The Puffin wine bar in Wellington (Photo: Hannah Wells)
The Puffin wine bar in Wellington (Photo: Hannah Wells)

FoodAugust 19, 2019

Natural progression: A Wellington craft beer crew open their first wine bar

The Puffin wine bar in Wellington (Photo: Hannah Wells)
The Puffin wine bar in Wellington (Photo: Hannah Wells)

The new joint from the team behind one of Wellington’s favourite craft beer bars is dedicated to minimal-intervention, organic wine – and more exciting things are coming to the heritage building it’s housed in.

Before the Cadbury factory opened in Dunedin in 1930, New Zealanders ate Cadbury chocolate made in England. After it was shipped over, before being distributed to retailers, it was stored at 60 Ghuznee Street in downtown Wellington, in a four-storey brick building built for the purpose in 1908, which also housed Cadbury’s offices.

Cadbury kept hold of the building until 1969, after which it was occupied by, among others, the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve, a restaurant called Great Expectations, and, most recently, the offices of the Wellington Women’s Refuge. 

As of Friday, a wine bar named The Puffin calls the building home, staying true to its heritage origins with stripped-back concrete floors, distressed brick walls and a sort of “industrial speakeasy” vibe, as a friend of mine put it. 

The entrance is tucked away down a hallway; and the impressive chandelier (Photos: Ginny Grant)

In 2018, 60 Ghuznee Street was sold to property developer Alex Cassels and his friend Sean Golding, who owns craft beer bar Golding’s Free Dive and restaurant Shepherd in the Hannahs Laneway, on condition of earthquake strengthening being undertaken. That’s nearing completion and boutique hotel The Intrepid is tipped to open at the end of the year. 

But first, The Puffin. The name was chosen for the very fact it has “nothing to do with wine”, says owner Hannah Wells. “It looks nice when you write it – it’s just a cute name.” And weirdly, it fits: the space is luxe but quirky, with green velvet booths and round bistro tables, taxidermied birds (including, yes, a puffin), crystal decanters and retro coupes on the rack above the bar, and an impressive glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling in one corner. A cosy little courtyard area completes the package.

At first glance The Puffin is quite the departure from the colourful, eccentric Golding’s Free Dive, which is inspired by an American dive bar and where Wells worked for three years: think lampshades made from plastic buckets, awnings crafted from old skis and basically weird stuff everywhere (it’s a great spot for a cracking game of eye spy). But, as Wells says, at The Puffin some touches hint at Golding’s – coloured lights, brick walls, the general shabby-chic vibe. 

A lot of the decor is secondhand, found on TradeMe or by scouring the charity shops. The chandelier is Venetian Murano glass, picked up by Golding on a trip to Melbourne.

A peacock at The Puffin (Photo: Hannah Wells)

Unsurprisingly, for someone who worked at the craft beer paradise that is Golding’s Free Dive, beer was initially Wells’s passion, but “wine has become more and more my thing”, she explains. “I never used to get into it but then I tried a few when I was doing the [wine] list at Golding’s – especially minimal-intervention, organic ones. I was like ‘this is actually pretty incredible’. It opened up a whole new world of what wine could be.”

Those wines – the minimal-intervention, organic or biodynamic ones that often get grouped under the catchall term “natural” – are The Puffin’s focus. Wells thinks the word is loaded so doesn’t use it. “For the most part, people who make that kind of wine also try to avoid that word, and I’m selling their product so I want to stick to what they want to call it,” she says. “I think things like organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention – those words have a bit more meaning behind them.”

The bar is an exciting addition to Wellington’s natural (or whatever you want to call it) wine scene, which is growing in prominence alongside the city’s better-known – and still pretty dominant – craft beer one. The similarities between these two beverage styles have been noted before, and Wells agrees there are connections. “Definitely the philosophy behind them, the small, more artisan approach, knowing the people that make it and that kind of thing.”

Hannah Wells on opening night at The Puffin (Photos: Supplied)

The Puffin’s wine list comprises 50-60 bottles from around the world; the likes of New Zealand and Australia are well represented but France, Italy, Spain and even Georgia (which has a fascinating wine scene) also feature. The Puffin is an off-licence too, meaning if you try a new drop you like, you can grab a bottle to take home (or, once the hotel opens, upstairs to your room).

A rotating selection of beers – and perhaps wines too, in time – will pour from the two taps, and in the temperature-controlled fridges behind the bar you’ll find more interesting brews. The petite cocktail list offers just a negroni, a martini and an amaretto sour.

There’s a small kitchen turning out elevated bar food – the likes of gougères, charcuterie from A Lady Butcher, Kingsmeade cheeses with homemade crackers, and a mortadella sandwich using bread from local sourdough bakery Starta. “It’s all just small shared plates designed to go on the middle of the table and pick from,” says Wells. 

Opening hours are 5pm to late – 2ish is the current plan – seven days. “I wanted it to be a place other hospitality people could enjoy after they’ve finished a shift,” Wells explains. “It’s just a space we want to hang out in.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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