Black walls, hard steel, crystals, candles and real wrought chainmail curtains, Vamp by Lisa McGuigan is all about the detail, all about the experience and, of course, all about great wine.
What do you usually expect when you go to a winery cellar door? Light timber? White walls? A few wine barrels dotted about and a bucolic scene through picture windows?
Now imagine the opposite of all that. You’ve just arrived at Vamp by Lisa McGuigan.
Quite possibly the most creative mind in the wine industry, Lisa is a fourth-generation Hunter Valley wine-maker and has yet again broken all the moulds and conventions around wine.
Check out our quick video of Vamp here:
Vamp – the unique cellar door for Lisa McGuigan Wines
From the outset, you know you’re somewhere unlike any other.
The sign on the lawn as you drive in—the metre-and-a-half tall letters spelling Lisa’s name next to the snaking saurian form of a scaly steel dragon—is the bellwether of the cellar door.
Then there’s the building itself.
The giant black-corrugated steel clad gable of a barn and its angular porch welcome you into a dark entrance and leads you round to the tasting room.
The room opens out to an impressive albeit intimidating cavern.
Friendly yet super-luxe, unconventional yet refined, this cellar door Lisa that likes to call her ‘sanctum’ feels more like a boutique high-fashion clothing store you’d find in London or Milan than a winery tasting room.
Matte black walls are decorated like the war room of an empress from ancient times; slung with great swords and axes, gladiatorial helmets stand guard around the room and curtains of real chainmail section off the private tasting booths along one side.
On the back wall, in black and silver, the gothic style Maltese cross motif of Lisa McGuigan Wines looms large—surely where a thrown would normally sit. Instead, this is where the oyster bar, merch stand and awards cabinet live.
But it’s the centre of the room that has the most impact.
The giant ring-shaped steel tasting bar holds centerstage—a beautiful custom-built runaround piece where visitors can sit and try the wines, but also have a communal feeling many cellar doors lack. And far from it feeling uncomfortable or unwelcoming, the shiny steel surface lends a sense of gothic glamour.
Above the bar hangs a giant bespoke chandelier—a circlet of crystal shards that adds to the ancient-world feel of the place.
Vamp – it’s all about the details
We were lucky enough to meet Lisa at Vamp, where she showed us around. But you don’t need a tour from the creator of this amazing space to realise that nothing here has happened by accident.
Even the spittoons are specially made for Vamp, looking more like strange sci-fi-cum-Ancient Greek egg timers.
The chainmail curtains Lisa had made in Germany—the only place that really makes it properly anymore don’t you know—and a wing-backed chair near the window Lisa had made from her old leather jackets.
“When I was selling wine in Europe, I bought leather jackets. But then I became more practical and made them into an armchair,” she explained.
There’s also a courtyard for alfresco tastings (and dining too of course) and a very cool private tasting room with a long table that can seat over 20.
Lisa McGuigan Wines
But what’s the point of an incredibly cool cellar door if the wine’s not any good?
Of course, Lisa’s got that covered.
Sourcing her grapes from around the Hunter Valley and from top growers across Australia, Lisa has curated several ranges of wine, all of which are reasonably priced and made for everyday drinking.
That doesn’t mean they’re not superbly made with all the structure, flavour and quality you’d expect from a top-class fourth-generation winemaker. And the cool thing about Lisa and her cellar door is she doesn’t just focus on her own wine.
We sat down with her to talk about her wine, and the first thing we did was a blind tasting. Lisa had organised three bottles of sparkling to be wrapped in foil for us to sample.
The first we tried, we later learned was her favourite Champagne, Tattinger, which Lisa also pours at the cellar door because she likes it. How refreshing’s that?
Next to that, we tasted what we knew was Prosecco, but couldn’t tell if this was another of Lisa’s tricks. It turns out it was in fact a Lisa McGuigan wine—a perfect example of the style.
The third bottle was Lisa’s off-dry Moscato. Not our cup of tea, but a crowd-pleaser and a best-seller nonetheless. And I can see why; in spite of the sweetness of this style, the wine still had structure and depth.
What’s good at Vamp? Easy: everything
By the end of the tasting, we’d taken up all of Lisa’s afternoon (we were supposed to be there for about 90 minutes—we left about five hours later!) and had worked our way through pretty much all of her extensive range.
Our favourites? It’s hard to pick just one because Lisa really is a great winemaker, but her Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, the Maximus Shiraz—and her Prosecco—are extremely good.
We were also kept company by Lisa’s excellent staff—Sara and Rex, you guys are awesome—and for a while, another happy group tasting wines came and joined us.
And let’s not forget the wonderful Maggie, Lisa’s sweet Border Collie.
But that’s the kind of vibe here at Vamp. It’s for the wine-drinker with a sense of fun and a penchant for adventure.
OMG the bottles
By now, you get the idea that the Lisa McGuigan Wines brand is strong, but it’s most noticeable on the bottles.
Embossed and stencil-cut metal, the labels on Lisa’s bottles are amazing—once again showing that there’s nothing conventional about this winery.
We all thought that Lisa’s earlier creation Tempus Two was a ground-breaker with its metal labels and iconic monolith cellar door right across the road from the family business.
But this evolution has skipped a million generations.
If Vamp by Lisa McGuigan is the embodiment of this highly creative renegade of the wine industry, her wines represent an entirely new epoch in the Hunter Valley.
If you enjoyed this, check out some of our other stories on the Hunter Valley: