When Australian "shed rock" band The Chats teamed up with Delinquente winemaker Con-Greg Grigoriou, the packaging was a no-brainer. It had to be cask wine – also known as "goon" and common to backyard barbies everywhere.
Since forming in Queensland in 2016, The Chats have earned a following for irreverent lyrics and a larrikin attitude. The band usually drink beers, but enjoyed the collaborative winemaking process, during which Grigoriou – who is based in Adelaide – sent samples to The Chats lockdown base in Brisbane.
"We never really drink wine, however, goon is an exception on special occasions," says frontman Eamon Sandwith. "We had a swig and thought, 'this actually isn't bad'."
The team behind the collaboration is Built to Spill Wine, an online wine store devoted to "connecting good people with great wine".
"The word 'collaboration' can be quite naff and can scare people off," says Built to Spill co-founder Trad Nathan. "But we don't just slap a sticker on a bottle. It's important that the winemaker is credited and we try to get the band involved in every step of the process."
Wine-meets-celebrity is not a new concept. High-profile examples on the market include a rosé by Kylie Minogue, and rapper Snoop Dogg's 19 Crimes "Cali Red".
Built to Spill's focus, however, is on natural wines made by small producers. Done thoughtfully, everybody wins. "It helps pay the bills," Sandwith says.
The Built to Spill team comes from solid musical industry stock. Co-founders Trad Nathan and Tyla Dombroski also co-own Sydney and Brisbane live music venues Crowbar.
"We've always been into wine and started getting into natural wines," Nathan says. "We wanted to explore that deeper and introduce people to the winemakers we'd fallen in love with – people who share the exact same ethics as we do.
"Some natural and organic practices really align with the rock-and-roll and punk rock ethos, whether it be sustainability or how you treat your workers."
Nathan and Dombroski teamed up with artist management and recording company Unified Music Group to launch Built to Spill when COVID-19 restrictions threw Australia's live music scene into uncertainty.
"The first wave of lockdowns hit and there were no guidelines and no goalposts," Nathan says. "We were shut and our bills just kept on coming in."
The duo enlisted wine buyer and director Tai Tate to join the winemaker dots.
"The thing that makes a good collab is finding a great band that has an adventurous fan base," Tate says. "Wine-wise, it's about making something that's exciting but also accessible."
Initially, the collaborative wine projects were a way to provide an alternative source of income for musicians and small batch winemakers.
"We always put the artists before anything else," Nathan says. "Artists bring people to our venue and help us sell drinks so we have to make sure they are looked after."
Since stirring the collaborative pot, Built to Spill has released 15 small-batch creations. These include Youngbloods Shiraz – a mash-up between metalcore band The Amity Affliction and Rikard Wines in NSW – and Purest Strain of Grape, a dry red by Thy Art Is Murder and Victorian-based winemaker Konpira Maru.
There's also a fizz conjured by DZ Deathrays and organic winery Blind Corner called Positive Sparkling Cremant, and The Rubens' 0202 Cabernet Pet Nat made with Ryan O'Meara of Express Winemakers. Heaven Sent is an easy-drinking red from Newcastle punk-rockers Trophy Eyes and Golden Child Wines in the Adelaide Hills.
For Golden Child winemaker and punk fan James Hamilton, the collaborative process was a thrill. Trophy Eyes singer John Floreani briefed the winemaker on the style he wanted and Hamilton did the rest.
"John was booked to fly down to help us blend the barrels but the Melbourne lockdown hit that week," says Hamilton.
When border restrictions ease, the plan is for band members to be involved in all levels of wine production from picking to foot stomping, and barrel sampling to bottling. Independent artists are also engaged, such as Campbell Walker (also known as Struthless) who designed The Chats Goon box.
"A good collab relies on all parties being excited, invested in the project and enthused to see it all the way through," says Delinquente winemaker Grigoriou.
"Collabs are great because they open doors for each collaborative partner to gain an audience. Chats fans might get introduced to our wine, or the style of wine we make through a project like this, and vice versa.
"From a personal point of view, the opportunity to work with other industries and create something outside the box, so to speak, keeps the creative juices flowing."
Hamilton agrees that one of the main benefits as a winemaker is exposure to a band's fans.
"But it's also good as an industry to show that wine can be made by a wide range of people and should be enjoyed by everyone," he adds. "Wine is not an elite club. I think that's the most important message."
It helps sell records, too. "We're ARIA accredited," Nathan says. "A bottle of wine comes with a download code on it, and that goes towards a band's ARIA sales.
"Thy Art is Murder almost launched themselves back into the ARIA charts, when they did a wine with us because all the people buying the wine got a copy of the record."
More major Australian acts are engaged to make wines in the future.
"To begin with, it was about trying to put good booze together with great bands and trying to support them during uncertain times," says Tate.
"But it's now about making wine more accessible and exciting to everybody; from the young metal fan to the old punk rocker."
Three wine collaborations to try
Not all celebrity collab wines are only good for cleaning the kitchen sink. Give these stellar examples a whirl.
The Chats Goon
Delinquente has long produced great wine and this a winner on all fronts. Chats frontman Eamon Sandwith recommends pairing the white blend with "a few delicious cheerios from the Coles deli and Cold Chisel's Greatest Hits – on CD of course". $45 a cask (1.5 litres). builttospill.wine
A collaboration between cricket legend Ricky Ponting and winemaker Ben Riggs. The Ponting Close of Play Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 is particularly smashing, made with grapes from Langhorne Creek in South Australia. Six bottles for $149. pontingwines.com.au
DR3 x St Hugo
St Hugo's collaboration with Australian F1 megastar Daniel Ricciardo was no flash in the pan. The first two releases in the DR3 series were the 2014 Barossa Shiraz and a 2015 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon (made by winemaker Peter Munro). They sell out fast but there's still some shiraz left. $65 a bottle. sthugo.com