DIY vino revolution: making wine in a bucket

Getting messy: Noisy Ritual's first stomping in February.
Getting messy: Noisy Ritual's first stomping in February. Photo: Supplied

Most wine drinkers can navigate a wine list well enough to order something they like, but not many know how their favourite wines were actually created. 

Despite our ever-evolving understanding of wine, much of the wine-making process remains a mystery-filled operation for many.

But in the past couple of years, a handful of projects have popped up to lead what could become a sort of wine revolution. And one of those projects involves making wine in a bucket.  

Getting ready for the first stomping at Noisy Ritual.
Getting ready for the first stomping at Noisy Ritual. Photo: Supplied

In 2012, Tennille Chalmers of Chalmers Wines in Victoria and her brother-in-law Bart van Olphen produced a small batch of red wine using only glass demijohns (a bit like big flagons), a plastic bucket, a sieve and a hydrometer (an instrument for measuring the density of liquids).

They wanted to learn about lesser-known grapes imported from Italy by Chalmers' parents, and find out if they could make great wines without conventional winemaking tools. It turned out they could, and the #bucketwine range was born.

Excited by the wine they produced and encouraged by the strong response from customers and retailers (they sold several hundred bottles in 20 minutes at a Melbourne tasting in 2013), Chalmers and van Olphen have stepped things up. This year they made 65 different ferments. But the process remains the same, and the wine is still bottled by hand in beer bottles with crown seals and handwritten labels.

Crushing grapes for Chalmers Wines' #bucketwine range.
Crushing grapes for Chalmers Wines' #bucketwine range. Photo: Supplied

"Before I started doing vintages in 2011, [wine-making] did come across as a bit of a mystery … it was very kind of elitist," Chalmers says. "It's pretty cool just to bring it right back down to ground level. It's really nice to pass on the message that it can be a really simple process."

In Melbourne's first "interactive urban winery", another project is taking wine-making back to basics. Run by music professional Cam Nichols and winemaker friends Alex Byrne and Sam Vogel, the mission of Noisy Ritual is to demystify the winemaking process and create wine in an urban environment.

It all started in early 2014 when Nichols found a concrete wine fermentation tank beneath a house he'd just moved into. Byrne and Vogel brought the grapes, a group of mates helped with the labour and their first batches of wine were born.

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"I was blown away by how simple it is – or can be," Nichols says.

But he makes an important point: "As simple as the [wine-making] process is, the impact that two professional winemakers had on the quality of the wine that was produced under my house is not to be underestimated."

In December, the group raised $36,000 on crowd-funding website Pozible and launched Noisy Ritual. They now have more than 80 members stomping and pressing four batches of shiraz and pinot noir, with the bottling scheduled for November this year. There is also an on-site pop-up bar open on Saturday nights until April 25. After November, members will take some wine home and the rest will be available to buy.

"There are lots of people making wine within the city limits, but the thing we think is new about it is the democratisation of the process," Nichols says.

So will we all soon be fermenting grapes in our bathtubs, in the way some people keep sourdough starter on their benchtops and turn yoghurt into labneh over their sinks?

Cooperage Wine & Beer Making Supplies in Sydney's west regularly advise customers on how to make their own wine. According to Cooperage's Michelle Wheeler, you only need basic equipment to get started: "This could be a small open fermentation vat fitted with a tap and strainer for crushing the grapes into, some various sized fermentation containers fitted with bungs and airlocks for the fermentation, syphon hoses, funnels, etc," she says.

By following some simple instructions, you can have your own wine-making kit up and running in no time. 

Historically, Cooperage's customers have been Italians maintaining their wine-making traditions, but Wheeler says the trend for DIY wine-making has recently become more widespread.

Time to clean the bathtub perhaps?