The meeting of minds and wines that is Rootstock is happening at Carriageworks this weekend.

Mike Bennie, one of the festival’s creators, describes the collaborative, not-for-profit, sustainable food and wine festival as “a place where winemakers, grape growers, chefs, sommeliers, writers, artists, thinkers – and most importantly drinkers! – can come together. It’s fun, informative, a touch wild, with a focus on organic, biodynamic and natural growing.”

The key is sustainability. The terms “natural” and “minimal intervention” are used a lot in reference to Rootstock, but over the past 18 months the wine world’s been changing. The industry is now moving into what it calls the “post-natural-wine era”.

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This wine festival is at the forefront of that. “Dining and drinking establishments are embracing the over-arching philosophy of the festival, and creating an even broader community of people who see value in natural wine and naturally grown produce,” says Bennie. “It has grown from a single small event to a cultural touchstone known internationally for being part of Sydney’s – and the world’s – most important festivals, with a strong cultural motif and ideology backing it up.”

So grab this guide and let’s jump into the unknown.

You will not like some of the wines being shown (and that’s okay)
Natural wine is a reaction to the paint-by-numbers, mass-produced wines of the ’80s and ’90s. Bennie says Rootstock can focus only on natural wines because the festival is “invitation only”, so that it can “draw on a community of people who work in and around Sydney who all share a common ideology about advancing food and drink culture in Australia.” These producers have a focus on natural wine, artisan produce and sustainable growing practices.

Not all of the wines will suit everyone’s palate. Some of the producers deliberately create cerebral wines, which are made to challenge you. When you only get one shot at it every year, you have to stand behind what you’ve created – faults and all. So the thing to remember when trying these wines is that each year’s vintage is different – that’s the exciting part about making wine; adjusting methods in response to nature. It’s about identifying problems, both in the vineyard and in the wines. So go into it with an open mind and be prepared for a warts-and-all wine experience. These are the innovators of the Australian wine industry.

Take the rare opportunity to talk to the winemakers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions
With the above in mind, this is your chance to find out why winemakers are producing what they are, and what they’re trying to achieve. Challenge them to explain the thought processes behind certain winemaking decisions, and share their pain when they tell you about the struggles behind getting from vineyard to bottle using sustainable practices (it’s not easy). You can’t drink a story, but understanding the adventure behind the wines will add to your experience of what’s in the glass.

Food is your friend
The key to unlocking these wines is food. Wines made with less fruit character, and that are more about striving for texture and phenolics (a group of compounds that include tannins and anthocyanins), need food, mainly protein, to make them come alive. There’s no shortage of that at Rootstock, so grab a glass and something tasty to create the symbiotic food and wine experience the festival is all about.

Producers to keep an eye out for:
Julian Castagna produces some of the most exciting and innovative wines in Beechworth. Always beautifully made, they highlight the distinct characteristics of the region.

Vanya Cullen has been championing biodynamic winemaking for almost a decade. Cullen consistently creates highly awarded, outstanding wines, and this is the best example of what extra care and love in the vineyards can achieve.

For the best (and only certified) example of biodynamics in the Adelaide Hills, look no further than Erin Klein, Mindblowingly good, and the new Pet Nat is like sunshine in a glass.

Wanaka is a Central Otago pioneer in New Zealand. It’s a five-generation operation working on biodynamically farmed land to produce ethereal and life-affirming pinot noirs.

Pheasant’s Tears
This winery produces in the one of the oldest wine regions in the world in Georgia, where 525 indigenous grape varieties are still being cultivated.

Rootstock Sydney will run from Saturday November 28 until Sunday November 29 at Carriageworks in Eveleigh. Tickets are available here.

Broadsheet is the proud media partner of Rootstock Sydney and is excited to present the Broadsheet Masterclass Series.