“Winemaking is commonly represented as a pure, agrarian process. In practice, it’s often more like manufacturing,” Broadsheet’s Nick Connellan wrote last year.
In Australia, more than 50 organic and non-organic chemicals can legally be added to wine to alter colour, texture, flavour and acidity without being disclosed on the label. Natural wine (minimal intervention, lo-fi, whatever you want to call it) is an antidote to this. And it’s something Jay Marinis wants to get you thinking more about.
The Summertown Aristologist maître d' has just launched a distribution and events business called Son of Dot Drinks (“My mum is Dot … she’s the most crazy, vivacious 71-year-old woman you’ll ever meet,” he says) and its first event is this weekend. It'll flog organic and preservative-free drops by Adelaide Hills producers Little Things, Basket Range Wines, Commune of Buttons, Travis Tausend and Mount Gambier-based Limus Wines out of a ute boot in the Sunny’s Pizza car park.
It’s about bringing the often-shrouded and esoteric world of natural wine into the open and initiating a conversation about “consuming a more sustainable product”. “I want people to think about what they’re consuming,” Marinis tells Broadsheet. “Not just from a [place of] selfish idealism but also what is that product then doing to the ground? Are we going to have topsoil in 100 years if we keep spraying Roundup [a widely used weed killer]? Starting to get people thinking about these things is what’s important to me … and community and having a great time.”
Marinis has probably poured you a drink or two. Before the Aristologist he worked the floors at Golden Boy, Osteria Oggi and Africola. And he’s watched the slow rise of natural wines over that time. But he thinks there’s still a way to go. Especially in Adelaide.
“The east coast has had its fair share of a product that comes from our backyard,” he says. Walk into any inner-suburban pub, bar or restaurant in Melbourne and Sydney and you’ll find a few natural-wine producers from SA on the list. Interstate festivals such as the now defunct Rootstock and Soulfor have played a part in bringing minimal-intervention wines to the masses in those cities. But here at home it’s been a little tougher to gain ground.
Distribution and dialogue, or lack thereof, are key factors. But Marinis suggests it also comes down to our “rich culture” in long-established regions such as the Barossa and McLaren Vale. “I think the eastern seaboard is probably more open to an avant-garde movement because they don’t have preconceived notions,” he says. “But I think Adelaide is ready for it. I don’t think we want to drink 16 per cent shiraz on a hot day anymore. And we’re thinking more about what we’re consuming.
“That’s not to depreciate or detract from the Barossa or McLaren Vale or their wines – they’re making wonderful wines,” he adds. “And there’s a lot of people using organics in the Barossa and McLaren Vale and people leaning toward things like biodiversity and permaculture and bio-dynamics.”
But he says the Adelaide Hills – with its cool-climate – is in a unique position to produce natural wines. “If you add sulphur, fine, you probably need it. If you’re in a hotter climate, you have [fruit with] more sugar and it’s more likely you’re going to have bacteria. The only reason we can [cut out sulphur] is because it’s cooler. So let’s celebrate this wonderful little region, which is underappreciated in our backyard.”
Marinis cites Jauma winemaker James Erskine, who recently told him that the world’s largest concentration of natural winemakers is in the Adelaide Hills (he says the Loire Valley in France comes second). We couldn’t verify that. But there’s no doubt there’s something special going on in this thriving little region.
“Now is the time to tap into it,” says Marinis. But he acknowledges the industry can better communicate the benefits of these drops.
One of the reasons natural wines are hard to discuss effectively is there’s no legal definition for it. Not even producers can agree on what to call it. Marinis prefers the terms “organic” and “living” wines.
“If you’re adding 10 parts sulphur the wine’s still alive,” he says. “It’s got bacteria happening, it’s a more digestible product because it is everything from the soil into the bottle. If you put too many parts sulphur the wine is dead. You’ve killed it. Some people would argue that zero parts is living wine. I think [the term] ‘living’ is soft, it’s nice, you can conjure it in your mind.
“The real issue is on a governmental level there are no regulations. There are so many winemakers that are lumped into this category who are not taking the risks and not investing in organics. The only way to change that is standardisation.”
Events such as his “ute boot sale” can help demystify the often-cloudy industry. And provide a pretty nice day out in the process.
On Sunday, the winemakers will be there to chat and answer questions – or simply sell you a bottle (at wholesale price). Sunny’s will be open and turning out its usual fare alongside specials made with produce from The Summertown Aristologist’s organic garden. “To push that idea of organics one step further, because eating and drinking are symbiotic,” adds Marinis.
There will also be live music by local folk artists Alex Harris and Jazzy Jones from Dr. Piffle & The Burlap Band.
Ute Boot Wine Sale is on Sunday February 3 from 12pm at Sunny’s Pizza.