Wineries don’t have to be in the country. Read about Sparrow & Vine and our inner city winemaking ventures in this article by Max Allen published in The Australian, April 2015.
Fun. This is the word that keeps spilling from the lips of every urban winemaker with whom I’ve spoken; the people who have spent the past few weeks crushing, fermenting and pressing grapes in inner-city locations across the country.
In February, Margaret River winemaker Nic Peterkin took over a corner of the Mantle Restaurant in Fremantle and filled a collection of glass demijohns with verdelho and pinot noir juice he’d pressed with the help of the restaurant patrons.
“It was great fun for the people who came along to jump on the grapes for themselves,” Peterkin told me. “There’s a gap between what people in the city understand about winemaking and what actually happens. Here they got to see and feel it for themselves.”
At Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney’s Potts Point, winemaker Alex Retief has just pressed off a batch of 2015 tempranillo with the help of punters who paid to drink last year’s red while getting involved with making this year’s.
“It’s such a fun project,” says Retief, who lives locally. “I get to pop in every morning, check how the ferment’s going. I even took some of the grapes to my son’s preschool to let the kids squash them. They were really into it.”
Last month, in a photography studio in the hipster Melbourne suburb of Northcote, South Australian winemaker David Bowley brought his successful Urban Winery Project concept to Victoria’s capital after three successful years running in Adelaide’s Central Market. Over three nights, groups of 50 people paid $85 a head to eat good food, drink Bowley’s Vinteloper wines, and dig their hands, forearms and elbows into vats full of fermenting red grapes.
“A cynical person might say it’s all just marketing,” says Bowley. “But I think people really appreciate the educational aspect of it. And they have a lot of fun.”
Why have so many pop-up urban wineries appeared in the past couple of years? What would attract a person to crushing, fermenting and pressing grapes in an inner-city warehouse rather than out in some bucolic wine region?
“People love buying into making wine without having to travel,” says Cam Nicol, who, with a couple of professional winemaker friends, has been running the crowd-funded Noisy Ritual urban winery in an old gym in Preston, Melbourne for the past couple of months.
The idea for Noisy Ritual came to the trio of mates last year after the winemakers discovered an old concrete vat under Nicol’s house in Thornbury and convinced him to ferment some shiraz in it. “I’d never made wine before,” says Nicol. “But it was so much fun. And I figured other people might like to experience what I’d experienced.”
He was right: the crowd-funding campaign exceeded its target, with a broad range of people — aged from 25 to 45 — keen to get involved. “And it’s not like we even had any wine to sell them,” says Nicol.
All the urban winemakers with whom I spoke mentioned a sense of community involvement that came with their projects.
For the past couple of years, in an old margarine factory in Marrickville, Sydney wine retailer Brendan Hilferty has been fermenting wines that he sells under the Sparrow & Vine label. He sells kegs of the wines to local bars and restaurants, and a special wine made from seven different grape varieties. The latter wine, called Dandy, is produced in collaboration with wine writer Mike Bennie as a tribute to their friend, winemaker, provocateur and artist Sam Hughes, who died in 2012.
“It’s Sam’s winepress I’m using,” says Hilferty. “And there’s a great spirit of community that goes with it: it’s been lent to a couple of other home wine and cider makers, and Young Henrys brewery used it to press some fruit for a cherry saison. Oh, and Alex Retief used it to press his wine at Bourke Street Bakery.”
We can expect the urban winery trend to grow in Australia next year. Hilferty is off to Brooklyn in New York City to check out similar projects there and bring back some tips for Sydney. Later this year, Peterkin is off to work for a while at London Cru, a winery established in the English capital in 2013. There are also rumours of a permanent winery opening its doors in inner-city Sydney soon.
As Hilferty says: “Making your own wine in an old margarine factory might be less lucrative than selling wines other people have made.
“But it’s a hell of a lot more fun.”