Drinks News

Australia's new crop of urban wineries

Get a taste of vintage as well as the vine with the new crop of urban wineries, writes Max Allen.

By Max Allen
Handpicked Wines' flagship cellar door
Alex has settled on an old paint factory. Nick has taken over an abandoned ice works. And Cam's venue is a former bakery on a busy main road, right on the tram line. Say hello to Australia's new urban wineries where the traditionally rural activity of crushing grapes and fermenting wine has been transposed to various city settings across the country. As the 2017 harvest looms, these new places offer town dwellers a glimpse of vintage without the inconvenience of schlepping all the way out to a wine region.
Winemaker Alex Retief opened the ambitious Urban Winery Sydney to the public in May in a rejuvenated industrial complex in the suburb of St Peters but he had already processed almost 40 tonnes of grapes on the site in the months beforehand. Until this year, he rented space in other people's facilities to make his wine; he decided to establish his own place in the city to engage more directly with his customers.
"We offer people tours of the winery, blending classes, the opportunity to come along and get involved in the process, from crushing all the way through," Retief says. "Even if people just want to come for a drink at the bar, or attend one of the yoga classes held here - yoga in vineyards and wineries is big in the States, apparently - we want them to get a sense that they're a part of the winemaking."
Retief isn't the only person bringing the winery concept into Sydney. Retailer Brendan Hilferty makes small quantities of wine for sale under his Sparrow & Vine label in a warehouse in Marrickville (although the venue's not open to the public); earlier this year Cake Wines opened a buzzy urban cellar door in the heart of Redfern (although the wines on sale here are actually made in South Australia); and last month Handpicked Wines opened their new urban cellar door in Chippendale, offering tastings of small-batch, unfinished wines and 30 more by the glass.
In Melbourne, at the new permanent home of Noisy Ritual Wines - in an old bakery on Lygon Street - Cam Nicol and his winemaker partners Alex Byrne and Sam Vogel do everything, from trucking in the grapes to selling the wine across the bar on-site. Importantly, they have a lot of help: Noisy Ritual is a community winery where people pay $350 to get deeply involved with each batch of wine, participating in crushing, pressing, blending and bottling, following the process from grape to glass over many months (with convivial long lunches at each stage of the journey, and a few bottles of their wine to take home at the end). "It's going really well," says Nicol. "People respond to the ability to have a real experience here, being able to talk to winemakers, get their hands dirty, and still be able to get the tram home."
Other urban wineries are popping up all around the country. In Adelaide, Vinteloper winemaker David Bowley ran a pop-up vintage experience for three years before taking the concept to Melbourne last year, hosting a small pop-up winery in Northcote (where else?). The two-year-old Boomtown Winemakers Co-operative - a collaboration between Tim Sproal of Minim Wine, Pat Underwood of Little Reddie, and Jarad Curwood of Chapter Wine - is set in a converted 19th-century wool mill in Castlemaine, central Victoria, though you could argue that, despite the industrial setting, this winery is more regional than urban.
Nick Glaetzer's cellar door and winery in Hobart, on the other hand, is as thoroughly urban as they come: the new home of Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers is an old ice factory on the busy main road heading into the Tasmanian capital from the north.
Glaetzer has sourced grapes from various Tasmanian vineyards for his label for some time and, like Retief, has until now rented space and equipment in other people's wineries, most recently at Moorilla. He'll continue to make his fine riesling and chardonnay there (with all the necessary refrigeration), but from next year he'll process pinot noir and shiraz on-site in Hobart. It gives him the opportunity to have more control over the winemaking - he and his family live upstairs - and to interact with his customers more in the sleek cellar door space, with its moody lighting, posh Riedel stemware and state-of-the-art iPad tasting-note technology.
"We felt that if you have a brand, you need to have a face," he says. And being in the middle of town, that face is exactly where the customers are.