Rootstock, the festival that put natural wine on the agenda in Australia with an annual party and tasting that drew together Australia's leading artisanal producers with the top names from the field around the world, is no more. Its organisers and co-founders, Giorgio De Maria, Mike Bennie and James Hird, have said today that the festival will not go ahead this year, and that the events held in November 2017 will stand as the last under the Rootstock banner.
While it's understood that tension between the founders about how best to hew to the festival's mission (to promote wines made sustainably with a minimum of intervention by winemakers) played a part in the decision, the official line from Rootstock is that it is winding up for three key reasons: the evolution and broadening of the natural wine scene, the fact that the festival (a not-for-profit organisation) wasn't financially sustainable in its current form, and finally because the founders felt like they had achieved many of their original goals.
"The founders also feel like they have exceeded what they set out to achieve with education, awareness and sharing of culture that surrounds natural wine, concepts of sustainability and understanding of how important provenance and process is in produce," De Maria, Bennie and Hird said in a statement issued today. "Rootstock Sydney's conclusion comes at a point not only where financial support made the festival difficult, and natural wine has shape-shifted, but on a very positive note, at a natural end point for its aims and ambitions."
Despite being a wine festival at heart, Rootstock, which held its first event in Sydney in 2013, contained multitudes. It was elastic enough to draw together food and art from Indigenous communities and from Georgia, to broaden Australian drinkers' understanding of beer and sake, spirits and coffee, raw-milk cheese and heirloom livestock. It took the show on the road to satellite events in Melbourne and Tokyo, and became a highlight of the global events calendar in itself for destination-drinkers. It crowd-funded Indigenous agriculture through Bruce Pascoe's Gurandgi Munjie project, and last year, in the name of addressing waste, bottled Kissing a Stranger, a brandy distilled from the wine collected from the previous festival's spit buckets.
Rootstock will be sorely missed, but the boldness of its mission and the wildness of its execution will burn bright in the memory of its fans and the army of winemakers, producers, professionals and volunteers who made it a reality. Australia is a more interesting place to drink and eat than it would have been without it.