Sigrid de Castella and Antony Anderson bonded over a love of wine. Eighteen months ago they finally set up the bar in East Melbourne they had dreamed of, inspired by a cosy neighbourhood venue in Rome where you order quality vino by the glass.
For Tony as a young man, such an ambition was not on the horizon. He was a "a beer and cooler drinker" until he had a Eureka moment.
Occasionally he and his then-girlfriend would visit wineries and pick up a couple of bottles they stored in a rack in the kitchen but he had no real enthusiasm for the grape.
"One night I just decided to drink some wine, so I opened this bottle that had been there probably three or four years," he says.
"It had aged and softened and it was like ambrosia! It just completely changed the way I viewed wine."
Now, three decades later, the IT contractor is also a sommelier studying a diploma in wines and spirits, and he and his wife, Sigrid, are sharing the joys of discovery at their Tribeca Arcade venue.
Tucked away in the old Victoria Brewery building in Victoria Parade, the 40-seat Life's Too Short Bar serves up an astounding range of quality drinks and food from its bluestone premises, which formerly housed Cohen Cellars, including 28 wines by the glass, kept fresh under Argon gas.
"I curate the wine list, and I try and get local wines, and more unusual things people haven't tried before," Tony says. "And we also bring out back-vintage bottles from our private cellar and make them available."
The pair aim to demystify wine, adding pronunciation notes to their menu to help customers tackle lesser-known varieties like Marsanne, Tannat and Soave.
Key to their concept is engaging with people about what they might enjoy, making suggestions and offering tastes.
They also run a range of events, focusing on grape varieties and regions, featured spirits or "old and rare wines" in addition to food and wine pairings.
A high-achieving former corporate manager and consultant, Sigrid has a family background in cordon bleu cooking and has applied herself to "always trying to push the boundaries" of food the bar offers "to give people an experience and wow them a bit".
Despite operating out of a 3sqm kitchen, she and full-time sous chef Nevra Aydin serve a rotating menu of mains, with options such as 'macadamia dukkah-crusted barramundi with mash, lime-caperberry gremolata and rocket' as well as charcuterie, tapas and desserts, which are available until at least 11pm.
Sigrid also has a family background in wine.
Her great-grandfather, Hubert de Castella, essentially planted what would become Victoria's first commercial vineyard, St Hubert's, in the Yarra Valley, founding a Victorian wine-making dynasty.
"I joke that that blood runs through my veins," Sigrid says. "But when Tony and I met, I had all this old wine so we went on a sort of wine journey together.
"Every holiday we would go to a different wine region, and we gradually developed our palate and our passion for it."
One evening in Rome they were directed to a tiny bar lined with bottles and packed with locals, where they lingering, swishing the excellent wine in their glasses and soaking up the ambience.
The experience was a highpoint that set the couple thinking about a European-style bar of their own.
It was not until 2020 when the Tribeca Arcade premises formerly operating as Cohen Cellars became available that their "booze change" became possible.
"Life's too short to drink bad wine or crappy cocktails," Sigrid says. "God knows I've had a lot of them.
"It's too short not to do the things you're passionate about."