My first trip to Rootstock

Rootstock 2016 - so much goodness under one roof

Rootstock 2016 – so much goodness under one roof

If anyone was still under the impression that Australian wine was all about homogeneity, technical winemaking and soulless corporates, attending the Rootstock Festival would soon set them straight. This year’s event in Sydney, which celebrates a natural and sustainable approach to wine, was the first I’d attended. And it drove home just how exciting and eclectic Australian wine can be, showcased here alongside some intriguing international counterparts.

Sameness was certainly not something that could be detected in its exhibitors. Amongst the Australian producers alone I sampled unusual assemblages that encompassed a Merlot Semillon to field blends created from multiple red and white varieties. It was teeming with textural skin-contact “whites” in shades from lemon to deep amber. Then there were the fresh and fragrant Syrahs, picked earlier than their historical counterparts, with a brightness and drinkability to lure many a jaded ex-Shiraz drinker back into the fold. Plus there was a profusion of crisp and cloudy “pet nats” delivered at varying stages of effervescence through their continued fermentation unfiltered in bottle.

In contrast to the winemaking wizardry that had come to charcaterise Australian wine, many of those poured at Rootstock were the product of very old winemaking techniques. The field blends harked back to an era before variety was king; when vignerons often had little idea of the different grapes they had planted on a single site and so harvested and fermented them all together. Proponents of this method consider that the resulting wines can be a more complete and truer expression of a single site than if they’d made all the varieties there into individual bottlings. It certainly made for some interesting wines.

“Orange” wines also abounded at the event, which included some benchmarks for comparison from the ancient winemaking country of Georgia. For thousands of years, its winemakers have been fermenting and maturing white grapes along with the skins that are disposed off very early on in most modern white winemaking. These skins impart both their golden to amber hue and a structure akin to a red. In Australia, as in a number of countries, the style has become an underground hit with winemakers and drinkers, and here as elsewhere they can be something of a mixed bag. The best displayed beguilingly intense aromatics and appealing pithy grip. The less successful had astringency that possibly wouldn’t be offset by the food with which this style was made to pair. It was good that visitors could enjoy the style in the way it’s best appreciated, by combining a glass from the Orange Wine Bar in situ with the sustainable food that was also part of the proceedings.

This minimal intervention in winemaking was a character shared by all wineries invited to Rootstock. This means using natural yeasts, no winemaking additions and little or none of the common preservative sulphur. It’s a philosophy which means imperfect fruit has nowhere to hide, but when applied to great grapes from great sites, regularly results in wines with purity and transparency that makes for some of the world’s most thrilling wines. And I certainly experienced some thrills at the fair!

This year, Rootstock’s organisers decided it wasn’t enough to keep the chemicals out of the wine, but away from the vines as well now, permitting only wines produced from organic-farmed vineyards to be shown. It’s a stand that I applaud, as to my mind, sustainable and natural wine must start from that philosophy in the vineyard. If a vigneron wants to truly express the character of their site, which is what gives a great wine its uniqueness, it’s best not to subdue this by dousing it with synthetic pesticides and herbicides. The number of wines that really conveyed their sense of place at Rootstock this year was testament that this really is the way forward.

Provenance and its clear articulation is what elevates wine from being just another drink. And it’s not alone, as the other non-wine producers at the festival illustrated. Two really caught my attention. One was Two Metre Tall Brewery, which unlike most brewers grows the grains, hops and all that goes into its beers made on its Tasmanian farm. Another was Belgrove Distillery, which again sources and makes everything for its rye whisky and other products from its bio-fuelled estate and distillery.

It’s telling that the Rootstock website lists its exhibitors under the heading “artisans” as everyone I encountered, united here by an ultra-natural approach, was a small producer. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a wine festival with a less corporate vibe. On a purely visual level there were tattoos, dreadlocks and crazy colourful labels aplenty. Going deeper, I enjoyed having real conversations with those intimately involved with the wines they were showing, who conveyed a personal passion for the product they were pouring. Not one marketing spiel did I hear across the tasting table.

It was a refreshing and stimulating day indeed for both the mind and the senses. If it’s been a while since you ventured into Australian wine, I’d encourage you to take another look. And maybe make a beeline for the Rootstock Festival next year if you want to encounter so much goodness in one place!

 

Natural stars

There were just too many exciting wines to cover here, so I’ve selected a handful of local examples that particularly impressed and piqued my interest across a spectrum of styles, as well as a few from further afield.

Ochota Barrels “The Fugazi Vineyard” McLaren Vale Grenache 2016
The 2014 vintage of this wine made my last top wines of the year. The latest release, made from 68-year-old vines, looks just as seductive with its ethereally textured raspberry fruit infused with notes of herb and exotic spice. Having admired the wines from afar, it was also great to at last meet their maker, Taras Ochota too!

Ravensworth Riesling Ancestral Murrumbateman 2016
Ravensworth’s “pet nat” epitomises the sheer fun and freshness to be found in the style. It’s cloudy, with a gentle effervescence and is now on the drier side (after being bottled with 12 g/l residual sugar). With its fresh citrusy tang, it’s akin to drinking homemade lemonade and goes down just as easily!

Sam Vinciullo Warner Glen Red/White Margaret River 2016
It was the first time I’d encountered the wines of Sam Viciullo, but then he’s not long been back from a stint making wine on Italy’s Mount Etna with the likes of Frank Cornelissen. Now making his own label with no additions and no oak in Margaret River, his Red/White is an intriguing blend of Merlot and Semillon. It initially came about by chance when he decided to blend the tiny quantity of Semillon he had the previous vintage in with some Merlot. It worked so well he did it again this vintage, and the result is a light coloured wine with soft red berry/cherry fruit, florals notes, hints of marzipan and a bright line of acid.

 Tommy Field by Tommy Ruff Barossa Valley Syrah 2015
Having enjoyed many of Tom Shobbrook’s wines in the past, when I finally got to meet him in person at Rootstock I had the uncanny feeling of knowing him already. Such is the power of wine! Tommy Field is the new name for what was Romanee Tuff, and is another senstaionally fresh and lifted Syrah that’s poles apart from the overripe and overoaked Barossa Shirazes that can be hard to so hard drink. It’s picked early – often in mid-February – to retain freshness, which is to the fore in this lifted and complex wine with its bright but deep plum fruit, notes of sweet spice, touch of herb and fine tannins.

Millton Libiamo Gisborne 2015
Of all the orange wines I tried – and there were quite a few – this example from Australasian organic and biodynamic pioneers, Millton was one of New World standouts. Cloudy, peach-coloured and highly perfumed, it fuses intense aromatics of rose florals, Earl Grey tea, rosemary and lemon oil and finishes on an attractive pithy note.

Cacique Maravilla Pipeño Vino Tinto Bio Bio Pais 2016
Pais was once the most widely planted grape in Chile, but fell out of favour and became widely considered fit only for bulk wine. However, in recent years it’s seen something of a revival, and from tasting a range at Rootstock I can see how its light and fresh profile is in tune with current tastes. This example was made from vines that are almost 300 years old, planted by the great-great grandfather of the current owner, Manuel Moraga made in the traditional Pipeño style in open rauli casks. Pink in colour and light in weight and texture, its pretty red cherry fruit in joined by hints of quinine, herb and smoke over a subtle savoury undercurrent.

Phillipe Bornard Pupillin Vin Jaune Arbois, Jura 2008
New York somms may have been the ones who helped place France’s tiny Jura region on the world wine map, but it’s worth looking beyond the hype to explore its paradoxical wines. With a number of Jura producers present, the region was the focus of one of Rootstock’s talks, where Phillipe Bornard presented this Vin Jaune, a unique unfortified style that’s aged oxidatively under a veil of yeast. While many Vins Jaune are aged in drafty attics, this one was matured in a cellar, resulting in a particularly refined style with less of the classic nutty character and more focus on its crisp green apple fruit, notes of mineral and savoury yeasty undercurrent.

 

 

 

Strength in diversity: NZ at the IWSC

NZ Pinot Noir judging at this year's IWSC

NZ Pinot Noir judging at this year’s IWSC

Back in September I was over in the UK to judge at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. Last night in London, the competition’s full awards were announced; with Matua named New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year, joining fellow New Zealand Trophy winners Giesen and Kim Crawford, which won the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc Trophies respectively.

It was another strong year for New Zealand at the IWSC. In the first tranche of results revealed in late September, the country was awarded a high proportion of Silver Medals and a raft of Golds, as well as Giesen Single Vineyard Ridge Block Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 taking out the top Pinot Noir Trophy and Kim Crawford Small Parcels Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 in pole position with its win of the Sauvignon Blanc Trophy.

One of the notable features of this year’s results was the wide spread of varieties and styles across the top wines. As well as the usual suspects – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir – the Gold medal winners included Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Merlot Cabernet and Malbec. I was also really pleased to see a spectrum of Riesling styles winning Golds – which ranged from an older example to a lusciously sweet expression – and were testament to just how good the country’s Rieslings are now.

 

Trophy winners

giesen_single-vineyard-ridge-block-2013IWSC Pinot Noir Trophy – Giesen Single Vineyard “Ridge Block” Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013

This wine unfurls to reveal complex layers of red and black cherry fruit, notes of sweet spice, earth, herb, hints of smoke and a savoury, gamey undercurrent. These are wrapped in a silken texture and supported by fine tannins and fresh spine of acid. An elegant, complex and harmonious wine.

“Marlborough has come of age: the vineyards have more maturity and personality. How to better capture that with a single site expression instead of blending multi sites together for a regional blend?” Marcel Giesen, Giesen

2016-kim-crawford-sp-spitfire-sauvignon-blanc-bottle-shotIWSC Sauvignon Blanc Trophy – Kim Crawford Small Parcels “Spitfire” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Punchy green aromas of fresh Thai basil and oregano laced with lime and grapefruit abound on the nose. On the palate there’s classic 17th November, 2016Marlborough sauvignon gooseberry fruit and a lush hit of guava, infused with fragrant notes of green herb and blackcurrant leaf, all underpinned by a vibrant line of mineral and limey acid. A wine in which power and elegance combine.

“While we are driven to make wines that people love to drink, it’s also great to achieve recognition from your peers and industry leaders that validates the hard work the whole team puts into making this wine.” Anthony Walkenhorst, Kim Crawford senior winemaker

matua-iwsc-trophyNew Zealand Wine Producer of the Year – Matua

“The biggest thing for me is that the Trophy recognises the breadth of the Matua portfolio. From an international perspective New Zealand is always talked about almost solely as a Sauvignon Blanc producer, and sometimes Pinot Noir, so we’re thrilled that the cumulative performance of so many different varietals got us here. There’s a lot of incredibly happy people in the Matua team right now across the board from viticulture, to packaging, marketing the cellar and of course winemaking – we’re a proud team.” Greg

 

Big competition, small classes

The fortified: a sweet end to the Trophy judging

The fortifieds: a sweet end to the Trophy judging

The IWSC is one of the big international competitions, with entries from around 90 countries judged over a 6-month period at its own premises in the UK. I’ve been a judge with the competition for 15 years, in the last couple chairing some of the New Zealand panels and judging the Trophy classes.

It’s always a treat to judge with some great palates from around the world at a well-organised competition where wines are initially judged in regional, and sometimes down to sub-regional categories.

With a cap set at tasting 60 wines each day, I always walk away confident that the wines have been given a fair and thorough look. This number is based on competition guidelines set down by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), which recommends “each juror shall taste at the rate of no more than 45 samples per day”. This is certainly not the case in many Australasian competitions, where despite a move to reduce wines judged in one day, judges are regularly expected to assess over 150 samples, despite all the evidence of the effect of palate fatigue when tasting such a large number of wines.

The full results can be accessed through the IWSC with in-depth New Zealand coverage in the forthcoming Summer issue of WineNZ magazine.

Jo Burzynska is a judge and New Zealand Ambassador for the IWSC

Rail Cables release

Featured

rail-cables-2016-coverJo Burzynska’s Alone with the Black Spirits has been released under her Stanier Black-Five moniker by the UK-based Rail Cables label on Rail Cables 2016. Those who know Jo’s longstanding interest in the sound of trains will appreciate what a great fit her work is with Rail Cables, a label devoted to showcasing new music inspired by train travel. Given her background, Rail Cables’ Stu Metcalfe also invited her to contribute the personal story of her sonic connection with the locomotive, which was beautifully transcribed by Kiran Dass and forms part of the stunning gatefold vinyl package. Copies of the album are available as a limited edition double vinyl gatefold LP or digital download from Rail Cables.

“Her piece ‘Alone with the Black Spirits’ is a 20 minute exploration of the sounds of a moving train. Since the conception of Rail Cables I have been hoping a musician / sound artist would attempt this. It seems so perfect that the task has been undertaken by somebody who cares so much about the attention to detail in the sonic manipulation of the sound of our chosen form of transport. Reminiscent of the work of Tod Dockstader, it is fascinating wondering how much of Burzynska’s piece is created from field recordings and how much editing has been involved. At times the hypnotic rhythms seem too perfect to have naturally occurred from the train itself. Yet this just helps remind us what a surprisingly musical experience travelling by train can be.” Stu Metcalfe

The recordings used on Alone with the Black Spirits were made on trains of varying eras and platforms in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland and New Zealand.

A train story
(As reproduced in the inside cover of the release)

Curlews call and the soft syncopated panting of a steam train comes into earshot. As it builds in volume, the wheels on jointed tracks fall into a regular metrical beat, whistles blow and the birdsong is drowned out as the Stanier Black-Five thunders past.

 

A lull follows and then rain, through which another locomotive can be detected. This time its approach is an irregular jolting as it slips and labours on the rails before a loud hiss heralds its screeching halt. Then there’s a crackle and the sound of a needle hitting the end of the record. “Turn it over!” I urge, and my grandfather carefully flips the 45.

 

“Now this gradient is not as steep,” he explains as the B Side train breaks into a steady rhythm. “But hear how it changes as it goes over the bridge … and listen out for the bird when it reaches the other side.”

 

Many days of my early childhood I would travel like this, speeding through the British countryside and its towns with my grandfather, Stanley. Our only conveyance in most instances would be one of his train records; recordings made long before I was born of the last steam engines as they cut their final noisy passages across the country.

 

Sometimes these would have visual accompaniments, in the form of one of Stanley’s model train sets. I’d give the “right away” to a miniature engine, starting it on its trip as Stanley set off the record he’d cued up, breathing thrilling sonic life into their muted circuits.

 

Our excursions were driven by Stanley’s desire to share his passion for the railways on which he’d been raised. The son of a stationmaster, he’d longed to drive steam trains. It was a career derailed by a short sightedness that saw him become a teacher instead and the stridence of steam replaced by the subdued whirring of diesel. However, when he retired, he found in his similarly myopic granddaughter a willing companion to guide down the tracks he’d enjoyed travelling when young on these now decommissioned locomotives.

 

Forget the simple melodies of nursery rhymes and children’s songs; I revelled in the rich roar of the footplate’s fire. My lullabies were the pounding of pistons. I heard symphonies in the clatter and grinding friction of steel on steel.

 

When I was a little older, while the trains themselves were reduced to a distant rumble in my memory, they seemed to incline me towards similarly visceral and rhythmical soundscapes. But they were to return in full force on the eve of my family’s move overseas that heralded the start of my solo adult journey, when Stanley passed away and left me his record collection.

 

Alone with the black spirits which rage in the belly of rogue locomotives, the 33s, 45s and 78s offered comfort, conjuring fond memories of the happy hours I’d spent sonic trainspotting with Stanley. They didn’t simply hark back to a nostalgic age, but were heading forward to my next decade when they were to run through the sounds I myself would create.

 

Living with the vibrations of the Northern Line beneath me and Kings Cross Station metres from my house, my early adult years saw me once again immersed in train noise. It seemed fitting to mix Stanley’s records into this domestic environment, and before long I began incorporating them into my DJ sets. I found myself often playing only train records, which developed into performance pieces in their own right, culminating in the release of the Train Tracks 7” in homage to Stanley and his beloved historic recordings.

 

Fascinated by the sound of trains of all types I started documenting them myself: from steam trains on British heritage lines, through trans-European rail travel to Alpine crossings in New Zealand and the high speed bullet trains of Japan. These sounds have provided the material for numerous performances in recent years, as well as the track on this record.

 

I may now make my own recordings, but the impact of my grandfather’s vintage vinyl collection remains. It resonates in the way I hear the world and create my own work, living on as a powerful family legacy passed on to me in sound.

Mixing things up

 

IAO library

Swotting up with IAO’s perfume library

Having only had one fairly brief foray into making perfume in the past, I was interested to see how I’d fare with more formal training. I hoped that my experience in assessing wine and some blending experience in that realm would stand me in good stead for my residency at the Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO).

 

Before I started, I had an idea of what I wanted to create to evoke the imagery of La Chevelure, the Charles Baudelaire poem that I was working with. The perfume would have to convey three ideas: that of the sea, a dry fragrant forest and the exotic. But where to start?

 

IAO’s Saskia Wilson-Brown suggested my first task should be nosing through the samples in the perfume organ. As sniffing everything would prove impossible, and likely lead to temporary anosmia, I check out the vials that hold scents I think might suit my brief. The organ’s aromas provided an intriguing experience – from Cashmeran with its wood earthy almost fungal notes – that I earmarked for my fragrance – to more divisive aromas such as Indolene – redolent of decay with a whiff of the faecal – not appropriate for this piece but something I’d like to experiment with in the future!

 

After assembling my aromatic palette I set to work making the three “accords” that would combine to create my final smell-track – these are a number of aroma “notes” that are combined to create an effect akin to a musical chord. First up was the wood, which given there are so many woody extracts available, I thought would be the easiest to start with.

 

Wood accord blends

My top four wood accord blends – but which one to choose?

The process was one of trial and error, with each version’s ingredients and their proportions noted down for reference. After nine attempts I reached a combination that I was pleased.

 

This first attempt at fragrance mixing hadn’t been quite as hard as I’d feared. I’d made swift progress, possibly due to being smell-fit from my wine assessments. But I also certainly noticed similarities between this and my experiences of wine blending and even with the mixing and layering of the recordings in my music too.

 

With and with a decidedly worn out snout I called it a day, then well into the evening I was still haunted by – albeit pleasant – aromas of earth and wood.

Making crossmodal connections

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A visit to Occidental College’s multisensory labSasha & carmel small

While in LA I took the opportunity to catch up with cognitive scientists Carmel Levitan and Sasha Sherman at their multisensory lab at Occidental College. I was keen to learn more about their research into sensory interaction given Carmel’s previous research into crossmodal correspondences between music, odour and emotion and Sasha’s interest in the brain and art.

 

As well as pursuing their own research in the multisensory labs, Carmel and Sasha use with students to study how the different senses interact to influence a range of perceptual and cognitive states, and the role of social and emotional factors in mediating these states.

 

IMG_1866
Sasha demonstrated an interesting experiment investigating whether priming participants with the same rhythm before a task made them work better together in performing it. With Carmel I sniffed some of the unfamiliar scents created for one of her olfactory experiments – Sasha’s dog Nacho also got in on the act, who I suggested likely had the best nose in the room. However, they told me about a study that suggested that the power human’s sense of smell could be more akin to a dog’s if our noses were closer to floor level!

 

I discussed with them my hopes that the crossmodal congruency between the smells and sounds that I would be using in my project at the Institute for Art and Olfaction would result in bringing different elements of its scent component to the fore. We also discussed the issue of olfactory adaptation, which is when you stop smelling something after prolonged contact. I’d aimed to keep the sound piece I’d made fairly short, but at around 12 minutes, one would expect this to occur. However, I wondered if sounds could retrigger the perception of smells within the work.

 

It was a great meeting with some exciting common research interests that may well develop into future arts-science collaborations.