Nectar of the odds: Alex Retief, right, master of wine Rob Geddes, centre, and director of Nomad, Al Yazbeck, do some fair-dinkum squishing at Nomad in Surry Hills. Photo: Tamara Dean
As he squished through a grape mosh pit with two mature men, Gundagai winemaker Alex Retief hoped he was giving the Tempranillo wine a yeasty start in life.
''This is a good early ferment starter using the yeast from between the toes,'' said Mr Retief.
The young Gundagai winemaker is partnering with Surry Hills restaurant Nomad to ferment wine on the premises during The Sydney Morning Herald NSW Food and Wine Festival, presented by Citi, which started on Thursday.
''Everyone thinks wine is a snobby thing, and they don't understand it,'' he said.
To demystify the process, Mr Retief will be producing natural wine at Nomad and at the Bourke Street Bakery in Potts Point, which will be fermented only by the yeast in the air from the bread being baked nearby.
It's part of a campaign to rekindle flagging interest in local NSW wines.
Nomad's wine buyer Rob Geddes said NSW had the lowest penetration of local wines on its wine lists.
''That's because the locals don't understand the NSW wine culture,'' or the ''terroir'' as the French call it, he said. Producing wine on the premises would give urban residents a chance to enjoy the ''earthiness and naturalness of winemaking.''
NSW produces about 30 per cent of Australian wines, yet local wines constitute only about 10 per cent of wines on Sydney wine lists.
In contrast, South Australian restaurants averaged about 63 per cent local wines on their lists, West Australia 43 per cent, and Melbourne restaurants usually include 31 per cent of Victorian wines.
As a restaurant specialising in locally sourced and made food, Nomad's wine list is 100 per cent Australian wines, but only 10 per cent NSW wines, something Mr Geddes was trying to increase.
''Wine is a culture, and this place respects the values of Australian wine. We are working to integrate it into NSW culture and the best way is having a wine [like this] to show people what it is all about,'' he said.
Festival director Joanna Savill said the month-long showcase would see some of the state's most ''inspiring and forward-thinking producers reinforce why local is best. Whether it is an artisan cheese or a perfect Pinot Gris, we are lucky to have the very best on our doorstep,'' she said.
As for the wine being fermented at Nomad, about 25 dozen bottles of Tempranillo are expected to be produced. Mr Retief will test the wine every morning and night, while Geddes said he could call on the ''dark arts of winemaking'' if it was maturing too quickly. For the uninitiated, that means ice.
A taste of the festival
Sydney Cellar Door: Winemakers from across the state bring wine and food to the city, where it will be matched by live music. Friday 4pm-10pm, Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 11am-6pm; Hyde Park South.
Sticky and Sweet: Enjoy dessert with a glass of sweet and sticky wine for $25 at 14 venues across the state. Differing dates, starting on Sunday.
Snacks and Street Food and Brunches and High Teas: At various venues across Sydney and NSW, from Friday.
The NSW Food and Wine Festival runs from February 21 to March 21, details: nswfoodandwine.com.au.