If it weren’t for the distance, many of us would probably visit cellar doors more often; where wine tasting is paired with expert knowledge of the winemaking process. Alex Retief, the experimental winemaker behind the A.Retief wine label, is saving you the hassle by bringing the winery to you.
The new venture, aptly named Urban Winery Sydney, is Australia’s first large-scale winery in the city. The idea came after a winemaking stint and cultural immersion in the Bordeaux region in France. “Everyone had that knowledge and passion for wine, whether they were in the industry or not,” he says. After realising that same mentality didn’t exist in NSW, Retief wanted to make a change.
Retief partnered with Bourke Street Bakery in 2013 to turn half a tonne of grapes into wine. “I did a natural ferment to show how natural yeast from the bakery could affect and ferment the wine, but also to get the community involved,” he says. “Everyone loved it and were really excited by it. It really spurred on the idea that this concept would work on a large scale.”
The second mission of UWS involves bolstering NSW’s reputation for quality drops that stand up to their South Australian and Victorian counterparts. “Everyone in South Australia drinks South Australian wines, everyone in Victoria drinks Victorian wines and everyone in NSW drinks Victorian and South Australian Wines. We’re slowly changing that mentality.” Of the 14 growing regions in NSW, we tend to only think of the Hunter Valley and Riverina regions, but Retief has proven that the smaller regions of NSW, notably his hometown of Gundagai, are very capable of making great wines.
Retief is basing his tastings around how and why a particular grape variety can differ from region to region. “I’ll be showing other people’s wines as well, almost like a NSW wine centre,” he says. “You can buy a flight of five wines, one of which will be mine, shown against four others from different regions to see how the growing conditions affect the wine.”
The winery is housed in the newly revived Precinct 75, a creative hub for unique businesses, such as Willie the Boatman, Sample Coffee and the axe-throwing crew at Maniax in St Peters. The turn-of-the-century industrial space has warm, natural light that shines on the resting barrels. It reminds Retief of the wineries he frequented in Bordeaux, with big concrete walls.
Winery tours run daily and take one-to-two hours. “The tours will always taste wine out of the barrel and out of the tank at different stages, it might be juice, it might be six-month-old wine.”
There will also be wine-blending masterclasses. Groups will try five different barrel samples before blending their own wine. They’ll then participate in a blind tasting of everyone’s blend. The winner will receive a dozen bottles of their own wine. “It brings a fun, competitive edge to the wine-learning process,” Retief says.
Retief is also considering a brand collaboration with Archie Rose, making vermouth that is matched to its gin (Martinis anyone?), and working with Willie the Boatman, using its yeast in the fermentation process. He also wants to make some barrel-aged beers. Retief has even been discussing the possibility of making sherry with grape skins at Young Henrys.
There will be a series of pop-up winemaker and chef dinners. The first is with The Farmed Table on May 6.
Urban Winery Sydney
Suite 6.01 Precinct 75, 75 Mary Street, St Peters
Wed to Friday 4pm–7pm
Sat & Sun 12pm–7pm