|Yours truly in requisite orange shirt|
Rootstock – an Australian wine game changer?
Yes it is a clichéd phrase, yet I think ‘game changer’ might be an apt expression to describe an event that may shape the nature of wine fairs in Australia. A wine fair that, for the first time in years, saw people jetting in from around the globe to attend. Wine people, flying in from far and wide, just to attend a one day Sydney wine fair. Amazing.
That wine fair was called Rootstock, and yesterday was the inaugural edition, held at the similarly aptly named, Italian Forum located in the Multicultural Sydney suburb of Leichhardt.
What set this wine (and food) event apart was its focus. Specifically, Rootstock was all about ‘sustainable’ wines – biodynamic, organic, natural and the like – with some 45 wineries from France, Italy, Austria, New Zealand and Slovenia (amongst others), joining a strong local contingent to showcase the very best in artisan vino.
What also set this wine fair apart was the calibre of the producers. This wasn’t a raggedy collection of usual suspects, we’re talking the cream of both Australian and global artisan wineries, including Pyramid Valley, Rippon, Radikon, Bressan, Princic, Phillip Bornard, Terroir al Limit and Bonny Doon along with Lark Hill, Hochkirch, d’meure, Castagna, Sorrenberg, Jauma, Harkham and many more.
Better still, many of these producers were actually manning their stands too – Dirk Meure talking Tasmania; Nick Mills also talking Pinot (with a Kiwi flavour); the unmissable Fulvio Bressan in full camo Bressan outfit, complete with cigar hanging out of mouth; Fruilian cult maker Dario Princic pouring his wonderful Jakot, and many many more.
Couple that with a detailed roster of masterclasses hosted by winemakers, musicians, sommeliers, writers, cheese experts etc, plus an ‘orange bar’ full of orange wearing (and orange painted) wine peeps drinking and talking about orange wines (white wines made with skin contact, turning them orange) and you have one seriously impressive artisan wine celebration.
More than just a parade of wine folk though, what Rootstock represented was the day when the world of artisan wines went mainstream. As Sue Dyson, of importer Living Wines (who specialise in the sort of wines heavily represented at Rootstock) said to me ‘this is incredible. I’ve only ever seen turnouts like this at European natural wine fairs’.
I had a unique perspective on the volume of interest in the event actually, largely as I spent half of the event in the crucial role of ‘door bitch’. A door bitch was required, you see, to control the wine folk who were queuing up 90 minutes before the event begun, including some of whom had travelled from interstate, all in the hope they could get a last-minute ticket to the sold out event. I had friends messaging me in a desperate scramble to get in and twitter was ablaze with rumours of how to get in.
Initial estimates where that 150 tickets would be sold, yet with 400 tickets sold before the event, another 50 or so on the day, plus the 100 or so people that were turned away, there was no doubting that this was a popular event. Admittedly the trade focus was large, and sommeliers and wine writers were particularly thick on the ground, yet the excitement from ‘everyday punters’ was palpable. This was exciting. The wines were exciting. The food, too, was exciting (I didn’t even touch on the food. Kylie Kwong couldn’t cook food fast enough apparently). Everything was exciting.
Obviously it was just one event, one day, one long look at a collection of beer, food and handmade booze. But it felt like a shift in perception. No longer was the concept of natural wine something to be sneered at, it was just part of the wine scenery. Or at least that is what the atmosphere of the room suggested.
I’ll leave it up to the folks from Living Wines to sum it up best (in a tweet, naturally)
‘In Australian wine drinking time will be divided into before @Rootstock_ and after @Rootstock_. Things won’t be the same again.’
My Rootstock highlights
Bressan Pignol 1999
Fulvio Bressan was unashamedly the star of the show, his Bressan uniform something to behold. This red wine though, from the Native Fruilian variety Pignol, is as much a star as he is. It spends almost 15 years in barrel and even now the tannins are seriously impressive. This is hearty, yet stylish, utterly Italian red wine built on tannins, yet also with a certain softness and richness. Think old Sangiovese, yet with a rustic edge, more darkness and the most heroic tannins ever. Quite brilliant.
Pyramid Valley Pinot Gris
|The scrum to get near tables. Wild scenes|
Mike Weersing now does 3 different versions of Pinot Gris, each with differing levels of skin contact. I found the ‘1 month’ on skins the most easily comprehended, the fruit and musk of ripe Marlborough Pinot Gris clearly evident and able to compete with the skin tannins. Interestingly the ‘5 months on skins’ version looked the most challenging, the tannins rougher and the fruit buried below that edge of oxidation. Finally, the ’10 months on skins’ version looked easily the best out of the lot, a full, rich, wild and drying orange wine of impressive depth and complexity. Profound.
Cantina Giardino Fiano Gaia
If we were to take Fiano and stretch it to its most wild, yet brilliant, extremes, then this would be it. Produced from old vine organic Fiano by what is a cooperative of growers in Campania, southern Italy, this has a four day cold soak on skins before spending a year or so in old barrels with minimal – if any – sulphur. What this wine has is freshness, a freshness that is often missing from orange wines of this nature, the wine carrying a most beautiful array of florals and a luscious – yet dry and complex – palate. Wild, yet still fragrant and vibrant, this stood out for its absolute clarity in a style that sometimes lacks as much.
Blind Corner Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
In the context of the wild and wooly wines around it this wine could be construed as almost ‘safe’ and ‘modern’. Yet such a description is almost a slur, for this is an artisan wine from an artisan maker. That maker is Ben Gould, who crafts a small range of wines from his small, biodynamically grown vineyard in Wilyabrup, Margaret River. With this wine he air dries the grapes, Amarone style, before fermentation before they are foot-crushed and hand plunged then basket pressed into French oak. The challenge for Ben with this wine is that the wild yeasts struggle to deal with the high sugars of the dried grapes as he explains:
‘This just wouldn’t finish fermenting before our south coast holiday. Being just one barrel I put the barrel on a trailer and took it to the beach. It took about 4 days of fishing and whale watching for the wine to go dry.’
Full flavoured, intensely concentrated and yet with a certain cedary lightness to it, this is rich, dark, air dried Cabernet and carrying the wonderful, thickly grained tannins of the style. Character in abundance, I can’t recommend this wine (and the other Blind Corner vinos) enough. With a single barrel made (24 cases) you’re going to have to be very very quick.