Coming back bigger and better is a term usually reserved for rubbish sequels of big blockbuster films, and a bit of a cliché these days, but this is fact, not fiction, and Rootstock 2014 was bigger, and we were all excited to see just how much better it was going to be.
Expanded over two days, or three if you include the musical performance at the Sydney Opera House by Giovanni Bietti, Rootstock has grown to include night markets, featuring some of Sydney’s best restaurants and their chefs, local artisan and organic food producers, DJ’s and musicians, the debut of a dedicated Sake bar, and the return of the popular Orange Bar. As well as the reuniting of many of last years winegrowers, plus many more, taking the total number to sixty eight.
It’s a far cry from the cramped, tiny space of Rootstock 2013, but that was a day that took everyone by surprise, hence the move to the cavernous former train yards at Carriageworks in Eveleigh. Despite the increased space and size of the event, it was still just as hot as last year in the Italian Forum, but this was surely down to the huge amount of positive energy, enthusiasm, and all round good vibes that was flowing freely between all the people that were attending, contributing, and dare I say it… playing!
“We’re having a ball!” Shashi Singh told me from behind her stand for Avani wines.
Day One started off early with an informal winegrowers symposium, where many of the producers who were showcasing their wines gathered together to discuss such controversial topics as irrigation and ingredients labelling. Opinions were divided on all sides, especially when it came to the question of using irrigation in the vineyard. Many of those opposing the use of irrigation seemed to forget that their vineyards happened to be in places where it rains fairly regularly, or have had their vineyards planted for such a long time that the vines were now mature enough to be able to seek out their own water supply. Of course, it is impossible to discuss this subject in Australia and not contextualise it within Australian growing conditions. A winegrower must not only be sustainable in their environment, but also in their business. This topic riled up more than a few producers, and it would be good to see the subject discussed again within a longer format.
In a coup for the organisers, Naked Wine author Alice Feiring had come out to Australia for the first time to participate in the two day long event, co-hosting wine master classes alongside the likes of Max Allen, Huon Hooke, Andrea Frost, and Rootstock organiser and dreamweaver Mike Bennie. The two that I attended were on natural wine, namely, A Conversation on Natural Wine, and Truth And Love In Wine. The first class was a little more one way traffic between the panelists, who discussed many of the technical aspects around what makes a natural wine, rather than a conversation with the inquisitive audience. I spoke to a few of the attendees and asked why they had come, with many saying that they were curious about so called natural wine, and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. To that end, I thought the conversation could have engaged a bit more with the audience, and perhaps not only focused on some of the more technical aspects of what it takes to make a natural wine.
The second master class, Truth and Love in Wine, was an interesting subject, as it gave the panel, and the people who had attended, a chance to look at wine from an often overlooked position, one of emotion and subjectivity. Host, Max Allen encouraged people to think about wine as a feeling, and a connection and as nourishment for the soul, rather than just a point score or cheap recommendation in a magazine. This made for some interesting exchanges and a few raised eyebrows from co-panelist Huon Hooke. The ever impassioned Alice Feiring spoke of her emotional experiences with wine, and how it emphasised a connection for her to important moments in her life. Both master classes featured some delicious wines for the audience to taste, and it was an extraordinary moment to watch Alice, in real time, discover and connect with the 2012 Bobar Syrah we were tasting, later, describing it as an intriguing moment.
At the end of each day Rootstock segued seamlessly into night time festivities with market stalls, pop-up restaurants, Young Henry’s and Birra del Borgo beer bars, a Blackmarket Sake Bar and the return of the popular Orange Bar from last year. Musicians and DJ’s played somewhere in the background, providing a rave-like atmosphere to the night, but, instead of tabs of acid or E being passed around in a swarm of joy and rapture, it was wine, beer, sake and food that was altering people’s minds and nourishing their souls in a way that only this type of produce can.
Day two started early, with daytime market stalls and the first session of wine tasting kicking off at 11am. Of course, it was the wines that were the real stars of the show. There were so many different kinds of wines many with familiar sounding names, all produced either naturally, organically, or biodynamically, and all tasting completely different from one another. This, I believe, is the reason why so many people are now appreciating wines made like this. They are wines with character, personality, individuality, and some flaws, but they are all unique, and all speak of a certain sense of place in time and space.
“There’s a flavour profile (in our wines) that’s unique,” explained Brad Hickey from Brash Higgins Wines in the McLaren Vale, “I think that every one of the producers here at Rootstock, when you look at all their wines, you’d be hard pressed to find two shiraz’ that taste similar,” he said.
A sentiment that was echoed by GIles Lapalus from Sutton Grange, who said, “what’s fantastic at a tasting like Rootstock is that there’s (so many) producers, each with, say, five wines… so there’s almost 500 different wines here.”
It’s this discovery of difference that is driving these types of wines into the hands of wine drinkers all over the world.
One wine that made a huge impression on me and my taste buds was a shiraz by Chapter Wines from Bendigo. Jarad Curwood, owner and winegrower at Chapter, whose aim is to make small-batch wines from different places throughout his home in Victoria, says that he is, “merely the messenger, passing on the story of these places in a truthful and honest way”. His 2012 Southern Heathcote Shiraz danced along the taste buds on my tongue as they revelled in the fresh vibrancy and black current textures of this stand-out wine. I had tasted many wines throughout the course of the two days, and this one, in particular, was a joy to discover, and remember.
In one of the free master classes, hosted by winegrower James Erskine and sommelier Banjo Harris Plane, one questioner asked, “Is what’s happening here political?” Speaking with Max Allen, in reference to that question, he told me that, “this is the most political thing that’s going on right now!” and, as the sun began to set on the second day, he explained that, “festivals like this (Rootstock) and Real Wine Fair are offering up a model for existence and commerce that is diametrically opposed to the dominant capitalist paradigm…” which he then quickly followed up by saying, “I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true!”
The first few words on the ‘About Wine Idealism‘ page, reads, ‘Just as any fad becomes a fashion, a fashion becomes a trend, a trend becomes a change; so then, when enough changes unite, it becomes a paradigm shift…’, and out of the 68 ‘wine artisans’, as they were known, showcasing their natural, organic or biodynamic wines at Rootstock, 46 of them were from Australia and New Zealand. Over the course of two days 13,351 people attended the event, and although they may not be revolutionary numbers just yet, it would be dismissive to call this a passing fad featuring emperors walking around in new clothes. It is a paradigm shift because this is happening right now, right across the world in a moment of pure counter culture.
The question is, where do we go from here, once we’ve reached the point of doing ‘nothing’ (in making the wines)?
I can’t wait to find out! Roll on Rootstock 2015…
D// – The Wine Idealist.