Kooks: The Social Winery

One day a few months ago I was meandering around the Internet and somehow stumbled across Kooks. Yes, I identified with the name and the labels are certainly sexy, but it was the ‘Social Winery’ bit that had me intrigued. I dug deeper, and discovered a bunch of lovely folk who not only turn water into very good wine, but who are passionate about doing good.

I wanted to know more so I asked Alec Law, creative director of Kooks, to tell me everything. He did.

Please tell us a little about Kooks.
It’s cheesy but like so many stories, it all started over a drink about three years ago. Three middle-aged blokes – Chris, Alec and Jamie – fed up with working for the man, their talents going to waste, looking for a better way to work and feed their families. Two of us are designers (Chris and Alec) so it’s in our nature to disrupt and look for better or more interesting ways of doing things. Jamie (who no longer works in the business day-to-day) enjoys the business-ey things. We all met because he was our first co-tenant when we started to lease desks in our studio space here in Melbourne.

As luck would have it, Jamie grew up in a wine making family and his sister Brie is a champion winemaker. One thing (or drink) lead to another and we started to pick apart the idea of ‘good wine’.

Like so many others before us we got excitable, had another drink, and resolved to do something about it.
 Unlikely as it may sound though…we actually did.

We wanted to create a business that had real purpose, using an enjoyable product, where the good stuff isn’t just in the bottle. We also wanted to make sure we we able to use our collective skills to good effect, and as Chris puts it so nicely, “feed ourselves and nourish others”.

What is a social winery and why was it important to you to be one?
As far as we can see, people have been making wine the same way for generations. We wanted to make Kooks for a new generation – a more giving generation.

 One that’s not about age or status, but is composed of people who enjoy a good drop, and like us, think the world is a much better place when we give a something back.

From a wine point of view it’s about making our product accessible to as many people as possible: good wine at a good price; from a purpose point of view it’s about making sure good people are the focus of our support; finally, from a community perspective, it’s about collaborating with other like-minded people and companies and involving everyone we engage with – be it suppliers, customers, our audience or beneficiaries – as much as possible.

The Kooks kooks. Image by Isamu Sawa
Image by Isamu Sawa

How does it all work? How much money do you give away, how do you choose who to give it to, and do you track its effect?
Again it’s always evolving. With our original release we did a thing called Grand Ideas where we supported twelve inspiring projects (one a month across a year) with a $1000 donation. We also gave them access to our wine, promoted their story through our channels, and profiled them through the column we have every month in Jetstar’s onboard magazine. We were able to support some amazing project like Playground Ideas, Project Rocket, and Geraldine Cox AM’s Sunrise Orphanage Cambodia amongst others.

We soon realised, though, that it’s important for support to be focused on outcomes, not just money, so we took certain aspects from that journey and evolved to create Labour of Love which is a better representation of what we’re all about.

Labour of Love supports big-hearted, uncommonly good folk who are prepared to get their hands dirty and do something good for other people – for love, not money.

To demonstrate how this has worked, a couple of examples might help. One is the wonderful BottleBoat project. We worked with a bunch of loons to help build a boat entirely made of our little plastic bottle that we use onboard Jetstar. They built it, drove it all the way from Sydney across the outback to Darwin and became the first team ever to compete in the Darwin Beer Can Regatta in a boat made of wine bottles not beer cans. They came second, and all in the name of raising funds and profile for the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. The guys made a documentary about it which National Geographic are interested in taking up. We’re now supporting an Evening of Conversation with Dumbo Feather and the extraordinary Julian Burnside QC whose true labour of love is the support of refugees. It’s quite a loop.

The second is the amazing Bec Scott and STREAT which is an incredible social enterprise helping young homeless Australians. We did our thing with them, which in turn helped them raise funds to open their new cafe/roastery/HQ in Collingwood and now we’re all working together to explore the world of purpose driven ideas we can together bring to life. That’s when things really catch fire.

What does generosity mean to you?
Giving a shit about other people and not being unnecessarily selfish. There’s enough of most stuff in life for everyone to enjoy if we share.

Do you think we as a society are more or less generous now than 50 years ago?
We’re all Generation X at Kooks and it seems our generation and those younger than us seem much more driven to collaborate and share than those older than us.

There is a large groundswell of the population who are fed up with selfishness and are happier to engage in a more open way of doing things.

It’s far from saying that everyone shares our viewpoint or that our opinion is more valid but we rightly or wrongly believe that the self-indulgence of the baby boomers is shifting towards a bunch of people who prefer to collaborate than ‘win’. Even if we are wrong, at least we can say hand-on-heart that we feel that way ourselves and we gave it a shot.

Image by Isamu Sawa
Image by Isamu Sawa
Image by Isamu Sawa
Image by Isamu Sawa

What’s your wine making/drinking philosophy?
We reckon you can feel good about what you’re doing for someone else at the same time as feeling good with your glass of wine. The goal of Kooks is to be ‘The Social Lubricant’ for a new purpose driven way of doing business.  Winemaking tends to attract a world of waffle and nonsense – we try to leave out all the tired old stuffiness, stinginess and snobbery often associated with ‘good wine’.

Can you please give us a brief wine tasting lesson in three steps?
Drink, Share, Enjoy. Bingo.

What’s more important – the quality of the wine or the people you drink it with?
Both. One doesn’t have to be more important than the other. Let’s face it, the good times can still happen with friends whether you’re sipping Grange or sinking Blue Nun.

What’s the most beautiful thing about wine?
The woozy feeling it gives you, which loosens your inhibitions, stimulates conversations, thoughts and emotions. All of which are good things. Oh, and our labels of course. 

What does a typical day involve for you?
Well, that depends on what day it is!

Apart from making the wine – which is entirely Brie’s domain – Chris and I now do every single job in the business between us. This ranges from processing orders to programming EDMs, social media to export paperwork, designing labels to sales. It’s actually a very complicated business and there’s always a lot to do.

Kooks eh? We must be crazy!

What are you passionate about?
Football (soccer), music, laughing, new ideas and new ways of doing things, audacious moonshots, designing things that are better, any gesture (no matter how big or how small) that is beautifully made. I quite like gardening too.

What’s on the drawing board for Kooks in 2017?

  • Launching Wild Reserve – our endangered species focused label into the US, China and here (possibly).
  • Exploring ways of furthering the idea of a real Social Winery.
  • Collaborating with more like-minded people and brands.
  • Growing our community.
  • Focusing on the good we help.
  • Getting into hotels, airlines and corporates (a call to action for all you lovely people out there!)
  • Getting better at what we do.
  • Getting some sleep.

What is your dream project for Kooks?
One that’s economically viable, creatively stimulating, and with an audacious social outcome.

There’s project called “Enabling The Future’ which is about open source 3D printing of prosthetic hands. That. Is. Brilliant. We really should get involved in that.

Also, we’ve got an idea about a film/series about “Who would you most like to have a drink with”. We’d like to interview really diverse and interesting ‘’good’ people like Melinda Gates, Eric Cantona, Elon Musk, and Watson (The IBM Super Computer), over a glass of wine and see what makes them tick.

If you were a plant, what would you be?
This will only mean something to other 40-something English ex-pats (perhaps not many Planthunter readers I guess) – but ‘Uncle the Aspidistra’ from The Adventure Game. “Bllllugblle blllurble. Doogyrev.” (Google it). That or a Triffid. 

Where can we buy your wine!?
The best question yet! At the moment you can find ‘Labour of Love’ in Dan Murphys in store and online nationwide, onboard Jetstar flights, and in room at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. You can contact us about the ‘One-for-One’ offer for people who want to use our ‘Labour of Love’ wine to support theirs.

P.S. If you come to any of our Planthunter workshops in Sydney you’ll be able to taste the delicious goodness of Kooks’s wines for yourself – they very generously sponsor them. It’s wonderful to be able to collaborate with good people doing great things!



Image by Isamu Sawa