It will be a long time before Australia has anything to rival the urban winery scene of California’s Santa Barbara, where there are more than two dozen producers on the Urban Wine Trail. But there are some Aussie winemakers experimenting with fermenters and basket presses in city settings. Nathan Gogoll reports.
There were some unfamiliar sweet, ferment aromas wafting from commercial city buildings when vintage arrived in the city. Passers-by probably wouldn’t give a second-thought to the smell, and might not believe you if you told them it was thanks to a winemaker in action. But it seems the availability and affordability of a city warehouse is very appealing to young winemakers.
While most of the city winemaking could be labelled a ‘project’ there are some big dreams among a small selection of people willing to give something different a crack.
Not that long ago, when Rory Lane started The Story Wines the setting was a southern suburb of Melbourne. Lane said buying a vineyard, or facilities, or even a bare patch of land in a wine region wasn’t an option when he was 25.
“What we did have was enough cash to rent a factory space, buy a press, a few open fermenters, a mono pump, some fittings and some decent oak,” Lane said.
Lane had a few vintages under his belt, both in Australia and Oregon in the US, and was able to source some quality fruit. The setting he chose for processing that fruit was just a little removed from the usual country idyll.
“Our winery is now on the city fringe so isn’t as urban as it used to be,” Lane said. “Our operation is more conventional these days and has a vineyard next door and paddocks.”
What did Lane learn? “Permits and waste water management are tricky and really depend on the local council and the scale of operation. Full urban wineries are difficult to run.”
While The Story might have moved away from a true urban operation, there are others heading along a similar path to its origins. In fact, David Bowley from Vinteloper wines is just about to start out in Melbourne – having already seen a few vintages completed in the heart of Adelaide.
This year it will be hands and feet in the ferments of Shiraz, Malbec and Negro Amaro for Bowley. He says there’s the exact location of his type of operation makes very little difference.
“The production volume is so small it is really not that much of a challenge,” Bowley said. Although, he does put a lot of emphasis on the importance of preparation.
While they don’t do any winemaking on site, Ben and Andrea Tidswell have set up their cellar door in the leafy Adelaide-fringe suburb of Norwood. It’s been three-and-a-half years since they found a warehouse to convert into their cellar door/domestic storage/business office.
The Tidswell’s established Limestone Coast vineyards in 1997 “when the industry was booming” and established a contract winemaking facility soon afterwards. Their own wine began as a 100% export business, but has changed to become equally focussed on domestic sales.
“Our Adelaide cellar door is really important to help us with awareness and for building our mailing list contacts,” Andrea Tidswell said.
“We like to do functions here for 50-70 people, tastings and product launches,” Ben Tidswell said.
“But we can cater for all size groups, from six and up,” Andrea added.
Another pair with an interesting city project is wine all-rounder Brendan Hilferty and wine writer Mike Bennie with their For The Dandy In The Clos. The two of them, with friends, kept the winemaking of the dearly-departed Sam Hughes (Dandy In The Clos, Natural Selection Theory) who took his life three years ago.
“Sam was making wine in a warehouse in inner city Sydney, and myself and Brendan decided to keep his vision alive by maintaining his inner city Sydney winery, and making wines au naturale in an inner city warehouse,” Bennie said. “All the money from this wine is sent to a charity trust fund for Sam’s children. Grapes are donated, as is time and labour.”
The project is based in Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west/inner city. It utilises an elevated loading dock space to basket press grapes (which means it is gravity fed) and the wine is fermented and matured inside a part of the warehouse.
While there’s a fair bit of experimentation happening with these urban projects, there is one Tasmania producer who has invested in a commercial building and is converting it to a winery, cellar door, storage area and family home.
Nick Glaetzer, from Glaetzer-Dixon Wines, has bought and is converting what everybody in Hobart knows the site as the old Eski ice factory.
Nick’s wife Sally said they “are hoping to be Hobart’s first urban winery” and she doesn’t think anybody will beat them to it. Council approval has already been sorted. “That was the easy part, it didn’t even need to go to a council meeting to be voted on.”
Nick said it was almost a spur-of-the-moment decision. “When the factory came up we thought ‘why not’.” But it was easy to see the versatility of the site.
“We will have the cellar door open before the end of February. And will be moving barrels and finished wine in there as well,” he said.
The grand plan is for the family home on the top floor, sitting above the winery and cellar door facilities.
Nick is currently utilising the Moorilla winery for its contract facilities, but is looking forward to being base Location just 800m from the waterfront and GPO, “within a kilometre of most of the hotels in town”.
“There were no hitches in the planning approval, the building approval took a bit longer, but the financing was a big thing. I’ve applied for a couple of grants to get some help, but none of those have come through yet,” he said.
You get the feeling that with every urban wine project that does pop up and make an impact, there will be more encouragement for another winemaker to make their mark in a city environment.
This is an edited-back version of a story that first appeared in Australia’s leading wine industry publication, the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine, in March (Issue 614).
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