Big crush: getting a taste for hands-on winemaking

"Everyone is encouraged to come along and help plunge the grapes," says Alex Retief (left), with fellow winemaker Ed Swift.
"Everyone is encouraged to come along and help plunge the grapes," says Alex Retief (left), with fellow winemaker Ed Swift. Photo: Sasha Woolley

Forget ordinary, cellar door wine tastings and cheese platters.

Interest in hands-on winemaking experience has grown in recent years with a range of NSW wineries offering weekends, classes or bespoke tutorials to give enthusiasts a taste of the grape-to-bottle experience.

Winemaker Jacob Stein of Robert Stein Wines has hosted an annual Footcrush Feast event in Mudgee for the past five years.

“It generally draws a younger crowd and they're quite interested in the winemaking," he says.

Stein gives a guided tour of the vineyard as part of the event. Guests then get to plunge the red grapes - mixing the grape skins back into the juice - before taking off their shoes for the main event, stomping the shiraz grapes to extract the juice.

"People don't normally get to see behind the winemaker doors,” he says.

Hungerford Hill's Get Down and Dirty weekend has grown from one event of 30 people to two events with around 90 at each over the past decade. Last year's event at the Hunter Valley winery involved grape stomping.

If you're not keen to leave the city limits, Nomad and Bourke Street Bakery will both be making wine on-site in the coming weeks with customers welcome to lend a hand.

Bourke Street Bakery turned their Potts Point cafe into a "micro winery" last year with the help of winemaker Alex Retief.

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"The whole idea was to have a bit of fun, but we noticed immediately it was a great point of interest for customers,” the bakery's co-owner David McGuiness says.

This year Nomad is getting involved and Reteif says he hopes to have half a ton of grapes at both venues in the coming weeks.

“Everyone is encouraged to come along and help plunge the grapes,” says Retief.

There will be events around pressing the wine and then bottling it later in the year, he says. The wine will sit in vats at both venues during throughout the process.

“It's a great experience to get people talking about wine, and just be a part of the process,” says Retief.

WHERE TO GET INVOLVED

Nomad, Surry Hills and Bourke Street Bakery, Potts Point

Event times and prices TBA, keep an eye on each venue's Facebook and Twitter accounts in the coming weeks.

Brokenwood Wines, Hunter Valley

Get Your Hands Dirty, February 14, $120 per person, bookings essential, brokenwood.com.au

This whole day event covers the entire winemaking process. Participants will start the day picking fruit from the vineyard, followed by a winery tour guided by the winemaker. People will then get a chance to stomp the grapes before having a barbecue lunch.

Hermitage Road Cellars, Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Wine School, run daily, $50 per person, hunterresort.com.au

This wine course starts with a tour of the vineyard followed by a presentation on the winemaking process and a lesson in sensory evaluation. Participants will learn about the different wine making elements and how they affect flavour by tasting different wines. The whole lesson from vineyard to tasting lasts around two hours and each person receives a certificate at the end.

Hungerford Hill, Hunter Valley

Get Down and Dirty, March 8, $60 per person, hungerfordhill.com.au

As outlined in the story above. After the tour guests will have lunch, which includes wine.

Robert Stein Wines, Mudgee

Footcrush Feast, March 22, $150 per person, robertstein.com.au

As outlined in the story above. The grape juice that's produced is turned into a very small vintage, which visitors can taste and buy the following year. Guests also receive dinner, wine and canapes with the ticket price.

Yarrh Wines, Canberra

Free event, April 5-6, no bookings necessary, yarrhwines.com.au

As part of the Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival, Yarrh Wines will be holding free grape stomping events. Visitors get to help stomp the grapes into juice, which the winery will then ferment and turn into wine. People can then purchase the wine, called Walk the Plonk, from the winery the following year.

Canobolas-Smith Wines, Orange

Free event, April 5-6, no bookings necessary, canobolassmithwines.com.au

Canobolas-Smith is hosting a free “froth and bubble” event to coincide with Orange's annual F.O.O.D Week. Visitors can taste the latest vintage as it's fermenting, as well as the previous year's wines. During a tour of the winery visitors can help hand plunge the fermenting juice and those keen enough can also foot paddle, a more traditional way to mix the grape skins back in with the wine.

Cargo Road Wines, Orange

Bespoke events throughout the year, cargoroadwines.com.au

Owner James Sweetapple runs private one-on-one experiences where people work beside him during vintage, and help with everything from harvest to making the wine. Sweetapple plans to host group events where people can immerse themselves in the winemaking experience, and will post days on his website.

The NSW Food and Wine Festival runs from February 21 to March 21 and includes the popular Cellar Door in Sydney's Hyde Park. For details: nswfoodandwine.com.au.