Rootstock returns!


Are you ready to get even more natural? Rootstock Sydney is back, folks, and it's more artisanal than ever - if the winemaking showcased at the festival was any less interventionist the grapes would have to tread themselves.

And just as the 2015 outing built on the success of Rootstocks past by expanding the central idea of craft and sense of place to somehow meld indigenous culture, coffee, a visit from Nordic rock-star chef Magnus Nilsson, the roasting of a whole cow, architecture and music, this year's festival casts the net wider still.

The program is still a work in progress, but you can count on it being a feast for the palate and much more besides. To get the lowdown, we snared an exclusive interview with Rootstock co-founder and wine writer (and GT contributor) Mike Bennie.

Rootstock Sydney 2016 - what's the elevator pitch, Mike?
Well, Rootstock Sydney returns on the weekend of 26-27 November with all the fanfare, fun and festivity of the original three events, but as is the way of myself and Giorgio de Maria, co-founders of the festival, we're shaking things up once more. We're changing the scope of our food and produce markets, and, as a highlight, collaborating with Carriageworks Farmers Markets with a special-edition, uniquely themed market on the Sunday. The wine sessions return once more, this time with even more focus on natural farming alongside minimal-intervention winemaking in an effort to showcase even more amazing natural wines. Night parties will have the same unfettered, wild, energetic feel, and though the orange wine and sake bars return, we're also bringing in some international guests to curate our Saturday night, and our native-produce theme finds a quirky, unusual voice alongside rare wines and naturally fermented beers on the Sunday night with our huge closing night party. The talks program is even more interesting, with some seriously wicked guests to be announced in time.

And this year you're more natural than ever? So it seems.
We're homing in on natural farming for our wine sessions - this means that this year only wines that have been grown organically (certified) or grown to the equivalent of Australian organic standards will be shown. This doesn't mean less wines, or less producers; it just means all wines shown will be made from grapes that have had no chemicals used at all in the farming process. It's giving a clearer definition of natural wine.

Who are the producers we ought to be getting excited about now?
We'll be announcing the full line-up in due time, but some crowd favourites, and killer wines, will be hand-poured by the likes of returning star Christian Tschida from Austria, alongside first-timers from Jura, Domaine de la Pinte. Stay tuned for much more.

What's this about you putting on a new market?
Over the past three festivals we've had a great time putting together our own insane line-up of farmers, chefs, cooks, growers, livestock raisers, but this year we're shifting the focus to native produce and ethnic-Australian foods. The ethnic-Australian element will home in on smaller communities of migrants and their fascinating food and home-grown produce.

And you've got a presence at the Saturday Carriageworks market as well?
In collaboration with Carriageworks, we will launch a special edition of the Carriageworks Farmers Market running from 11am to 4pm, focused on native ingredients and ethnic-Australian foods. Expect an amazing street food market, where you can nibble everything from kangaroo, wallaby and crocodile, and try native bee honey and bunya nuts. There will also be bull boar sausage - a specialty from the Italian speaking Swiss population of the Victorian Gold Fields since the 1850s.

Last year you cooked a whole cow as the pièce de résistance - what are you thinking this year? Walrus? Camel?
In the spirit of Australian native food we are putting together another epic chefs' collaborative party on Sunday night. David Moyle, Duncan Welgemoed, Aaron Turner and Pasi Petänen will cook a storm grilling sting rays and underground cooked kangaroo tails. We will be serving ray or roo rolls. Pasi Petenan will host a talk about bread making, from flour to fermentation to woodfired cooking. Kylie Kwong will be at the Sunday market preparing a special Rootstock Sydney dish, too.

Will there be dancing?
Always. It's a feature of Rootstock Sydney. Music has always been part of the festival, from bands to DJs to conceptual sounds. This year we've been gifted the help of the Italo Disco crew, particularly with Maurice Terzini (Icebergs, Dolphin Hotel) and Giovanni Paradiso (10 William St, Fratelli Paradiso) stepping in.

What about the stuff beyond wine - what ties it all to Rootstock Sydney?
We're looking more at cultural edifice this year - how various cultures contribute to the mix of food, farming, eating, drinking in Sydney. We're celebrating a breadth of cultural impact, and showcasing the diversity that goes with it, which will likely manifest in art, artefacts, music and song, alongside food and drinks. We're also looking at a stronger arts presence this year, with some interesting collaborations arising.

You're known as the pants-optional wine writer; what are your plans vis-à-vis pants for this year's festival?
All three festivals have seen me showcasing a thrilling array of football shorts. I have been curating a football short program specific to the varying characters of the festival, and will have a new collection to show off over the weekend.

Anyone who's been to Rootstock before knows its singular charm; what would you say, though, to the Rootstock curious - those GT readers who have thought about experimenting and bringing a bit more Rootstock into their lives but don't know where to start?
It's pretty much the funnest festival in Australia with the most intent to educate and inspire. It's a festival that goes beyond just letting in anyone who is willing to participate - it's themed to showcase organic, biodynamic and naturally grown produce, wines, beers, spirits, and the artisans that toil at these quarries. It's got a thumping pulse and yet manages to distil what's great about eating and drinking in Sydney, with some serious messages behind it all. And by night, well, it's about as colourful and unhinged as any festival gets; in the best possible way.

Rootstock Sydney 2016, 26-27 November, Carriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh, NSW,

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