Cate Gowers and Clara Higham-Stoianova

A chance encounter and love for wine connected Cate Gowers, artist, photographer and restaurant manager of Otto, and Clara Higham-Stoianova, owner and founder of Sips Berlin, a natural wine delivery service. And the women have been inseparable ever since, let’s get to know them.

Photography by Fidelis Fuchs

Tell us about your foray into gastronomy and how your path led you to where you are today?

Clara: I started working in hospitality from a young age and went on to study business management in London so I could get a bigger picture of my passions from a business perspective. In Berlin I met a wine importer and we started traveling through Europe together, visiting vineyards and learning more and more about natural wines. Eventually we decided to move to Lisbon together to open Ladidadi Wines in Lisboa. I moved back to Berlin a year and a half ago and started my own company called Sips Berlin with all of the learnings about food and wine that I’d picked up along the way. Cate: I grew up in Melbourne, Australia where I studied fine arts. I was always working in gastronomy as a side job during my studies. When I moved to London and then Berlin I just organically started to get more involved in the gastronomy scene. As I grew more passionate about it, I landed a job at Otto. Being the restaurant manager in combination with selecting wines, managing our social accounts and creating the restaurant’s visual identity was the first job I’d had that combined my love for art and gastronomy in one.

How did you both meet and how has your friendship evolved over time?

Clara: We met at a wine shop I worked at with my former partner in Kreuzberg called LADIDADI Wines. Cate was coming by to the shop on Friday for tastings, and we got to know each other through Alanna from Vin de La Gamba, I guess we were always destined to cross paths! Over time we became closer and Cate was so supportive of the business I started. She definitely helped elevate Sips as we constantly tasted my wines together, some of which she chose to showcase at Otto too. Cate: It wasn't complete nepotism, even though there was definitely some mutual uplifting. The timing of our individual growth in our careers and the alignment in a friendship was very fortuitous.

What are your three favorite wines that you have in common?

Clara & Cate: Dambach-la-ville Riesling 2018, Yann Durrmann Crax Riesling, and Monaco Spiritoso. We kind of swing between big indulgent, decadent, white wines that are made in a really clean, pure way, like a buttery Chardonnay, to something really funky and wild and bright.

What comes to your mind when I ask you about the gastronomy scene in Berlin?

Clara: Strong women! Oh and Sören Zuppke - he's the greatest addition that Berlin gastro could have asked for. He’s also been so supportive of my business every step of the way, never failing to introduce me to people as the “queen of natural wines” which is a hilarious accolade. But the scene on the whole is a dynamic one that’s constantly brimming with new talent and inspiring concepts. It’s a great time to be working in this industry in Berlin. Cate: I think of the ever expanding list of places to thoughtfully eat, drink and be merry. There's a wave of gastronomy in Berlin at the moment where people are sourcing their produce with quality and respect for the environment in mind. Of course that is not a new thing but more and more places are putting high quality ingredients at the forefront of their cooking and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Also interesting to see how it changes the culture around eating and dining out.

What is it about Berlin that keeps you here?

Cate: The atmosphere of the city! It’s electric, timelines are fluid, people can be spontaneous and resourceful and creative, there’s a sense that you can build something from scratch. I think a lot of it comes from the rebellious underground culture that was born out of the city’s history of war and the expat community definitely benefits from that history. But I hope that we’re also contributing to the fabric of the city in a positive way.

Photography by Fidelis Fuchs
Photography by Fidelis Fuchs

What is your ‘personal’ Berlin - your favorite places to visit, hang out at, eat & drink?

Cate: We have a friend who started a radio station, Refuge Worldwide, which supports refugee initiatives and grassroots movements, and we love hanging out there and being a part of that growing community. Clara: It feels like a family there and they also have Sips wines ;) Cate: We definitely love having dinner at JAJA and Barra. Or Bar Brutal 54, if you would like to get a bit lit and have a sexy night.

Clara, can you tell me more about the B2B side of the Sips business?

Clara: I actually have an import distribution business, which is focused on supplying really special natural wines to some of the restaurants and bars in Berlin. I started this in Berlin and now even have requests from other places in Germany too. The goal is to get wines from special corners of Europe that are energetic, delicious, and have a strong sense of place to them.

How do you select those wines?

Clara: I travel to the vineyards to meet the growers, learn about their production and try to understand everything from the way they grow their grapes all the way to how they produce the wine. With natural wine, it's mostly about growing amazing quality, healthy grapes with loads of biodiversity in the soils. It’s always about the personality of the winemaker too and you can often taste that in the wine.

Ladies, who would you define as your Woman Author of Achievement?

Clara: Dagmar Maziejewski from Bar 3 and Nigella Lawson. When I was growing up her cookbooks were like a bible to me, and I had a strange habit of reading them before bed. Cate: Obviously there are sort of pinnacle role models that you could imagine anyone would look up to because they are paving the way and doing wonderful things in the world. But honestly I’m inspired by the women who are directly in my life and in my local community. Clara: I had an event last week and I was in such a rush, and Cate showed up for me there having picked up printed material I was missing and everything I needed that day to knock it out of the park. For me, that’s the perfect example of an everyday hero.

What was your favorite WAA Podcast episode?

Cate: The one with Farina Schurzfeld (E.25). Clara: I definitely need all the tips where optimizing my time is concerned. The episode on energy-centric coaching with Claudia Lambrichs-Lindenbergh (E.29) about ‘working smart and not hard’ had some really great perspectives and tools on how to do just that!

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