Meet the Cellar Door Manager: Grant Williams

Grant the cellar door manager standing infront of billy button cellar doors wall

Meet Our Bright Cellar Door Manager

An exciting tree change saw Grant Williams and his wife escape the stress of city life and put down roots in the Alpine Valleys in 2010. He’s not looked back. A printer by trade for 30 years, Grant also came to Billy Button with a long history and keen interest in the wine industry – from working in bottle shops right out of school and managing a wine bar several days a week, to even having a mum who conducted wine tastings at Yalumba. So, when he made the move to the Alpine Valleys, getting a job in the cellar door at Feathertop winery was a comfortable fit.

“That’s where I met Jo Marsh and Pete Nannipieri, who now manages Billy Button’s Myrtleford cellar door,” says Grant. Those relationships continued, with Grant later working at Pete’s pizzeria by night as Jo was starting – in the same building – her own cellar door by day, where Grant would also help out.

Grant had been working with Jo for a good year or so, when another staffer left the fledgling cellar door. “Jo got me to do Saturdays and Sundays, and instead of sitting inside, I took the table outside and did tastings there,” says Grant. “The pizzeria was quite dark inside, even with the lights on, so people didn’t realise it was open. So, I thought, let’s take the tasting to the people. It transformed the way that tastings were conducted in a fun and informal setting. When I finished at the pizzeria, Jo invited me to come onboard full-time, and we’d get our own premises to start a cellar door. And that’s what we did.”

As cellar door manager at Bright, in addition to conducting tastings, Grant handles Billy Button’s ordering as well as selling our wines and other items. The cellar door also offers local and international cheeses and a range of condiments, such as chilis, jams, olive oils, truffle oil, horseradish. “All the things I like,” says Grant. “So I thought, if no one buys it, at least [we] can take it home. Those products have become a huge part of the business now.”

From Cellar Door to Wine Bar

With two cellar doors now well-established, Billy Button had long been talking about opening later, a few nights a week as a wine bar. That wine bar has now become a reality. “The locals had been encouraging us to change our hours for a while,” says Grant. “We’ve finally taken the plunge, so during Daylight Saving Time, we’re doing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays till 8 o’clock at night. This is operating solely as a wine bar – we’re offering no tastings after 6 o’clock. Wines are available just by the bottle or the glass, and we charge a small corkage fee to cover a few extra expenses.”

Between the cellar door and wine bar, Grant’s favourite part about working at Billy Button is the different characters he meets. “It doesn’t really feel like a job,” he says. “It’s more like fun – talking to people, finding out what they do, what makes them tick and adventures they’ve had.”

The Billy Button Tasting Experience

Plus, it gives Grant the chance to share the Billy Button story. “People can’t believe when they see our extensive wine list, and from that comes the story – how we source fruit from local growers and such.” But, he reiterates, “It’s not all about us. It’s a two-way relationship.”

For Grant, that means being a welcoming and stand out cellar door. “I always have people say, ‘I don’t know how to say this’, or ‘I’m not sure if I’m tasting in the right order’. I say to them, ‘It’s your tasting. You go wherever you want.’ [We like to put] people at ease, so they can relax and enjoy. We don’t charge for tastings. We just try to make people feel comfortable.”

One way Billy Button does this is with its tasting mats. “Jo has the wines all written with phonetics (for varietal pronunciation), so people can say it if they wish to say it,” says Grant. “At the end of the day, it’s not my tasting, it’s their tasting. We just want [customers] to have a good time, leave with some good wine and, we hope, join the wine club.”

Grant’s Red and White Wine Favourites

So, what does Grant love pouring at cellar door right now? “It’s hard to nail it down – there are so many good ones!” he says. “In whites at the moment, it’s the Pinot Blanc. In the reds, it would have to be Saperavi.”

2021 was a hot, dry year, explains Grant. “As a result, this vintage of Pinot Blanc has really crisp, great citrusy characters” he says. “It’s a little ‘Sauv-Blanc-y’ on the nose, but on the palate, it’s totally different, with a real fresh, clean crisp finish and really well-balanced acid at the end, too. It’s got Summer written all over it!”

The Saperavi, Grant explains, is a red grape originating in the country of Georgia. “The climate each year has a really different impact on this grape varietal,” he says. “It changes from vintage to vintage, whereas many of the others are pretty consistent.”

Billy Button sources the fruit for its Saperavi from the Smith family at Merriang on the outskirts of Myrtleford. “It’s quite a rare grape variety in Australia,” says Grant. “It’s a single-varietal grape, and Jo’s husband Glenn makes it in the traditional way they do it in Georgia – putting it in a 600-litre clay amphora lined with beeswax. We’ve got a few clay amphoras. We use pristine fruit, and everything goes in there – the juice, the stems, the seeds – and it’s a 200-day ferment. That’s the traditional way.” This wine is released as ‘Pyrrha’ in our Claypot Wines Range.

Jo does a similar Saperavi for Billy Button Wines, which has extended skin contact, but uses a ‘flexcube’ rather than a clay amphora. Billy Button’s Saperavi is a full-bodied red. “In milder years, it has savoury, herbaceous rose-petal characteristics, but the vintage we’re on now was hot and dry, and we’ve got this full-bodied wine that’s just a burst of fruit – and a really purply colour that first attracts people,” says Grant. “Then, once they taste it, it’s just like a fruit explosion they can’t resist.”

Check out Billy Button’s extensive wine list for yourself, then come visit Grant at our Bright cellar door or Pete at our Myrtleford cellar door.

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