Moana Grant did not envision herself as the owner of a wine bar in little old Gizzy. Just a few months ago, she was on the verge of moving to Melbourne. She had sold everything she owned, and had planned a short stay back here to spend time with friends before she headed off. But life is full of surprises, and today she finds herself pouring new energy into Siduri, a beloved spot quickly evolving into the place to be for intimate music and arts events.
Moana grew up between Gisborne and the coast, splitting time between her mum’s place here and her dad’s in Waihau Bay. But she was keen to explore, and vowed to leave as soon as she could, relocating to Wellington to go to university. “I had this feeling that if I didn’t go, I might get stuck.”
She spent the next several years studying and diving into the music scene, both in Wellington and Auckland, earning a Bachelors in Māori and Political Studies, and later studying law in Dunedin. But she was always drawn to the arts, which led to a career as a tattoo artist. She also sought out work at music events and festivals where she looked after artists, and eventually put on some events of her own. That led to connections and friendships with several artists that she still treasures today.
While in Auckland in her mid-20s, Moana created Ology, a program for art and creative development. Her vision was a bit like Tāiki ē here in Tūranganui-A-Kiwa, a creative hub where mentors could assist youth with their projects and empower them with the tools to make their dreams a reality. “I put it on the back burner, but I always wanted to do something with it.”
It was Siduri that inspired her to re-focus. After frequent visits to the wine bar with friends, she couldn’t help thinking about its potential as a music venue and arts space. Sam Millton, Siduri’s original owner, welcomed her ideas but he was on the verge of moving to Wellington. One night after a chat, Sam encouraged her to buy the business and a big couple of months later, here she is…doing it!
Siduri is wāhine owned and Moana is stoked to bring Te Ao Māori into the space. The walls are now ablaze with bright, bold pieces by artist Dayna Chaffey, and Moana finds new faces in the space all the time, coming by to check out the scene. “People tell me the range of people in here is more diverse now, and that makes me happy.”
But fans of the original Siduri can rest assured: this is still an excellent wine bar that punches well above its small-city stature. Moana has a deep appreciation for what Sam created. “I came here all the time and loved that it felt like something out of New York or Melbourne.”
Just as Sam was, Moana is very conscious of the importance of the lighting, music, and wine selection that sets Siduri apart. Sam curated a truly special wine list not readily available elsewhere in the area, and she has no plans to change that. “Sam has been absolutely key in the transition, introducing me to his suppliers, and they’ve been wonderful and so helpful with suggestions.”
That’s not to say it’s been an easy adjustment, particularly as a Māori woman in an industry that has received its fair share of criticism for elitism and chauvinism. When attending wine tasting events with potential suppliers, she notices how easily she is dismissed. “Then they’re surprised to hear I own the bar, and realize they shouldn’t have ignored me.” She admits she has a lot to learn about wine, but she’s confident in her instincts and determined to maintain Siduri’s reputation as a superb wine bar.
Moana’s guiding principle is “what I would want on the other side of the bar?” That includes an expanded menu and she’s testing more substantial offerings, like sliders, which are proving to be a hit, and adding to the drinks options with beer and mocktails.
For the wine lovers, Moana is creating a wine club that will offer members special bottles and exclusive access to events. Live music will be a dominant feature overall, but she also plans to host Poetry Slam and open mic nights. The art exhibitions will change regularly, and with each new exhibit, there will be a Meet the Artist event.
At the moment, every Friday there’s a DJ, and Saturday is usually an acoustics night. In line with her long-held Ology vision, Moana is also inviting visiting artists to a series of “Legend Sessions,” which are ticketed events that eventually will include a component of mentorship for young local artists and opportunities for local acts to perform alongside musicians of legendary status. The first of these kicks off this Saturday 23 September with R&B legend Chong Nee. He’ll be supported by Sienna Rose, who as well as being a solo performer in her own right, performed with him in the reggae band Foundation. Only 25 tickets will be sold, making this a rare and exclusive opportunity to hear these artists.
As if she’s not busy enough, Moana is also developing a podcast called the “Wine Down,” which will feature interviews with artists after their performance (over a glass of wine, of course). “I want it to be as raw as possible, drinking and chatting and whatever comes out, comes out.”
Acknowledging the scope of her ambitions, Moana notes she’s always been “a bit full on.” The enthusiasm is flowing freely, but she acknowledges the danger of burnout. Siduri is actively hiring more staff, especially going into summer, so sing out if you are interested in a Duty Manager or Bar Staff role.
For someone who didn’t see herself living in Gizzy, Moana has already contributed massively to the community, leveling up our nightlife, and more importantly, sharing the power of possibility. In the absence of big city amenities, it’s easy to lament what we lack. But Moana shows us there’s another way: instead of complaining about what we’re missing, we can get busy creating it.
Siduri is now open Wednesday to Sunday from 1 pm.
To stay in the know about upcoming events and wine features, follow Siduri on social media:
Facebook Siduri Wine Bar & Deli
Story by Victoria Williams Photographs by Tom Teutenberg