When you're describing a pair that's just opened a venue, using the term "power couple" is a little bit lazy and played out. But when I interviewed Florence Diffey and Josh Di Stefano about their new wine shop, Vera Wine, in Newcastle, all I could think was: "yep, that's a power couple."
Diffey's father is the eponymous Gerald of Gerald's Bar, the Melbourne wine bar icon in Carlton North that's beloved by locals and is a pilgrimage spot for international chefs visiting the Victorian capital (Heston Blumenthal, Fergus Henderson and Massimo Bottura have all dropped in for a tipple at some point). Diffey grew up working in the bar (and living above it), and it's where she developed her abiding love for wine. She's worked as a wine educator at Prince Wine Store and as a sommelier at Andrew McConnell's Marion – two other Melbourne wine legends.
Di Stefano, meanwhile, started his career working in coffee at Collingwood's Proud Mary, before leading the coffee program at Dinner by Heston, where he was bitten by the wine bug. He proceeded to work at Bar Liberty, one of Australia's great wine bars, before managing the Collingwood arm of pioneering booze retailer Blackhearts and Sparrows.
Basically, the two of them are more than qualified enough to open a wine shop. And that's what they did, two months ago, after the couple relocated from Melbourne to Newcastle, Di Stefano's hometown, with their three children.
"We always wanted to open a shop, but we didn't move here thinking it was going to happen straight away," Diffey says. "But within a few months kind of just evolved naturally."
Vera (named for Diffey's great-aunt, who was "warm and fun and loved a drink"), is a looker: it's a light, narrow space with crisp white walls and blond timber shelves. It's built with tastings and wine events in mind, although a wine bar might not be on the cards "until the kids get a bit older."
There are a couple of places in Newcastle that stock more unconventional, harder-to-source wines, but Vera is undoubtedly the most specialised wine shop in town.
"A lot of people are coming in here specifically because they want to try different things – our most sold items are obscure varieties like gaglioppo or high altitude xinomavro from Greece," Diffey says.
"Literally from the second we opened, people were just trusting us," says Di Stefano. "Spending 35 dollars on a bottle you don't know is a gamble, but people are putting that trust in us, and coming back and saying – 'that bottle was awesome, can I try something else?'"
There's a broad range of wines on offer – both in-store and online – but the vast majority of them are seriously affordable; hovering just above the $30 dollar mark, cheap enough to take a calculated risk on a wine you don't know.
"The most satisfying thing for me is making sure that people leave with the bottle they can afford and will make them the most happy," Diffey says.
"If someone comes in and says 'I've got 40 dollars to spend' and describes a wine, then we'll recommend a $28 dollar bottle that does exactly what they're after, because it suits them more," Di Stefano says.
"We just want people to drink delicious things."