What do you get when you put winemakers, cheese crafters, beer brewers, coffee roasters, food creators, and enthusiastic consumers in one stunning venue in Sydney, Australia? A unique festival by the name of Rootstock.
Now in its third year, Rootstock is, in its own words, “a unique, collaborative not-for-profit sustainable wine and food festival”—a simple declaration for a fascinatingly complex, diverse, and ambitious event. Over the last weekend of November, Rootstock took over a solid chunk of the visually stunning Carriageworks venue near the Sydney city center, and filled it to the brim with goodness.
While coffee has always had a home at Rootstock, in previous years the coffee service took form in the shape of a few vendors in the marketplace, with last year being the first year coffee's role moved beyond immediate caffeination and extended into a couple of master classes to stimulate the mind.
This year, coffee took over a substantial corner of the marketplace within a dedicated coffee pavilion, with curatorial and organizational assistance from Paul Geshos and the team at Mecca. Here, roasters from around Australia were invited to come serve their wares across black, white, and filter stations—a unique opportunity to try coffee from Artificer, Everyday Coffee, Marvell Street Roasters, Mecca, Monastery Coffee, Market Lane Coffee, Proud Mary Coffee, Reuben Hills, Sample Coffee, Seven Seeds, and Single Guys—all under one roof. Just next to the buzzing espresso machines and whirring grinders also came another coffee ritual that is slightly harder to just stumble upon—a beautifully orchestrated Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, courtesy of Djebena Coffees.
On the Saturday morning at the sprightly time of 9:30 a.m., the Carriageworks cinema was home to an illuminating masterclass from the inimitable Tim Varney alongside Mads Kleppe (Noma) for a frank discussion of the realities of restaurant coffee. During this talk, Varney reviewed the findings of some surveying he did of people’s most memorable coffee drinking experiences—namely that rarely, if ever, did people report a memorable and positive coffee experience in a restaurant atmosphere. Reflecting on Noma’s coffee service, Kleppe was, as always, insightful and forthright, “I want to have coffees which are really amazing, really tasty, but take away all the elements that the guests wouldn’t understand… to make it as approachable as possible and try to engage guests in an understandable way.”
The next day, Jenni Bryant (Market Lane Coffee), Mark Dundon (Seven Seeds, Paramount Coffee Project), Dan Yee (Artificer), Mike Eggert (Pinbone), and myself sat for a panel discussion about specialty coffee’s past, present, and future. In an all-encompassing hour-long chat, the conversation moved from the progression of the industry over the last decade, to the realities of farming, to the often tech-focused service end of the chain, to the ever-present debate over the fair price of a cup of coffee.
As the hours moved past coffee-tasting time, attention moved to the wine pavilion, where there a plethora of both Australian and international winemakers stood with bottles of wine just waiting to be poured. In the wine tasting sessions, one could start with a taste of the prolific Jean Foillard’s Morgon Gamay all the way from the Beaujolais in France, move onto a sample of South Australian wine with a splash of Lucy Margaux’s Wildman Blanc or a gurgle of Ochota Barrels Fugazi Grenache, then finish off with a taste of Belgrove Whisky from Tasmania. Then start all over again with the next batch of amazing producers. Here the atmosphere was friendly, joyful, and rambunctious, with winemakers alternating between deeply intense conversations with consumers on the topic of grapes and winemaking, to the winemakers playing a boozy game of musical chairs—sampling their peers’ wares and having as much fun as the attendees.
Throughout the weekend, the cinema and stunning Elston room in the venue were taken over for a series of talks and master classes—ranging from an intimate discussion with Gabrio Bini about his Serragghia Estate on Pantelleria, to a master class on wild honey and beekeeping with Timothy Malfroy, to in-depth talks about South African natural wines and the lessons that can be applied to the Australian industry. Many of the talks took place in a circle where one might be seated right next to the person who made the delicious drink or food the discussion was about—there was an overwhelmingly intimate feeling to these discussions. Rather than being a consumer separated from the producer by a tasting table, a kitchen pass, or a retail counter, it felt more like you’d snuck into a secret club where everyone you knew was incredibly passionate about what they did, and everything was delicious.
Meanwhile, the marketplace kept the place pumping, with all sorts of delights being poured at dedicated bars for orange wine, sake, and sour beer. Appetites were sated by way of burgers from Mary’s, butter samples from Pepe Saya, trout tartar by Clever Polly’s and Goulburn Trout, and even sweet treats from RivaReno Gelato. A major highlight of the marketplace, however, was Gurandgi Munjie, the Aboriginal agriculture and native food pavilion. Here there were displays of native Australian produce, Aboriginal artifacts, cultural presentations, and traditional cooking methods being used to serve a cornucopia of food to the people of Rootstock. This was a beautiful tribute to—and representation of—the Aboriginal people of Australia; something that is, unfortunately, a rarity.
Over two days, Rootstock presented a stunning event of an international standard, but one that was also unabashedly Australian. It’s the type of experience where I found myself wishing that it could have been stretched into a week-long event, so as to make it possible to taste every wine, attend every talk, try every delicious treat, and slowly relish every conversation and experience. It’s a considerable thing to achieve with only three years under its belt, and I for one can’t wait to see what Rootstock comes up with in coming years.
Sprudge.com is a proud media partner with Rootstock Sydney.