Sophie Otton has curated wine lists for Rockpool Dining Group and Billy Kwong, but now the Sydney-based sommelier has taken the leap and opened her own wine bar in Newtown dubbed She Loves You.

I began my career in the wine industry when I was at university. I wasn’t particularly passionate about what I was studying at the time and I got my first wine job at Universal Wine Bar. This was back in its heyday, when it was owned by Michael Hill Smith, Australia’s first Master of Wine. Suddenly, everything just felt right. I knew very quickly this was where I was meant to be and what I wanted to be good at.

I wanted to open my own venue a long time ago, but it took a while to work out where I wanted to be. I think everyone who is devoted to hospitality imagines having a place
of their own at some stage. Working hard in the industry makes you think about working for yourself. I had been thinking about it for quite some time before I got around to doing it. It’s probably well overdue.

Renaming and relaunching the bar since we bought it has been quite a challenge. When we took over [Doris and Beryl’s Bridge Club & Tea House] it was already operating and we decided to continue running it while we got to know the customers, the location and the vibe. But at the end of last year, Kylie Kwong invited She Loves You to be part of the Carriageworks Night Markets, so we had to rebrand suddenly, before we were really ready. It’s amazing how fast you can work when the pressure is on.

Customers can expect a soothing environment and a place where  they can relax and unwind. We bought it because it was a cosy little space that’s very intimate and we plan to run with that. We are in the process of creating what we hope is an interesting wine list. The wines will be mostly Australian, of course, with a few exotics to extend the boundaries. I’ve been putting together a fun, approachable list that’s good value and nothing too alienating. There are also some fun cocktails and a good range of beer. But it’s a work in progress, and will continue to evolve for quite some time.

The wine list is very small compared to previous lists I’ve done here in Sydney. Rockpool Bar & Grill had the best restaurant cellar in the Southern Hemisphere when I was there, so nothing compares to that. But the wines we’ve been pouring at Billy  Kwong have influenced me considerably. The She Loves You list is mostly composed of fairly hands-on winemaking and includes minimal-interventionist wines, small producers and the like. That  said, it’s not too esoteric — just fun things to explore and enjoy.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s April issue. Subscribe here.

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