Full house at Rootstock Sydney, Sunday February 17th, 2013
Euphoria. That’s what hit hard on arrival at the Italian Forum yesterday in Sydney’s Leichardt at the inaugural Rootstock wine festival. When organizer Giorgio de Maria first told me about it I knew it would rip, but I hadn’t suspected it would be the seething, crowded and energetic success that it was to be.
People came from far and near. I’d come from Melbourne via the Hunter Valley, Mike Weersing and Nick Mills came over the ditch and winemakers from Italy and Slovenia wedged their wares between the likes of the Barossa and Bendigo. A few lucky locals walked from round the corner.
Masterclasses packed full and, as great as most presenters were, it just didn’t feel like a masterclass kind of day for me. I wanted to take it free form, swim through the crowd, rub shoulders with heaps of people I knew and lots I’d never met – I wanted skin contact and lots of it!
The food market in the court was as valuable a break out space as you could ever wish for, catching all the wide-eyed wine crew spilling out when things got too intense, a place to get some air, stop conversing and stick something solid in your mouth. The fried chicken from Hartsyard was a huge winner and Kylie Kwong sold out of her gear as fast as she set up.
I revisited that chicken at the Hartsyard restaurant later in the night, amazing stuff. All four serves of it.
Sample coffee was a bang on and busy tent. A very tired, sorry exhausted, co-organisor Mike Bennie was propped against the machine late in the day, boosting his spirits for the final assault on soil.
The statement t-shirts were out in full force, as were the scarves and the odd carefully chosen “I work artisan-like in the field” hats. Beards were everywhere, like, everywhere. Apparently if you’re serving craft beer you just gotta have a beard, or a twirly moustache. I prefer my bro’s moustache, big rude Tom Selleck bushy thing it is – I love it almost as much as he does.
But the star attraction of the day was Fulvio Bressan. He chewed an Italian cigar and said very little, let the wine speak for itself. Not sure many people asked many questions. Blokes in camouflage fatigues chewing cigars tend to have that effect on people. Put him in a line up of arms dealers and jungle-dwelling drug lords and he’d own it. His wines are very good. That’s why he can dress like that. I found him kind of suave.
Dario Princic, General Fulvio Bressan and Giorgio de Maria
The orange wine bar was more orange than I was ready for. I arrived to find Max Allen swooning against it and I had to make a few passes, shark like, to get adjusted. Jacq Turner eventually just served it up cloudy to me. That first taste was Gravner on the stroke of midday, basking in the rude plastic orange glow. Benchmark set. That bar looked cool yesterday, possibly for the first time ever.
Banjo Harris Plane took it to the next level later in the afternoon. Orange Elton John glasses and shirtless, he dished out cloudy doses of skinned up goodness. It was a very Sydney moment. It got the people going.
Banjo dishing out skin contact from the Orange Wine Bar
Wines on tasting at Rootstock were eclectic and served by winemakers, volunteers, sommeliers, girlfriends and mates with earnest, good-natured attitude. People queued to get upstairs to taste, the roar was strong and crowd surfing was very nearly a reality.
The best wine I tried? Radikon Jakot was about as perfect as that genre gets. Princic as good as ever and Tom Shobbrook’s textural Il Fiore was a sublime take on sauvignon. A truly haunting wine.
But my highlight of the day came from Slovenia and Grace Estate. They poured several vintages and formats of a yellow wine given a decent spell of skin contact and showing strength, precision and striking character, all balanced and lithe, it made a beautiful drink. The grape was Rebula, or Ribolla Gialla, as it is more widely known. The variety really didn’t matter though, the wine had impact and spunk and was truly unique.
Ivi & Edvard Svetlik with their beautiful Rebula Grace
Beer and debriefing in the lobby was solid, followed by a cleansing Chablis back at brother Tim’s place. Feeling refreshed, we then set off in search of more of that fried chicken, finding margaritas, Champagne and a few hits of Rye along the way.
Rootstock was a ripping event, warmly embraced by all, it shows there’s a huge demand for this kind of thing. It was not that different to other wine fairs, but just different enough and in the right areas. All the ingredients were put into play and it was the exponential sum of them all (including the number, type and attitude of people it attracted) that made it soar. It all bodes well. Wine got a little cooler yesterday and more fun. I liked it a lot. When and where can we do it again?
**Rootstock Sydney was wrangled together by Giorgio de Maria, James Hird and Mike Bennie – three of Sydney’s finest. Thanks lads, wine owes you one, probably more!