7 days to go, and it’s looking pretty bleak. The response has been less than impressive in the opening few weeks of ticket sales, but people keep telling me – “don’t worry, it’s Newcastle, the Hunter Valley, and they always buy at the last minute”.
My partner in all of this, Patrick Haddock – aka, the Wining Pom – is thinking plan B’s, and we both liaise with Andrew from Bacchus Restaurant, frantically trying to figure out why tickets aren’t moving yet. Could it be the cost of the actual event? Could it be the lack of, or rather non-existent, marketing budget that we had available for promotion? Perhaps, or could it be that Novocastrian’s just don’t care about wine events?
Well, I’m not one for plan B’s, because they distract from plan A.
Realistically, the thought of having to cancel the event played havoc at the back of my mind, as nightmares screened themselves each night as unwanted eyelid movies. During the daytime, and out the corner of my unwavering positive outlook, the five stages of grief began moving along on the sidelines at blistering, short-sighted pace. The point of economical, face saving, no return was fast approaching, and the numbers still didn’t add up.
Then, 5 days out, we sat down and ran the numbers again. A last minute weekend of ticket sales had bolstered results, finally, in our favour, and were enough for us to be able to go ahead with the event…
12:00pm, Sunday, the 28th of July, and Nick Mills from Rippon had arrived, alongside Alex Retief from A.Retief Wines, and Bettina James from Lowe. The Reserve Bar, where the tasting was to be held, still looked more like a bomb site than Newcastle’s finest future wine bar, but the clean up the day before had at the very least, made it look, ‘construction site chic’… and, after all, it was an organic wine event.
The trestle tables were set out in a U shape, to guard against wine being spilt on the newly polished floors. The door list, showing tickets sold, was at 98 out of 100 – a significant and joyous increase over the remaining 5 days – and the wines looked incredible! Over 30 wineries had been assembled in Newcastle – the Steel City – from right across Australia, New Zealand, and Europe; Henschke, Castagna, Cullen, Millton, and Te Whare Ra, to name just a few. There was mead being shown for the first time from Morpeth – the Hunter Valley’s first, and oldest shipping port – and Blackbird Artisan Bakery were taking care of the food, providing sourdough and tarrines to soak up all the wine that was about to be poured.
1:00pm, and the doors were finally open on Newcastle’s first ‘real’ wine event – What’s In Your Glass?
People poured in from the street outside, brandishing their tickets, and exchanging them for a Riedel stem, which was theirs to take home after the event. Nick Mills greeted them to the right, and Alex Retief, and Bettina James smiled out from the left. It was still early doors, but the room was beginning to buzz.
By 1:27pm Patrick Haddock announced on Twitter, “Just 25 minutes in, and it’s going off!”. People were lined up out the door, and down the street, waiting to get in. Inside, the room was actually bustling, with people spilling out around all sides of the U-shaped cordon, swilling and sipping these delicious organic and biodynamic wines from around the world.
“A lot of these wines seem fresher on the palate”, said Steve Roxby, of the wines he had tasted so far, who was attending the event with friends, while Daisy Martin described how “you can definitely feel the difference with these organic wines”, as she stood with her husband, and chef, Jason.
By 3:30pm, and with only half an hour to go, we were fast running out of wine. People had come to taste and experience ‘real’ – organic and biodynamic – wines from across a huge section of demographics. There were some real crowd favorites, with everyone that I spoke to mentioning Pyramid Valley’s ‘The Body Electric’, Sparkling Riesling… I would describe it like a comic book panel from a Batman fight scene… ZAP! Also, the Pinot Noir’s from Ngeringa, and Chardonnay from Cloudburst (the first time it had ever been poured on the east coast of Australia) were first class examples of their particular grape variety.
The What’s In Your Glass? tasting was a success, with smiling faces, glazed grins, and gentle slurs hallmarking an incredibly pleasurable, and joyous afternoon. Now, it was on to dinner, and to celebrate the Hunter Valley’s finest ‘real’ wines, at the Hunter Valley Winegrowers Dinner, hosted at Bacchus Restaurant.
Aside from the four Hunter Valley organic, and biodynamic wineries – Macquariedale, Tamburlaine, Harkham, and Krinklewood – that were showcasing their wines alongside a menu created especially for the evening by award winning chefs Tim Montgomery, and Tom Robinson, the night was finally the chance for everyone who had bought tickets to taste the famous sunken wines!
8 bottles of Hunter Valley organic and biodynamic wines had been sunk to the bottom of the Hunter River, and left for 3 months to age in constant conditions, 8 metres below Newcastle Harbour (you can hear the moment we retrieved the sunken bottles here on ABC Local Radio). The dinner at Bacchus was to be the first time ever that the general public would have the chance to taste this many sunken wines, at the one time, in the one place. It was also the first time wines had ever been aged this way, here in the Hunter Valley.
The sunken whites were up first, with Tamburlaine’s Hunter Semillon, Harkham’s Aziza Chardonnay, the Verdelho from Macquariedale, and Krinklewood’s Semillon all being tasted side by side against their land loving counterparts. Now, I can’t speak for everyone who was there, but I, personally, noticed a distinct increase in complexity and mellowness from the whites that had been aged in the water. The aroma’s had lost a lot of their fresh eagerness, and had been replaced with more layered and softer scents.
Take, for example, the Harkham Aziza Chardonnay; the one on the land had a distinct smell of fresh cut flowers, hazelnut, and soft fruit scents, while the sunken version revealed a gentler waft of caramelised straw, and buttery honey. The land loving Tamburlaine Semillon was crisp, acidic green apple’d loveliness, whereas the sunken bottle was at the beginnings of becoming a decade-aged Hunter Sem, with ripe honey dew washing across a mellowed slick of soft pineapple – all in the space of 3 months!
The food was exceptional. Tim and Tom had tasted all 8 wines that were to be showcased at the dinner, including verdelho, chardonnay, semillon, shiraz, chambourcin, and pinot noir, and devised a menu that perfectly complemented the wines on show. The canapé’s were a standout and included Bangalow Pork Cheeks with Stockton Cuttle Fish (try saying it three times), which were an absolute show stopper from the very start. For the second course, we ate a dish which included chicken, ash, and wild sorrel. It was matched to the whites from Harkham and Krinklewood, while the third course featured home made game sausage, perfectly cooked kangaroo, and cherries, matched with Tamburlaine’s 2011 Chambourcin, and Harkham’s 2011 ‘Nouveau’ Shiraz. The Hunter Valley’s first biodynamically grown pinot noir from Macquariedale was a breath of perfumed splendour, and matched superbly to a savoury desert of buche de chevre, beetroot, and spiced cake.
We all felt very privileged to be able to enjoy this special moment of gastronomic brilliance in Newcastle.
What’s In Your Glass? was Newcastle’s first ever ‘real’ wine event, and we were blessed to have the help of so many different people of incredible talent, passion and enthusiasm.
THANK YOU :
The four Hunter Valley winegrowers – Ross, Richard, Mark, and Rod – who provided not only their delicious wines, but their experience, generosity, and passion for their industry. The Reserve Bar team, who provided the venue for the tasting, and helped to pour, run the door, and so much more! Andrew, Tom and Tim, and the staff from Bacchus who provided so much energy, experience and support to make it such a great evening celebrating these wines. And, special mention to Rikki Stekhoven-Smith and Jenna Jardine who provided their time and talent to create some of the best looking artwork for us to use across all our WIYG branding and promo material.
The people of Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and beyond, were the one’s who ultimately made What’s In Your Glass? what it was – a triumph for the wine scene in Newcastle, and a great success all round.
Thank you to everyone who came, contributed, and consumed.
Roll On WIYG 2014!
D// – The Wine Idealist.
– To see more photos from What’s In Your Glass? click here –