Sommelier Giorgio de Maria, wine writer Mike Bennie, importers Linda Wiss and Matt Young, and chef James Hird and are on a mission. They want to get Australia eating, drinking and talking about artisanal wine and produce, which is why they launched Rootstock: a Sydney festival which brings together top local and international winemakers, chefs, producers and food and drink personalities, alike, for two days of wine, feasting and fun. The event debuted in February 2013 and this year it's back, with a bigger and better venue (in the form of the Carriageworks in Eveleigh) and even more good times in store. Last year's big-hitters, the orange wine bar, the Sunday produce market and the night festival are set to return, along with fun new features such as beer and coffee masterclasses with local brewers and roasters, and a sake bar.
Whether you can make it to the festival, or whether you'd just like to bring a bit of Rootstock magic to your drinking in 2014, we asked de Maria, Bennie and Hird to give us the insider's scoop on this year's event (Wiss and Young recommend you drink plenty of Black Market sake). Here are their tips on how to eat, drink and party at Rootstock 2014.
GT: What can you recommend by way of a cracking summer sparkler?
Mike Bennie: Why not try a petillant naturel sparkling wine? They're are put into the bottle while they're still gently fermenting, which creates a light, refreshing fizz in the resulting wine. Fancy-haired wine types call them 'pet-nats' - there are a few examples from Australia, and I'm particularly into Prentice Cuvee St Marie Natural Sparkling NV (Moondarra) from Gippsland, Victoria. Neil Prentice is a fascinating guy who not only produces wine, but also raises high-grade beef cattle; he's worth chatting with at the Moondarra Wines stall during the wine festival sessions.
James Hird: West Australian producer Blind Corner's cremant has been a revelation to me. I'm so glad that Ben Gould is returning to Rootstock - his is one of the best examples of sparkling chenin blanc, period. Also, returning from Italy, Cantina Giardino will hopefully be showing their lightly effervescent Adam. Perfect summer guzzling.
And what about for those of us looking for sauv blanc-style refreshment - what could we do to change things up this summer?
JH: The sauvignon blanc style Australians have embraced over the last decade or so is a fresh, youthful vibrant style. Wandering through one of the wine-tasting sessions at Rootstock 2014 will blow people's minds. For years we've seen the benefit of organic and biodynamic practices on produce like tomatoes and apples - the same can be said of grapes; they show a vital naturally acidity that makes a style of wine that's truly alive. There are many producers showing white wines that will provide new juice for the sauvignon-blanc set. Lark Hill's engaging grüner veltliner, Sutton Grange's remarkable fiano and Albert Mann's pinot blanc are a few that will scratch ye olde sauvignon blanc itch.
I'm interested in trying one of these orange wines I'm hearing about - where's a good place to start?
MB: The best place to check out a slew of orange wines will be the orange wine bar which will be running at both night market festivals, and all day Sunday at the Rootstock Sydney produce markets.
Giogio de Maria: Talk to the expert orange winemakers at the festival, from Pheasant's Tears from Georgia, where wines made with skin contact and amphorae are tradition, to the Italians. Ask Saša Radikon and Damijan Podversic about Friulan-style orange wine and the art of barrel-ageing, ask Alberto Carretti from Pradarolo, Emilia, to tell you everything about malvasia di Candia (and ask him to tell you stories about his past as a culatello di Zibello producer), and ask Antonio Di Gruttola from Cantina Giardino about the beauty of old vines and the tradition of macerating white wine on skins in the Mediterranean.
Have you got something in the light red department, where I'd normally opt for a pinot?
GDM: I'd suggest a syrah from Heathcote, but one that's fresh and mineral-driven - similar to the style of the northern Rhône. Talk to Jared Curwood, the young, wonderful, passionate guy behind Chapter Wines - the only one problem with what he produces is that there's not enough of it! Make sure you touch his beard for good luck while you're at it.
How about a gutsy, end of the night red?
MB: Gemtree, leaders of biodynamic, larger-scale farming and Brash Higgins, a superb smaller-scale producer, both have hearty red wines in their portfolio. You can chat to the McLaren Vale winemakers at any of the three wine festival sessions on Saturday and Sunday.
Does Rootstock also do beer?
GDM: Oh yeah! Talk to the guys from Young Henry's or Leonardo di Vicenzo from Birra del Borgo. They'll both have stands, but are also organising interesting masterclasses. Leonardo will talk about wild yeast in beer, for example, which is quite a revolutionary topic, and something he's currently experimenting with. He has a full lab in Lazio dedicated to it.
What about a feed?
MB: The chef posse rolling out the foodstuffs at the night market festival is pretty amazing - they're cooking dishes matched to their favourite wines. I'd be keeping an eye out on what the Pinbone crew do, last year's Rootstock Sydney sandwiches combining natural wines and sandwich ingredients were pretty epic. That being said, the produce markets running all day Sunday with the likes of Kylie Kwong, Jared Ingersoll, Alex Herbert and a host of New South Wales sustainable producers should be pretty darn good too.
JH: A particular highlight for me is having one of Tasmania's leading lights, Luke Burgess, from Garagistes, cooking on both days. I've learnt so much from this talented chef, and can't wait to see what he's got cooking.
And something for afterwards?
JH: Giovanni Bietti playing at the Opera House is perhaps more "later" than "afterwards", but this is a remarkable coup for us, and an essential adventure for anyone interested in the connection between wine and music. I was very lucky to taste with Giovanni in Piedmont earlier this year and his knowledge of Italian natural wine is second to none. I can't wait to see him perform for the first time in Australia at the Opera House.
Rootstock 2014, 8-9 February, Carriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Everleigh, Sydney, NSW, masterclass tickets from $15 -$50, for more information check out the Rootstock website.