There’s a growing worldwide familiarity with the term “natural” wine—wine made from grapes with no added yeast or bacteria to ferment. But while most winemakers that could go under the “natural” banner generally follow the no inoculation rule, there is still one ingredient that finds its way into a large amount of cellars and eventually bottles of wine: sulphur. For some, the addition of sulphur can dull a wine and obscure all that makes it special in the first place—for others it can even cause an allergic reaction. And for a special few, it’s an ingredient whose presence in wine can move them so thoroughly that they create a not-for-profit wine tasting and party to celebrate wines that have nothing to do with it at all.
Organised by a bunch of heavy hitters in the Melbourne food and wine game, Soulfor Wine, now in its third year, has become something of a must-see alongside the likes of Rootstock, Bottletops, and Mental Notes in the land of Australian lo-fi wine enthusiasts. The criteria for selection of producers is strict but simple: wines must be made from fruit that’s organically farmed, be unfined and unfiltered, and be totally free of additions of any sort.
This year, the event found a new home at the stunning Collingwood Arts Precinct, encompassing a thoroughly overwhelming selection of wines to taste, a huge bottle list, delectable food offering, and a garden party to boot. Quite happily, this writer was able to go along and partake in the festivities, and cherry pick a few highlights out of a stellar lineup.
Thanks to Campbell Burton, Giorgio de Maria, Drew Green, Josh Murphy, Liz Carey, Paul Guiney, Gus Carmichael, and David Moyle for putting on a spectacular event.
Borachio Wine—Pash Rash
While this is the first release of Borachio wine, Mark Warner and Alicia Basa are no strangers to lo-fi wine having worked for James Erskine at Jauma in South Australia for a number of years now. Their labels speak to a design category that can only really be accurately described as “Australiana Disco,” and the wine in the bottles is equally as snappy and unique—their “Pash Rash” is made up of straight-pressed Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc that’s put in bottle with residual sugar to ferment and create a fizzy delight. Keep an eye on these guys for years to come.
Adams Evening Pear Cider
Look, a long time ago I was one of the many that would grimace at the offer of cider, expecting something akin to the sticky sweet apple ciders that I often imbibed in my teen years (whether or not it stayed imbibed was a different story). These days, however, after supping at on the dry and incredibly complex pear cider from Adams Evening (and other spectacular ones from the likes of Two Metre Tall over the years), I’m thoroughly a convert to the new wave of natural cider goodness that Australia has to offer.
There are so many spectacular winemakers spread over this fine earth who are making delicious things, and Francois Blanchard is thoroughly one of the best. Over the years I’ve heard stories of this mythical winemaker who and who makes incredibly beautiful wines and also hires a band to play between out in the vineyards while he and his workers harvest grapes. All of his wines are unquestionably delicious, but the real highlight was seeing the man himself pouring for the masses, surrounded by posters extolling Vins S.A.I.N.S mission, the European wine collective that whose raison d’etre is to add no sulfur to any of their cuvees, including the likes of Pierre Rousse (France), Massimiliano d’Addario (Italy), and Karl and Eva Schnabel (Austria).
Sam Vinciullo—Sauvignon Blanc
While all of the wines being presented on the day were of the no sulphur-ilk, for many producers this meant that they brought a couple of their wines along, but not the full range. In Australia, it is still a rarity for a winemaker to use absolutely no additional sulphur in the vineyard or winery, which is why Sam Vinciullo from Margaret River in Western Australia is extra special. Since 2014, Vinciullo has been producing spectacular wines, and his new release Sauvignon Blanc is no exception—it’s a snappy number with a nearly tonic-like quality to it, and the perfect thing for the summer days to come in the Southern Hemisphere (or the Northern, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on it and also not drink it before the seasons change).
Gentle Folk Wine—Mountain Chardonnay
Firstly, full disclosure here: close to three years ago I spent some time in Adelaide, and worked vintage with Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk. Having previously loved his wines prior to arriving in South Australia, I was originally concerned that seeing the inside of the machine would ruin my love of the product—happily, I was thoroughly wrong, and have since been wowed by his wines and progress in the years since. This new release of Mountain Chardonnay—from a parcel of land run by good friends of Belton himself—is an absolutely stunning example of the quality wines that Belton and Gentle Folk are producing. It’s a Chardonnay that has the lovely lean minerality of a Chablis, while still having the weight and textural complexity of the bigger and rounder styles are out there. It sits on a fine line and I can tell you, it tastes divine.
James Madden—Little Things
While there were many of the usual winemaking folks at Soulfor (Lucy Margaux et al), one of the most refreshing parts of the event was the space given to newer and smaller wineries, all presented on even playing field. Madden and his Little Things wines represented beautifully—having been a sommelier and done vintages for a number of years, this is the first release for Little Things, and it’s an absolute stunner, a huge amount of promise for the future.
Trisha Greentree’s chicken rice
It’s not truly a wine tasting without some food—whether it be a kebab at the end of the night, or something during the event itself (like a responsible human being). Soulfor Wine’s food offering was no slump, with a range of different chefs bringing one beautiful dish each to the table in a neat little cafeteria with a pass manned by no other than Josh Murphy (ex-Builder’s Arms head chef) himself. While there were many great things on offer (Takoyaki, or even perfectly fried potato cakes), the chicken rice won the whole thing, bringing perfectly cooked chicken and buttery, flavourful rice into a delicate and delicious harmony.
It’s always fascinating to come back to a wine over a few different vintages—especially from its first incarnation to one many years down the line. Travis Tausend’s “Joy” 2015. Over the years, Tausend’s focus and intention has changed somewhat, especially with input from Sancerre’s own Sebastian Riffault for this years vintage, with the 2017 bringing an incredible maturity with it, and a complexity that is immensely satisfying. If you can get it, get your lips around it.
Look, there’s no way that one article could ever fully sum up the goodness of this huge day of tasting, but here are some tiny bonuses.
Jauma’s colourful stand
James Erskine’s wines are absolutely stunning, no doubt, but the most eye-catching element of his table was the collection of colourful crafts adorning his bottles. When questioned about the origin of these delights, Erskine responded that his children wanted some money, so they asked their dad to bring the crafts to Soulfor in the hopes of selling them—adorable entrepreneurs.
Living Wine’s brief Jean-Pierre Robinot cameo
Sue and Roger of Living Wines are a regular in these parts, having been bringing stunning wines into Australia for a number of years now. This year, as a little treat, they brought a few magnums of the inimitable Jean-Pierre Robinot vintages for the masses to try—as is to be expected, they didn’t hang around for long, with the empty bottles as a reminder to all those who came past afterwards that they definitely should have gotten out of bed earlier that day.
Killer bottle line-up
If you’ve gotten this far in the article, then you know that the offerings at Soulfor Wine were thoroughly bountiful. One very special thing about all of this is that many of the producers also supplied wine to a pop-up bottle shop at the event, so that people could buy some wine to drink while the afternoon’s festivities. One even more impressive thing about it? The bottle list was lovingly handwritten on brown kraft paper spanning over three large windows, and it was an absolute sight to behold.