Where do I start with this one? Elise is the most kind-hearted, positive and genuine person I have ever met, Dom is also such a sweetheart that big smile is contagious. I first stumbled across ‘Down the Rabbit Hole Wines’ (Elise and Dom's wine) about 3 years ago when I first started Wandering Folk. I was looking for a beautiful and yummy wine to include in a Picnic hamper giveaway. Elise's photos were magical and her picnic set ups were insane, so of course she caught my attention! Elise also organised and styled a few pop up Cellar door events for Down the Rabbit Hole Wines, they are the most enchanted events I’ve ever seen! One in particular stands out, ‘Gypsyland’ - take a look at the video on their website.
Elise and Dom decided to call Byron Bay home this summer so we had lots of fun times picnicking and exploring waterfalls. Both our brands have the same goal to live a life full of adventure and picnics are a regular event. All I can say is these two sure are gems and their life is just as incredible as their stunning Instagram images… even when they have breakdowns in the Kombi they just simile and take whatever is thrown their way as living a life full of happiness is their main goal.
Read a little bit more about these two beautiful people that are currently picnicking their way around Australia in their Kombi ‘Scout’ and if you haven’t tried their wine, they are delicious and it’s a must!
Tell me a little bit about yourself? ( what's your background, did you go to uni, how do you make your bread and butter )
Hello folks! I’m Elise. I’m a full time wanderer with my husband, Domenic, in our van, Scout.
We do actually do some work while we’re wandering, but we live in a wonderful time in this wonderful world where you can own and run a business from anywhere. Did I ever think I’d be here doing this the way we are? No. But I dreamed it, and somehow, here we are.
I studied Journalism, and imagined myself getting a TV or Newspaper job straight out of uni. However, when I finished my degree we moved back to SA so that Dom could start his dream - Down The Rabbit Hole. Every cent we had (which wasn’t many) went into starting it, and that first year he started making just one wine - a Shiraz - but that meant that we needed to have some money coming in, and those journalism jobs required unpaid internships, so I put it on hold and kept working full time while we got the biz up and running. Not only was I putting that on hold, but I also desperately wanted to spend my twenties travelling, and when I broached the subject with Dom, it was a tough conversation. Actually it was a tough few conversations. Eventually we came to a compromise and decided to buy a van, so that for the time being, we could have little mini getaways on the weekends in SA.
That van changed our lives. It taught us to slow down, and while we built our business up over a few years I was able to write and take photos on the weekends while exploring my home state, which kept me happy. I was also amazing at what we had on our own doorstep and my dreams to backpack overseas soon because dreams to explore Australia.
After a couple of longer trips, during which we realised we could visit restaurants and bottle shops on the road and sell the wine, Dom turned to me and said - “Let’s do it. Let’s live in the van full time, see if we can make it work, you get to travel, write, and take photos, and I can keep running the business. Lets see if we can work out what living a good life really means to us.”
Where did your love for the outdoors and adventure begin?
I grew up camping all over Australia. My parent’s wedding anniversary was in a tent in The Grampians, and my entire childhood was full of camping, hiking, and canoeing adventures. As kids, Dad would have me and my brothers doing tent set up and pack down drills in the backyard.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that my parents took us on our first overseas adventure. They pulled us out of school for a few months and took us backpacking through Indonesia. Not longer after that we moved to Jakarta, where I completed high school. I fell in love with travel and adventure young, and I couldn’t wait to have my own. I moved to London with my best friend as soon as we turned 18, and we backpacked all over Europe. But somehow, back in Adelaide, I completely fell for an Italian work-a-holic who had never been on a holiday. That’s Dom ;)
Which is why, when eight years later, it was Dom that suggested we move into a van full time, I knew something wonderful was happening.
Your love for wine grew to the next level, how did you and your husband start a winery?
So, this is where all of Dom’s passions and loves have played an incredible role in our lives. He grew up making wine with his grandparents, who had previously owned vineyards in Italy, but in Australia had simple backyard vines and made enough for the family every year. He says because of this, he learnt to make wine in the purest way. It was something to share with loved ones and he looked forward to vintage (wine making time) every year.
After owning a wine bar, and then a wine wholesale business, his break into his own winemaking game came through a wonderful, dear friend. An older Italian winemaker in South Australia called Walter Clappis, who has been a long time mentor for Dom. He suggested that they start making a Shiraz together. Dom had a very specific idea, or dream if you will, about the kind of Shiraz he’d always wanted to create. Walter allowed us to use part of his biodynamic and organic vineyard to create our own wine. When Dom asked him if he wanted to enter into it as a partnership, Walter declined, and said that Dom had to own it 100%. He believed in Dom and his vision enough to make it possible without expecting anything in return. We couldn’t have done it without him.
Fast track 4 years and we have 4 wines, which are all being immensely enjoyed by anyone who comes across them. I don’t mean to too our own horn, but they are delicious. Haha.
We had planned to open a little cellar door in McLaren Vale, but before we did we wanted to to one big road trip. So we set off for two months. It was straight after that trip that Dom suggested we live in the van, and put the cellar door on hold for another year or two. We’ll get there, but right now, we’re right where we need to be.
You have Dom have been living on the road for a while now, what has been the biggest challenges?
Good question, but hard to answer. Most of the challenges make me grin because they reflect this lifestyle that brings me so much happiness, and so much freedom. Things like having to brush your teeth at a tap at the beach while it’s raining, or having to use a bush as a toilet more often than not, or being broken down on the side of the road for the 100th time (I had this idea that Scout would just cruise around Australia on good vibes and that has not been my reality). But it’s all a choice, and the good outweighs the bad, so we smile through the shit and holdout for the sunshine again.
What could you not live without on the road?
Music (very important).
Wine (also essential, definitely helps with those smiles whenever we break down).
A good rug ;) Always need something to drink the wine on.
Toilet paper. Never hit the road without it. Australian roads are very long.
Do you have a favourite playlist or song that has become a theme song for the trip?
I made a playlist for the road right before we left, so that’s been a favourite. It’s called Life’s A Road Trip and you can find it on Spotify (under my name I think). But I’m due to make a new one.
I feel like each destination has it’s own theme song. Like when I think of us on the red roads north of Broome, I can hear Paul Kelly in my head. There was this moment, after we had dug ourselves out of the fifth red sand car bog of the day, it’s about 40 odd degrees, the sun is setting, Dom’s driving in his jocks because all of his clothes were stained red, which means where his t-shirt and shorts were is white, and the rest of his body looks like a bad fake tan. He’s got his reading glasses on, his fiddler cap backwards to keep his sweaty hair off his face, and we’re bouncy along a terribly corrugated road while “From Little Things Big Things Grow…” drifts through the speakers. He looked ridiculous, the situation was hilarious, and I remember thinking, ‘I never want to forget this moment’. And I don’t think I ever will.
The people you meet along the way are almost as spectacular as the locations, do you have any great stories you want to share?
Oh there are so many. The amount of people who have welcomed us into their homes when we’ve needed help, or somewhere to stay during yet another breakdown, has just blown me away. Australia is full of amazing, wonderful, kind and funny people. It has definitely been a lesson on how to treat complete strangers. And a lesson on being open whenever a complete stranger comes over for a chat.
Your kombi ‘Scout’ has a great story behind it, can you tell us how it became yours?
As I mentioned earlier, we’d decided to buy a van, but we had a pretty small budget. When I was searching online I saw the ad for Scout. I couldn't stop looking at it, and for days I kept opening the page up just to check it was still there. A Westfalia camper, amazing condition, original interior, one owner since the day it was purchased in 1972, and it had a V6 engine put in so it had enough power to tow a caravan (which also means she hoots along). It was also way, way out of our budget.
Somehow, I convinced Dom that we should just "look" at it.
The whole way there he told me not to get excited, because there was no way on earth we were buying this van. I complied.
We met Peter at his house. He was a lovely man, and as he showed us the van, you could see how much he loved it.
He and his wife had purchased it together in Germany just after they got married, and travelled all over Europe. Then they took it to South Africa with them (where they were from). When they moved to Australia, 27 years ago, they couldn't leave their beloved van behind, and brought it with them. They raised their family and travelled Australia in the kombi. He told us stories of their family road trips, and told us it had been places, and seen things that would make the most seasoned traveller envious.
We couldn’t put an offer in, and left, but exchanged details incase he didn’t sell it.
A week later he called and asked us to come back, I wasn't sure why.We sat at his table and he told us he'd had two offers, but felt both we collectors and he didn't want the van collecting dust in someone's shed. He then told us the reason he was selling it was because he’d recently lost his wife, and with his children now out of home, the van would sit in his driveway unused.
He told us he loved the idea of it going to a young, newly married couple just beginning their lives together, just like he and his wife. He asked us what we could afford. Dom said to him, "I don't want to offend you, but the most we could spend... and this would be us stretching it.... is under half of what you’re asking."
I remember sitting there, my heart pounding, thinking "what is happening??".
Peter said to us, "I will give it to you for that price on one condition..."
My heart was pounding even more as I said "anything".
"You have to promise me you'll have adventures,” he said.
There were many tears. And he told us that when we started our own family we had to take our kids on lots of road trips. We promised him we would.
I wonder if he knew then how much the van would change and shape our lives.
Folllow Elise and Dom and also check out their Down the Rabbit Hole Wines