On the Floor With Karen Gough, Proprietor, Settlers
Left to Right: Karen Gough, proprietor / Settlers Tavern, WA
Since moving to WA in ‘03 from SF and immediately taking over the dive bar that was Settler’s Tavern, Karen and Rob Gough have broken the boundaries of a typical pub. They were the first to cease selling cigarettes and smoking inside a whole year before it was banned, got rid of plastic water bottles since 2004 and stopped single use plastic straws in 2010.
They’ve quadrupled their number of staff, received the award for Australia’s best licensed live music venue and have an award winning 400 strong wine list. We have a chat to Karen below about her experience and journey.
Can you describe the pub’s highly awarded wine offering? What makes it so unique?
Besides well-priced offerings, knowledgeable staff (considering we are very remote), pristine glassware, over 25 wines by the glass (not one from a large discount distributor), a Coravin by the glass list, a half bottle selection and all wines being stored in a cellar, we are very focused on three areas:
* Firstly, and of most importance, is our efforts to maintain and continue to grow on our classic wine collection of iconic benchmark wines from smaller producers, particularly local and Australian, as well as some overseas icons, building on allocations. Many of the Australian classic wines’ current vintages are not on the wine list as we feel they are really not ready to open.
* Secondly, keeping ahead of the game and constantly seeking out new talent, cult Australian producers, mostly local and some interstate, and championing their cause. The local “young guns of wine” winemakers in Margaret River are really taking stride and it is so much fun to feature their wines on our blackboard. We have pretty much offered most of the “under the radar” winemakers in the area on our list – and we quite often offer their wines by the glass at basically retail price to get people to try the wine.
* Thirdly, we seek out some fun, well-priced wines from smaller producers, classic wine varieties that set the bar for people learning about wines of the world, i.e. Grüner Veltliner comparing Australia with European, German Riesling, Italian and Spanish grape varieties new world/old world, etc.
We are also unique in that many of winemakers come to our place. Even winemakers from over east and overseas (Simon Bize’s family was in here recently!)
Who manages the list? What is the process for curating and managing such an extensive and varied list?
I physically manage the list; of course my partner is a great influence, we do it from the heart. We have a passion for wine that’s built on our relationships with the producers and their representatives.
We’ve built a wine program to present Margaret River wines in all their glory whilst introducing a great national and international selection to keep it interesting for the wine industry and wine adventurers.
And of course we have some great crew who have a keen interest in wine, and assist in keeping the list in order. It is very difficult to find people who have wine knowledge and want to work in hospitality – hence the wine list has a lot of information for customers to explore themselves.
How have you gone about establishing relationships with local winemakers? How does this help your business, and what do you do to nurture these relationships?
Longevity in the wine industry and in our business (we’ve had it since 2003) helps. We take a special interest in the wineries, whether small or founding, who are striving to match our ethos of caring for employees, sustainability, being community minded. It’s very rewarding to have local winemakers as our customers.
What are some of the biggest trends you’re noticing in wine consumption in Australia at the moment?
Better quality, experimentation and more transparency. You could also say natural wine – we’ve had it on our list for at least 10 years, I don’t know if it’s gaining traction, but it is very divisive.
What’s your favourite local drop at the moment?
We are pretty proud of all the local wines we represent by the glass. Chardonnay always has the soft spot and I just last week had the opportunity to try some older Cape Grace (small boutique winery) chardonnays back to 2004 (which was amazing but sold out). The 2006 is so young and vibrant still, and I was so taken that I felt we needed to share this with our customers, so it’s by the glass from Coravin.
I love the founding producers of Margaret River who established the region, for example who are making special bottlings from old 80’s cab franc, cabernet vineyards, planted by the original owner, and now being made into small batches for me, even hand-labelled by the winemaker.
What about imported wine? What are you enjoying?
Which wine regions are you keeping an eye on, and why?
Great Southern shiraz. I am a lover of Northern Rhône wines, and these wines from down south are very reminiscent of those flavours, but still have their great south west distinct flavours.
Would you say consumers are more educated about wine these days? How does this affect the service levels at Settlers?
Yes (for good and bad) – the internet is available, but does not have all the answers. For example, a customer who reviewed us online (one star) was disgusted that we gave him a local syrah when he specifically asked for a local shiraz – “just not good enough!”
We have to answer a lot of questions and provide a lot of information to a varied clientele. For instance, we’ve had vegan designation on our wine list for at least a decade. If someone asks: is this wine vegan? Then we can be armed and answer yes or no.
I must say the smaller wineries and the younger, newer generation of winemakers (“Young Guns of Wine”) are so much better at being transparent about their wines – where the grapes are from and what additives, if any, are used.