For a Wine Idealist, the last few days have been like living in a dreamscape… almost three consecutive days of total immersion in the world of wine. A world filled with passionate people, exciting energy and incredible imbibing, that all culminated towards one central theme… that real wine is the best wine.
The 7th Annual Organic Wine Show and Inaugural Rootstock Festival were held in Sydney last week, featuring Australian and New Zealand wines all made either organically, bio-dynamically, or wholly natural. Rootstock featured 46 real wine producers from all over the world, including France, Italy, Spain, America and Japan, with 28 of those coming from Australia and New Zealand, while The Organic Wine Show had over 160 entrants each vying for a chance to be named Best Wine of Show for 2013.
Organiser and Chief Judge at the Organic Wine Show, Max Allen had a simple objective when it came to judging – “it’s wine-judging by vibe, embracing subjectivity rather than pretending we’re all wine-tasting robots” – we just had to make sure that we captured how the wine made us feel.
This might seem like a rather obvious way to judge something, based on emotion, as we do it almost every day with the people we meet, the stories we read, the music we listen to… and yet when it comes to traditional notions of wine judging, it’s all white coats and straight faces. Wine is about enjoyment, and pleasure, and how it makes you feel. It is largely subjective as we are all genetically different, and interpret things individually based on our past experiences. Some of us prefer sweet things to savoury, bitterness to spice, and it’s our preferences to these tastes that drive the emotion, and provide the meaning when we judge.
160 wines were on show, and just over 30 of them were Shiraz! It was a blind tasting, meaning that all the bottles were covered in brown paper bags with simply the Class and Order numbers written on the front. We didn’t know who was who, only really what was what, as they were all arranged in ‘brackets’ according to the varietal; Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cab Sav and so on… occasionally when there were only a few of some certain varieties they would be labeled as ‘mixed reds or whites’. We also tasted blends. At one point I remember recognising one of the white wines from the Central Otago, it had a texture and distinct minerality all of it’s own. It was the essence of ‘terroir’ or Pangkarra, an Aboriginal term meaning ‘belonging to country’. Incidentally, this particular wine, Carrick Riesling 2012, ended up winning Best White Wine of Show.
The main thing that struck me about all the wines, wrapped up in their non-descript brown suits, was that they all had a distinct vibrancy about them. There was a certain dynamism contained within each glass… pure fruit expression, texture, structure and that hard to pin down term of minerality (like licking a wet stone – o_O). Each element illuminated the glass, and while some were not as well balanced as others, some were even a little flat, every one that I tasted expressed a sense of reality, of realness and, like life, it was a real privilege to be able to be a part of such a joyful and pleasurable experience.
An experience that was carried on, one day later at the first ever Rootstock, Sustainable and Artisan Wine Festival, held in the Italian Forum, in Leichhardt. The first of its kind ever held in Australia – the French and Italian’s have been doing it for years, and the British have only a years’ head start on us – was a triumphant success. Like a 21st Century silent film, Rootstock blew audiences away with its energy, passion and genuineness – feelings that literally filled the room, hanging like a buzz in the air, poured into every glass and evidenced on every smile as the winegrowers told their story.
One particular story, was that of Shashi Singh of Avani wines from the Mornington Peninsula, in Victoria . The wines are made bio-dynamically, in a northern Rhône style, which enables them to differentiate their wines from the more traditional Australian style Shiraz (pronounced with a zuh!). As Shashi recounted her love for her land, the vines and those hard working, tiny little microbes busy amongst the soil she almost welled up, as emotion and passion took over. It was pretty amazing to see just how deeply she felt for her land and the bio-dynamic world that existed upon it.
There were 6 different Masterclasses taking place throughout the day, discussing and exploring topics such as beer and wine, cheese and sake, right to the more abstract themes of the earth and roots, seed and growth. I was lucky enough to attend one hosted by Max Allen, and featuring a number of winegrowers, such as James Millton of The Millton Vineyards in New Zealand (operating bio-dynamically since 1989), and Alan Cooper of Cobaw Ridge in Victoria , as well as sommeliers from Love Tilly Devine and Fix St James all discussing (with the audience) the question of bio-dynamics in winemaking. One of the more interesting points raised was by Chris Carpenter of Lark Hill Winery in Canberra, who thinks bio-dynamics is not some etherial ‘holier than thou’ method for making wine, but rather ‘a tool that enables you to be closer to the land’ on which you farm.
This point was picked up by Nick Mills of Rippon in Central Otago, New Zealand, when I was asking him my three questions. Nick thinks of himself as a custodian of the land, rather than an artist, whose role is “to find ways to look after it, and maintain its pastoral values for the future succession of the family and community”. That, to me, is sustainability in a nut shell…
Space was at a bit of a premium, which indicated one of two things. That the organisers hadn’t expected so many people to show up, or that there was an unexpected hidden demand for a festival like this. When I spoke to Stuart Knox from Fix St James, he said “they (the organisers) hoped that maybe 100 people might come through the door, and that would be counted as a success”… well, by lunch time the event had sold out, as an eager swarm of curios and inquisitive Sydney-siders moved as one within the walls of the Italian Forum, soaking up the atmosphere, the fun, and the wine.
It was a success beyond the imagination of the organisers, where 100 people would have happily sufficed, was now closer to 1000 smiling happy people all taking in the message, and talking about sustainable wines.
Roll on Rootstock 2014…
D// – The Wine Idealist
* The winners of the Organic Wine Show can be found here… and if the quality of wines on show over these last few days are anything to go by, then we should be so proud and exxcited for the future of Australian and New Zealand wine!.
** To listen to the interviews I conducted with some of the wine growers at Rootstock… click right here.