“Picture an aircraft carrier,” says Koen Janssens, one half (the “Kokonut”) of Yetti and the Kokonut – a low-intervention winemaker based in South Australia’s Eden Valley. He’s describing one of his wines, the aptly named Fruit Basket, which is a mix of 12 grape varieties interplanted in one vineyard. “The aircraft carrier is a big fucking vessel painted in a rainbow with [identical] people working on board,” he says. “They’re running around in white suits. And it’s not actually a carrier, it’s a tiny boat. Does that make any sense? No. Same as the wine. But somehow it works.”
Janssens is a Belgian expat and his partner in wine is David Geyer, the “Yetti”. They met in 2015 when Geyer was a winemaker producing under the Geyer Wine Co. label. Janssens was sommelier at Adelaide restaurant Africola.
“One of my favourite drinks is Madeira [a fortified wine],” says Janssens. “I showed it to [Geyer] one night. The variety’s called sercial. And he’s like, ‘You won’t believe it but we’ve got this planted in my in-laws’ vineyard’. I said, ‘No way’.”
Yetti and the Kokonut was conceived that night.
Asked if he would describe their product as natural wine, Janssens says, “I’m not ‘gonna use those two words, it’s been marketed way too hard.
“Plus it’s not about what you call it, it’s about what you believe in,” he says. “We don’t put ‘natural’, ‘biodynamic’ or ‘organic’ on our labels. We don’t need any organisations to certify us or people branding us.”
Working with minimal-to-no sulphur, and no yeasts or acids, the fruit speaks for itself. “Mother Nature will always win,” Janssens says. “With organic and biodynamic, it just makes sense to let her do her thing. And we guide, or we intervene, but that’s it.”
It’s an attitude that aligns with the minimal-intervention winemakers and sustainable producers joining them at Rootstock Sydney. Janssens is a Rootstock veteran, he's been part of the festival since its inception five years ago, representing other winemakers such as Jauma Wines and Lucy Margaux. Yetti and the Kokonut made their festival debut last year.
The same year, almost half of Yetti and the Kokonut’s production was snapped up by the Noma pop-up – not bad for its debut. That wine was made with 100 per cent sercial grapes. “We actually had no intentions to sell it,” Janssens says. “It was more [for] shits and giggles.”
Originating from the Portuguese island of Madeira, sercial is mostly synonymous with fortified wines, but Yetti and the Kokonut’s iteration, a dry white, is far from fortified. “This year we pushed it to three weeks on skins,” Janssens says. “It’s our unicorn.”
Janssens hasn’t always been a fan of Australian wine – “When I came here five years ago I thought this country made shit wine – but says it couldn’t be less true now. He argues, though, that it’s up to the new wave of natural winemakers, himself included, to set – and maintain – the standard. “Most punters have no idea [about quality]. The question is: ‘Are we ‘gonna release a wine that has a fault for the sake of it, or are we ‘gonna hold it back?’”
As for next year’s releases, they are top secret. “We’re going to take an unconventional approach to varieties nobody gives a damn about.”
Rootstock Sydney is on November 25 and 26 at Carriageworks. Broadsheet *is a proud media partner of Rootstock Sydney, and will be there all weekend with our new book, Broadsheet Sydney Food, which features the city's best bottle shops as well as 100 of Sydney's best retailers and producers. rootstocksydney.com