Ready your excitement faculties vino fans! Rory Kent (the guy behind renegade winemaker awards the Young Guns of Wine) has teamed up with writer Matt Skinner and Circa's head sommelier Sally Humble to create an epic booze-making battle. It's like MasterChef for alcohol!
Five teams of amateur winemakers have each been given a mentor (including the likes of Mac Forbes, and Matt Harrop from Shadowfax), 1.1 tonnes of grapes, and been shoved into a makeshift winery in the Prince of Wales' underground carpark to do their worst. And how do you like these apples: those finalists just happen to be some of Melbourne and Sydney’s best sommeliers.
We’re talking Banjo Harris from Attica; the infamous Spaniard Raul Moreno from Virginia Plain teamed up with the formidable Grossi Florentino crew; and flying in from the north, a collective of Sydney somms from Bloodwood, the Merivale group, Hugo's and Movida.
It’s an all-star grand slam bar one non-industry team who are pretty relieved to be the underdogs: “We work in communications, so it doesn't matter if we fuck it up!” says Cheyne McKee. True that. As buffed as the palates of their co-competitors are, they've never made wine, so we’re either about to see some reputations fortified, or a lot of salty tears and shiraz vinegar.
It's a pretty awesome concept. So much so that although Kent only conceived of the comp' in January, the grapes (provided – unbelievably – by the amaze shiraz producers at Mount Langi Ghiran) are currently fermenting in St KIlda. And Kent reckons it’s going shockingly well. “They've been able to use winemaking techniques that aren’t commercially viable. They handpicked and de-stemmed every grape, so the wines are looking amazing.”
Every team is doing their own thing from making a sparkling rosé to getting all holistic and natural and fermenting in giant ceramic eggs (it lets the wine continually circulate).
As of June the carpark-come-cellar will be used as a pop-up event space so you can learn about winemaking without leaving town and (maybe!) even eat some tacos.
Who’ll get overambitious? Which team will self destruct? Stay tuned!
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Meet the teams:
Grossi and the Spaniard
Not only is this the largest team (six Grossi Florentino crew lead by James Freyer), but they also have the crotch-swiveling might of Spain's greatest export Raul Moreno Yague on board. And that dude is playing to win. Time Out attended the teams' crash course in viticulture out at Mount Langi Ghiran and Moreno came ready. "I have 17 questions," he announces during the Q and A. And he does. The team have got the solid-as-a-rock wisdom of Bill Downie (William Downie wines) at their disposal, and the plan is to make a shiraz that doesn't, uh, taste like a big punch to the groin shiraz.
Mac and the Girls
We reckon girl team Beth Bicknell (wine rep for Imbibo and bar gal at Hell of the North) and Circa sommelier Brodie Comer have a fighting chance. Partly because they're working with the awesome Mac Forbes. Mostly because they've got a no-wank attitude. "We're not serious people," says Bicknell. We wish they'd stuck with their initial name, 'the Facilitators' (based on the adage: 'wine is just a facilitator to rooting'), but we're stoked that they're making a bottle conditioned sparkling rosé.
We love an underdog team, and Cheyne McKee, Tim McLean and Cameron Bachelor are starting this competition with a hell of a handicap. They work not in restaurants, or bars, but in communications. And in Cam's case, teaching English at a high school. But, the guys love wine. A lot. And they've got Gilles Lapalus (Sutton Grange wines) as their Jedi master so we reckon they'll be just fine thank you very much.
Nothing shows a commitment to proving you're better than Victorians at making wine than getting on a Tiger Airways flight every couple of weeks to come and test your sugar levels. OK, so team Sydney (made up of Gabrielle Webster from Bloodwood, AJ, wine pusher for Hugo's, and Pip Whitting of Merivale group) do have Melburnian Locky Barber (Movida Aqui) on board to keep things ticking over between visits, but still!
"I didn't know everyone was going to be in a team," says the sole member of Team Banjo, Banjo Harris Plane. It's just the kind of dear thing we expect to come out of the mouth of Attica's affable floor boss, and to be honest, we reckon his lack of comrades doesn't matter. Harris has smarts. He has the incomparable music-loving, natural-wine-leaning wine poet Michael Glover on his side. And he has the only ceramic egg in the competition.