Politics aside, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that booze is essential in these strange and stressful times. And with lockdown orders still in place, we know you're going to want to keep on top of your wine supplies.
Whilst literally everybody has been affected by coronavirus restrictions in some way, our local winemakers have been hit particularly hard only weeks after beginning to recover from this summer’s devastating bushfire season.
Now, more than ever, it’s so important that we support small businesses and buy local. It’s also really, really imperative that we keep the good vino flowing. With that in mind, if you have a penchant for preservative-free and/or and minimal intervention wine, here are some of NSW’s best natural winemakers to support from the comfort of your couch.
Frankly This Wine Was Made By Bob
Frankly, this wine should be in every home and glass across Australia. Bob Colman and his son, Tom, make glory from locally sourced grapes and then bottle it from their shed in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. Before Coronavirus crashed the party, the father and son duo were already facing a tough 2020, with roughly 70% of their output affected by severe drought, a plague of grasshoppers, and bushfire smoke damaging their vineyards.
Even though they’ve been dealt a shitty triple whammy this season, Tom Colman says they’re still “just trying to make having a glass of wine as enjoyable as possible in all situations of life.” Tom says they’re also driven by their passion to “always represent the terroir of our regions that we buy fruit from, and for us, that is best achieved with no additions.”
As for what makes their wines so unique, it’s all about unexpected combos and experimental blends. “We like unrepeatable wines, which are weird mixes of varieties to make thought-provoking wines, always trying to push the boundaries of wine styles”, he says. Get your hands on a bottle or 12 via the natural wine purveyor of your choice—last time we checked, DRNKS and Different Drop still had some in stock.
Ari’s Natural Wine Co.
Speaking of paternal persuasion, Tony Zafirakos inherited his passion for natural winemaking from his dad, Ari Zafirakos. After moving from Greece to Australia in the early 60s, Ari began making wine the way they did back in his homeland—i.e., sans intervention. “We make wine from grapes by hand. All grapes are hand-picked, hand destemmed and pressed by a hand-operated basket press. Everything is gravity fed and no electricity is even used in processing the grapes. We don’t add anything at any stage, not even a trace of sulphur. We also don’t filter or fine, we just wait until the wine shows us it’s ready to be bottled”, says Zafirakos.
Unfortunately, the fires around the Southern Highlands hit these guys pretty hard, and the torrential rains that caused flash flooding didn’t help much either. Just when things were starting to look up, COVID-19 entered the chat. “The coming months are looking dire for us, particularly as we went into vintage on the back of that horrible bushfire season and came back to this. Fortunately, though, we have a strong following in Sydney who have already been so incredibly supportive”, he says.
Benson & Mooch
Benson Brown and Joel Mucci are the dynamic duo behind minimal intervention wine label Benson & Mooch. Renowned for their debut pét-nat, affectionately dubbed "Disco Juice", Brown and Mucci are currently producing their range of sensational sips out of Ari’s Natural Winery in Southern Highlands. Next year, they’ll be setting up their own urban winery space down the south coast, Wollongong way.
“We don't add anything to our wines, no sulphur at any stage and don't filter or fine our wines—wild ferment for all of our wines”, Mucci says of their process. “We do everything by hand, so we embrace a slow process in order to give the grapes the love and attention they need when making wine without additions.”
“Now is a better time than ever to buy small boutique wines that have been grown and produced locally. Get a couple of bottles that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside as a nice companion for these uncertain times.” To sample some of Brown and Mucci's vino, try DRNKS or P&V.
Family owned and operated Mallaluka Wines is a boutique operation producing dangerously delicious drops out of Canberra’s cool climate. Mallaluka’s Sam Leyshon dubs their offerings "lo-fi wines", as in minimal intervention. “I'm not into calling ourselves natural, for we don't source from organic vineyards and we do use minimal amounts of preservatives. But no other additions or subtractions go in or out of our wines”, he says. Full of character and a little left of centre, their wines benefit from the explorative and boundary-pushing techniques used to create them.
“They have a familiar backbone, with an edge that I hope comes across as artisanal and pleasantly amateur. We don't strive to replicate exactly each bottle or variety in each season, so they should have subtle differences and nuances which reflect the differences in what mother nature provides us with from year to year—if a little weird at times”, says Leyshon.
Speaking of weird times... Sam suggests battling those COVID blues by ordering a bottle from your local bottlo (“to enable more of a spread, or to share the love, so to speak”), or if they’ve shut up shop, you can order directly from Mallaluka.
Another family-owned minimal intervention operation, Bathurst-based Renzaglia Wines is all about working in harmony with the greatest giver of all: Mother Nature. “The vines are only one variable, but a happy vine gifts good fruit, and this is the foundation of our wines”, explains Sam Renzaglia. From there, we don’t really have to do much at all.”
Whatever they are or aren’t doing much of seems to be working, especially when it comes to the flavourful taste of their Stone Wall wines, all of which are made without any fining or filtration and with minimal added sulphites.
At the moment, Renzaglia says their relationship with the land is what’s most important. “We don’t use any chemicals in the vineyard, we compost all of our winery waste, mulch under vine for water efficiency, pull weeds out with a pitchfork and bucket, and are growing a range of native shrubs and plants at our vine rows as well as planting trees all over our property.” As for the wines, he lets them speak for themselves—and a quick taste proves they have plenty to say. Bottles, meet cart.
Hailing from the Hunter Valley, Harkham Wines was founded fifteen years ago by Richie Harkham. Produced with hand-harvested grapes, their high-quality natural wine is “made with love, zero additives or preservatives, and no fining or filtration.”
Each year, they make a maximum of 20,000 bottles of their single vineyard, vegan, and Kosher wine (a real hat-trick), and raise money through sales to help build a school for the Hark Angel Foundation every year. And on top of all that, “We make wine that best represents the terroir of the beautiful Hunter Valley, each bottle a snapshot of time and place”, says Harkham.
Right now, the snapshot isn’t all that picturesque, though, and Harkham are facing a difficult road ahead. “We’ve endured four years of drought and then bushfires which resulted in the majority of our grapes being damaged by [bushfire] smoke taint. And just as we thought things could not have gotten worse, the Coronavirus pandemic hits. All our bookings have been cancelled and our sales lost. If there was ever a time to support each other, it's now!” You heard the man—support a vital vino business doing it tough, and reap the delicious rewards.
Not sure where to shop natural vino in Sydney? Try these online heroes.
Image credit: Pakin Songmor