I bought a wall planner on Friday the 3rd of January, took it home and laid it out flat, on the living room floor. I started looking at dates over 6 months away which I thought would be suitable to host a wine event, which I’d created and co-organised last year called, “What’s In Your Glass?”. It’s a wine festival designed to promote the kind of wine (and food) that I love and write about regularly as The Wine Idealist, and set in my hometown of, deceptively beautiful, Newcastle.
My fine point marker scribbled WIYG inside a pink square on my newly acquired wall planner, dated Sunday, the 28th of September. Springtime would be in full swing, so the sun would be shining on a bright clear day, which is perfect for indulging in all the good things in life… eating, drinking, and merrymaking.
My partner in wine to help out this year, was Andrew Clifton-Smith, sommelier, wine bar owner, and one half of Newcastle’s wine knights, inGRAPESweTRUST. Together, we would present What’s In Your Glass? 2014: A celebration of real wine, and a chance for Newcastle to, again, prove that it, too, can hold its own when it comes to the sorts of wine events that are usually reserved for the capital city. With an exclusive focus on Australian and New Zealand natural, organic and biodynamic wines, as well as an assemblage of four of Newcastle’s finest and best restaurants, and live music, What’s In Your Glass? is Newcastle’s own regional version of RAW, Real Wine Fair, and Rootstock all rolled into one.
Nine months after I had scribbled in the date, September 28th was looming large. We’d managed to sink and retrieve six bottles of fine Australian and New Zealand wine – Si Vintners White, 2013 – Krinklewood Semillon, 2012 – Harkham River Burgundee, 2012 – Bobar Syrah, 2013 – Macquariedale Matthew Merlot, 2013 – and, Pyramid Valley Growers Pinot Noir, 2010 – into the mouth of the Hunter River, in Newcastle Harbour, with thanks to a small dive team from DSS Newcastle. The PVC pipes the six bottles had been encased in had filled up with mud and muck, and even a few tiny crustaceans, which made them stink a bit, but the wax I’d used to ensure the enclosures were completely sealed had prevented any unwanted contamination of salt water or mud into the wine.
The sunken wine tasting was meant to be a blind tasting, but due to the extreme efficiency of some of the staff at WIYG, we weren’t able to immediately locate some of the sunken wine’s land loving counterparts. The six un-sunken bottles had been stored directly next to the sunken wine, in an identical blue milk crate, so that they would be together, and therefore readily accessible when the time came to taste them, but unfortunately, they had been moved somewhere else. As a result, a brief panic ensued, and, in order to keep the day running on time and to schedule, we had to start the tasting with what bottles we did have on hand, and therefore we couldn’t conduct the tasting blind, as we had hoped. When we eventually found those missing bottles (they’d been packed away with the stock for the Son’s Real Wine Bar) we were at least able to complete a revealing compare and contrast of the sunken vs land, wine tasting.
Despite this slight change of plans, the people we had assembled, including those winegrowers and makers who had made the trek to Newcastle to pour their wines at the event, special guests and the organisers of WIYG, all said they enjoyed the tasting, and could definitely discern a noticeable difference in each of the wines, especially the whites. It was noted, for example, that the Si Vintners sunken White had a distinctly cloudier hue than the bottle which had been stored on dry land. When it came to the smell and taste, the sunken Si wine had lost it’s bright and fresh edge, and had completely mellowed out – like releasing the catch on a steel trap. The acidic tension in the wine had dissolved and left behind a soft cheesy like taste and texture.
The same went for the red wines, such as the Pyramid Valley Pinot. All trace of structure had become placid, almost neutralised – like turning off the graphic equalizer on your stereo system so the audio becomes flat. Keep in mind, this is all anecdotal and only one person’s opinion, mine. But, there was some surprised and amazed discussion amongst the assembled who said they certainly noticed some difference between the sunken and un-sunken wines. There are plans to attempt the experiment again, soon, but away from the distraction of an impending wine festival which was about to open its doors to the general public…
Once the doors were open, and the festival could begin, the whole venue slowly filled up, until it became a beautiful commotion of chatting voices, clinking glasses, sizzling food, blues music, smiles and laughter. Newcastle’s own real wine event, What’s In Your Glass?, had begun…
We were lucky to have over 30 wine labels from right across Australia and New Zealand, all of whom had kindly sent over six bottles of their wines to pour by our wonderfully talented WIYG volunteers. It was a real privilege and honour to be able to showcase each of these growers amazing wines in Newcastle, even without them actually being there. I can’t thank them enough for participating!
We were also very fortunate enough to have a collection of winegrowers and makers who had made the trip to town especially for the gig. Among them was Australian wine legend, Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill in Heathcote, and Adam Castagna from Castagna in Beechworth, pouring the mind bendingly good, Genesis Syrah, 2010. Tom Belford from Bobar in the Yarra Valley won the hardest working and best moustache award, as he was still pouring his deliciously lithe ’14 Syrah long after the clock stuck six, while Sam Statham from Rosnay was styling it out in his inimitable fashion, pouring his organic, preservative free goodness. Alex Retief from A.Retief wines was melting hearts with his smile and unfairly combining it with his excellent biodynamic booze from Gundagai, NSW, and of course, the Hunter was represented by the biodynamic duo, Ross McDonald from Macquariedale and Rod Windrim from Krinklewood, alongside organic grower Barb Brown from Ascella in Broke, and natural winemaker Richie Harkham from Harkham wines.
And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, we had four of Newcastle’s best restaurants and bars feeding the smiling swarms of Novocastrian wine lovers in a pop-up, supper-club styled feast for the famished. Recently awarded two hats, Suzie and Beau Vincent from SUBO had the crowd sighing with delight about their Spatchcock Marinated in Yuzu, Soy & Mirin, Braised in Miso Stock and Cooked on Australian Hardwood Charcoal, while next door at Casa de Loco, the lads were serving up awesome morsels of Cold Prawn Ceviche Tacos. Newcastle’s favourite wine bar, Reserve had a trendy little Roquefort Souffle and their famous Duck Sliders flying off the table, and venue hosts Fortunate Son were plating up a delicious dish of Uprising Sourdough with Chicken Liver Parfait, Redgate Farm Duck Rillette and Mushroom ‘Rillette’.
Garth & The Apprentices filled the air, as promised, with soulful blues and jazz and even had a few people up dancing their sunny Sunday afternoon away. Good times, indeed.
On behalf of Andrew and myself, I’d like to extend a massive thank you and hug to everyone involved, including the restaurants who kept our bellies full, the staff from the Son’s Real Wine Bar, who were serving up crazy juice, in the form of bottles of Pat Sullivan’s Haggis wine and Babera Rosato Bucketwine. Also, an enormous thanks to our wonderful volunteers who were the single biggest help on the day!
And, a MASSIVE thank you to all the winegrowers and makers who participated in this years What’s In Your Glass? wine festival. It is my hope that your wines have been exposed to a whole new bunch of enlightened wine lovers who will now further appreciate and understand that the best wines come from organic and biodynamic vineyards and are made naturally, with as minimal intervention in the winery, as possible.
Lastly, thank you to any and all of you who attended this little attempt at live wine idealism… I hope you had a great day! If you have any photos to share – send them through to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter & Instagram – @thewineidealist.
Roll on #WIYG 2015!
D// – The Wine Idealist