so working with them makes sense. Events provide us with an opportunity to showcase our wines alongside interesting cultural experiences. It also gives us an opportunity to talk to our customers on a one-to-one level, to explain our product and our brand story in person,” says Glen.

To date, Cake Wines has played a part in more than 40 brand collaborations, teaming up with emerging and established partners, holding a mix of cultural events – from pop-up bars, donating 10 per cent of its proceeds to the local community radio, FBi Radio, to providing programs to showcase young talent: chefs, winemakers, artists, bands and music venues.

Event success

Cake Wines’ last pop-up bar event generated free media exposure that the start-up would otherwise not be able to afford, and this money has been reinvested in the business. “While it seems like every winery in the country does ‘pop-ups’ now, three years ago that wasn’t the case,” says Glen. “Events like these are a great way for us to bring together all the things we love about wine and culture. We have done 5 in Sydney and Melbourne since launching the business 4 years ago" explains Glen. 

Collaboration tips
  1. Be passionate about what your partners do. Collaboration is first and foremost about projects that get us pumped each day so we give it every bit of passion we have. It’s about using our networks and media relationships to support and celebrate who we are doing awesome things with.
  2. Team up to break out of the box. We collaborate with people who are passionate about culture and doing new, interesting things that push the envelope and people who share a commitment to crafting things with their hands and dreaming up new ideas to make them a reality. It opens our eyes to new ideas, new ways of thinking and new experiences.
  3. Make a real connection. Many big brands mistake sponsorship for collaboration. Paying someone to let you put your logo on their work isn’t collaboration. People see through that and, unless a brand has a real connection and heritage to whatever or whoever it’s trying to collaborate with, it comes off looking false and skin deep. This is why all of our collaborations are grounded in the real world – who we are as people and what our business stands for.
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