NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: The newly opened James & Co cellar door brings a touch of Melbourne to downtown Rutherglen.
PICTURES: 52WeekendsNEVic /
Georgie James Photography (as noted)
Rutherglen couple Ricky and Georgie James set out to create modern Italian style wines to be shared with friends and now they’ve opened just the venue where you can enjoy the experience.
Eight years ago they took a punt on creating their own wines, an opportunity for experienced winemaker Ricky to utilise his talents within his own label rather than for someone else. He figured that if it didn’t work out, they could just drink it themselves, but their Sangiovese proved to be a hit. After Ricky sold some of the wine to a couple of local restaurants, things took off from there.
“It’s become bigger and more successful than we ever imagined,” he says of their James & Co wine – the ‘& Co’ part referring to everyone else who forms part of their story, from Georgie’s friend Naideen Hillier who created their fresh, modern branding to North East local Mark Walpole, from whom they source most of their grapes.
“We make the wine, we have a group of people who help and we share equipment with other winemakers around the area,” says Ricky, with collaboration key to how they operate, teaming up with likeminded creatives and producers from around the North East throughout all aspects of their business.
While finding a home base for James & Co wasn’t a priority at first, when the couple did decide to put their roots down, it wasn’t easy.
“It took us two years to find this location,” says Georgie, as they struggled to find premises that was “just right”.
And their Main Street property was well worth the wait. While I’m there for my interview, winter sun streams in the two large front windows as Rutherglen life buzzes around us. On such an exciting occasion – their opening day – locals pop in to have a look around, wishing Ricky and Georgie well on their journey. It’s clear that there’s a lot of support from the community for this new enterprise.
“I think living in a place like this is the best thing ever,” Georgie says. “We’ve got nature, really good people, great schools for the kids. It’s a great way of life and there are really good things going on.”
Georgie describes their cellar door as having a tiny zing of city style which – like its neighbour Thousand Pound Bar down the road – it more than certainly achieves. It’s got the right combination of aesthetics – sharp whites and blacks as a backdrop, complemented by fittings including gorgeous communal timber tables made with wood sourced from an old bridge in Mudgee, which is where Ricky started working with Sangiovese.
“We wanted a cellar door, but it had to be different because what we do is different,” says Georgie. “This building came up and I wanted it to be a really beautiful, positive space, where you can come in and feel comfortable with approachable and affordable wines.”
It’s wine that’s been made to enjoy with friends, sitting around the table with good wine and conversation, she says. Meanwhile Ricky – whose down-to-earth nature is reflected in his website proclamation that he’s “unfussed by top notes of gooseberry” (!) – says he loves working with Sangiovese because it’s so versatile. “It’s not a big wanky wine,” he says. “It’s an everyday wine, but it’s just not as well known as some of the others.”
While he appreciates big, heavy wines, Ricky says he doesn’t enjoy drinking them. “Sangiovese is a great ‘afternoon wine’. You have it with lunch and then a few glasses into the day. It’s a great food oriented wine which suits our lifestyle and the life of people these days.”
They source their grapes from the Beechworth and Alpine Valleys, which makes it a cooler climate and finer flavoured Sangiovese than traditionally made. “It’s a little more elegant,” says Ricky, who uses the grapes to make four different styles – a straight Sangiovese, Sangiovese/Cabernet, a Rose (as pictured above by Georgie) and a sparkling wine (which is due for release later this year).
He’s also added a Pinot Grigio to their list for the first time, which Ricky says makes a good match for the reds they already have on offer.
Ricky grew up in Melbourne, but was drawn to the area through a family farm at Tocumwal. When he started to scratch the surface of his mother’s Swiss heritage, he discovered relatives who’d spent time in the Rutherglen district as vine dressers back in the 1920s.
“They’re on the school register,” Ricky says. And not long after that discovery, he realised his father’s family was in the district at the same time. “They left for Melbourne in the 1920s, but they would have been here at the same time as my mum’s family.” No wonder the call to make Rutherglen home was so strong.
Creating a life like this has been a dream come true for photographer Georgie, who grew up in the area, but went away for secondary school and lived in Melbourne for years.
“I’d bought a house and had a good job, thought I’d never have to move again,” she says. “But one morning I woke up and knew I had to get out of there.”
Georgie says that when you move out of the city, people ask what you’re going to do. “They wonder how you’re going to make friends, where you’re going to work. But you can be quite creative with what you do. We’ve woven together all these different things to make a living.” For the James family, not only does that involve their wine and photography businesses, but they lease 400 acres of farm land as well.
Ricky says they also want their children to grow up with a good work ethic, something he developed himself as the son of a third generation hardware shop owner, doing his time on the tools during school holidays.
“We want the kids to see us running our own businesses,” he adds. “We want them to know they can be the masters of their own destiny.”
Georgie says it’s important for them to ensure they have a really good lifestyle for their kids, Gabrielle (18), Charlie (11) and Lucy (9), who love their motorbikes and horses. “You can have a really great life here,” she says. “It was really good to move back here, hard at first but it was worth it.”
As Georgie describes her love of the region, it’s apparent she’s generous and a real thinker, whose strong love of collaboration has been the inspiration for many an opportunity. Her Instagram account (@georgie_james_photo) frequently features other local businesses and her joint styled wedding and event shoots are on a whole other level (as pictured above by Georgie), creating images that could have been painted by one of the old Masters. It’s work you’d expect to see on the pages of magazine, the quality is so high, yet this is what Georgie and her fellow collaborators do for work and pleasure.
With fellow collaborators from recent months including Rutherglen Florist, Gather Vintage Hire, Forethought by Samantha, Di Billiet Homewares, D & D Letterpress, Little Tipple and Wooragee-based artist Catherine Stewart, at locations including St Leonards Winery, Mt Ophir Estate and Chiltern’s Star Theatre, it’s clear there’s a lot going on right now around North East Victoria.
“It’s such an interesting time to be alive,” says Georgie, who recalls a former chef at All Saints telling her “The more we do, the more we do, there’s some for me, there’s some for you.” It really made things click for Georgie, who’d always been drawn to partnerships and connecting local businesses together. “That’s there the opportunities are.”
As an in-demand wedding photographer, Georgie travels throughout the region, into the Riverina and down to Melbourne. A recent wedding saw her on a road trip to Tamworth, an adventure she was more than happy to take on, following her love of seeing people “doing their day, their way.”
Georgie says she loves seeing the unique spaces and places that people marry, especially when she goes somewhere that really means a lot to the couple like an old homestead on a family farm. “When they’re really connected to the place, it’s special.”
Her foray into photography started out with a friend asking her to cover his wedding, which led to another and another. Georgie then did a workshop in Kyneton with wedding photographers Erin and Tara, which she says really matched her style.
“I immediately connected with its detail, the dreaminess and the sensitivity,” she says. That was three years ago. “I walked out of there and felt like I could do this. From that little seed, everything else has unfolded.”
Georgie will use part of their new space to showcase wallhanging options for her wedding couples. “You have to know how you can do it,” she says, “People need options so their pictures aren’t kept in a drawer.”
Long-term there are plans to run workshops on-site and to bring in more local vendors. Already, the two front windows feature event hire businesses, Gather Vintage and Hen’s Teeth Trading, neatly bringing together the kind of wedding day gems you can create in this beautiful part of the world.
Currently James & Co is open for tastings and wine sales by the glass, with Ricky and Georgie looking forward to offering locally sourced antipasto platters as their new premises evolves. They’re open Thursday – Monday from 11am-6pm.
James & Co Essentials:
136 Main St, Rutherglen VIC 3685
Phone Ricky (winemaker) 0447 341 373 / Georgie (sales & marketing) 0437 566 765
Discover more about Georgie James Photography via this link.