Local Legends: Saskia Fransz - Owner and Manager of Village Vineyard Fine Booze
Today we are joined by Saskia Fransz, owner-operator of Village Vineyard Fine Booze. Village Vineyard is a much loved, wholly female-owned and operated boutique Bottle Shop and bar in Melbourne. Saskia has been running the venue for six years with a focus on great wine, craft beer and spirits from independent producers. I dropped by for a chat to discuss women in the alcohol industry, customer loyalty, and wine wankerism amongst other things.
Thanks for joining us Saskia. So how did you get into the industry?
My pleasure! Well at University I studied archeology of all things but while I was finishing off that degree I started out working in cafes as I think as many of us do. I got quite involved in wine through that and also started going to the Craft Beer showcases that used to be held at Fed Square and that’s really where it started with beer for me. I ended up following a brewer around that event one day drunk as a skunk, desperate to find where his beer was stocked. Eventually, he told me, and then told me to piss off which is perfectly fair, but that venue happened to be this shop!
So I came in here and had a conversation with the then manager and I said: “I don’t suppose you have any jobs going?” She told me to come back tomorrow with my resume and that was that.
Quite a journey to get here. Still have a soft spot for archaeology?
Yeah I do. I think my favourite subject was Roman art and architecture so Roman history particularly the Julius Caesar age it’s pretty magical stuff.
No follow up questions from me as I will quickly expose my ignorance in this area haha. How has Village Vineyard changed since you took over the business?
Yes, so I took over the business about six years ago and gave it a bit of a facelift, put some more interesting stuff on the shelves and it went gangbusters. I have a Master of Wine/ Wine Appreciation so I have a fairly well-trained palette but we also don’t really stand on ceremony. I'm not a massive wine wanker, I'm a little bit of a wanker maybe but not too much. I want wine to be really accessible basically. It’s there to be drunk, it's not there to be wanked over. I just love this place. I’ve never ever spent a second here on anywhere else in the industry, beer wine whatever, that has felt like wasted time.
Now there are some great quotes in there! I’m going to borrow some of those I think. Village Vineyard is proudly 100% female-owned and operated do you have any advice for females trying to get into this male-dominated industry?
Yeah stand up for yourself! And don’t take any nonsense. I still get people, usually old men making comments where I think ‘How stupid do you have to be?’
One beer rep came in recently, walked past our wall of well stoked, independent craft beer, introduced himself and told me his beer would do really well here because it was a ‘girly beer.’ I was pretty flabbergasted so I said to him “Look can I give you some advice?” Don’t say anything like that to a woman in the beer or wine industry ever again because you are not going to get anywhere.” He was so embarrassed and so flustered but I hope he learnt something. That’s the big one I think, don’t be afraid to call people out on their bullshit.
Well there’s a lot of people with a lot of bullshit out there so that’s great advice! I have seen you are offering delivery during COVID times. How else has your business adapted?
We are a bit lucky as after 5 years of stuffing around with the Yarra Council we secured a general liquor license to open up a bar alongside the bottle shop here last January. So had a couple of months of incredible vibes, absolutely amazing, busy days and then Lockdown 1 happened. Still, having the bottle shop business has been fortunate as a lot of the new customers we attracted via the bar have stuck around because they clearly enjoyed themselves, and the wines and felt that we were people they really wanted to support. We’re lucky that we’re still here and I can still give hours to my employees so we’re rolling with it all and taking it day by day.
Great attitude mate, I think that’s about all any of us can do. It seems the relationships with your customers are really important to you?
Yeah exactly we have a really really strong local following. A lot has to do with our focus on small producers, artisanal stuff, family-owned stuff, I mean I don’t put anything on the shelf unless I’ve tested it and liked it. But really we are a relationships business and most of my customers I would say live between a kilometre or two of the store. My longest term customer, for example, has been coming in every Friday night for fourteen years.
As if on cue a regular who walks in and is greeted with a “Hello Darling!” by Saskia.
Well that’s some great customer loyalty! Is that the best part of your Job?
Yeah people. talking to people. A close second would be the 20- 100 wines and tonnes of beer samples per week that I try to see if I want to stock them. But by and large it’s certainly the customers I have relationships with. they are all delightful people and I love them all.
The love is pretty evident here and I think we all need a little more love especially at this time! What are you drinking at the moment?
Well A Local Beers obviously.
Other than that a lot of Malbecs, some dark beers, West Coast IPAs which is by far my favourite style of beer of all time.
Well, some freshly stocked Runaway IPAs are now on their way from the brewery as we speak which I’m sure you will be drinking shortly! And now for our traditional final question, who was your childhood celebrity crush?
All-time celebrity crush would have to be Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings still to this day.
Well that’s a good choice in my book! Thanks very much for joining us Saskia.
Village Vineyard is located at 348 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North VIC
Or visit their website at http://www.villagevineyard.com.au/