Phil Hude, owner of Armadale Cellars in High Street, Armadale, lives and breathes the wine industry. He also sees himself as one of the fortunate ‘three per cent of people’ who truly love what they do. “It’s been in my DNA for most of my life,” says Hude, whose great great grandfather built the Panton Hill Hotel on the outskirts of Melbourne.

As a young adult, Hude found himself working in pubs pouring beers. His brother’s position as an accountant at Campbell’s Winery in Rutherglen in the mid-1980s helped to transition his taste from beer to wine, travelling to several wineries across Victoria. “Those early years were primarily about self education,” says Hude, who established numerous relationships with the owners of wineries Wild Duck Creek at Heathcote and Giaconda at Beechworth. By the early 1990s, the wine ‘bug’ had taken hold and Hude enrolled at Roseworthy College in Gawler, South Australia, an agricultural college, graduating with a diploma in wine making.

By 1997, Hude was ready to take on his own business, after being at the helm of others including Eaglemont Cellars. “When I took over Armadale Cellars it was struggling. The former owner didn’t really seem to have all the ‘hats’ one needs to run a business like this, including marketing, sales and finance,” says Hude, who was an avid reader of Michael Porter’s books focusing on corporate strategies. “With certain businesses, you don’t want to be stuck in the middle ground. Here, my approach is the boutique end: that’s about curating great wines and working closely with leading chefs and restaurants”. Holding courses and events at Armadale cellars and also at other locations around Melbourne, has also created a strong point of difference. “Wine needs to be accompanied by food to fully appreciate what it can deliver,” says Hude, who also runs master classes from the cellar within the impressive Victorian building that’s home to Armadale Cellars. “I think we run 236 courses/events every year,” he adds.

For a master class 18 people blind sample 12 French champagnes, including Dom Perignon and Cristal, considered to be two of the finest. A Penfold’s Grange is also on the table. “It’s about learning to appreciate wine rather than be sidetracked by a name or vintage,” says Hude, who samples anywhere between five and 50 wines each day with wine representatives visiting his store. “I always have wines here to taste. I think there are 17 on offer today.” And unlike some places, where plastic cups are handed out, here Riedel stemmed-glasses are used.

For this festive season and well into the summer months, Hude has seen a significant return to rose. “Twenty years ago it was rare to find people drinking rose,” says Hude, who suggests Rose Alma Cerisus and also Hampton Water Wine, both from the south of France, as ideal choices. Wine from Giaconda in Beechworth, considered to be a segway between old and new wineries, is also popular during the warmer months. When it comes to sparkling wines, Hude recommends those from Howard Park in Western Australia. “You don’t have to spend a fortune for a great champagne. Jean Pernet French Champagne retails for $59.99.”

Hude also sees a ‘spike’ (in terms of quality and demand) in the wines produced in Tasmania, such as Tolpuddle. “The wine industry in Tasmania has literally ‘exploded’ in the last two to three years,” says Hude. And of course entertaining family and friends over the Christmas period would not be complete without a dose of gin. “You really need look no further than the gin Four Pillars is producing in the Yarra Valley. It’s one of the best in the world,” says Hude.

Although there’s up to 1,000 different wines sold at Armadale Cellars, Hude, with his background, can direct clients to exactly the right wine that will be right for the occasion and food being served. “It comes down to the character of the grape, the region where the grapes are grown and importantly, being open to the experience of tasting new and memorable wines,” says Hude.

Text by Stephen Crafti

Lifestyle & Design

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