Vineyards tend to project a bucolic aura of prosperous country life, the exalted pride of a farming heritage tracing back for generations, the ancestral happiness of the harvest. For some winemakers who lean towards the natural and minimum intervention styles, these pre-industrial era values are everything and the idea of an urban vineyard might strike them as a bit of an oxymoron but then there are those that are putting technology and ingenuity to use by bringing vineyards into busy cities across the world.
And it’s not just a couple of isolated researchers bottling undrinkable experiments, urban winemakers are setting up in many major wine countries, and their projects are an innovative way of bringing people closer to wine and to make the most out of technology to seize unlikely spaces like community gardens and rooftops.
We talked with Cam Nicol, one of the owners of Melbourne’s Noisy Ritual and Janice Goodwins, Acting Director of Botanic Gardens of South Australia, organisation that looks after the Adelaide Botanic Garden, which recently made international headlines due to its urban vineyard project.
Noisy Ritual was created in 2014, after Cam moved into a house in Thornbury and discovered a room underneath which had been purpose-built by an Italian couple for making wine. It even had a concrete wine fermenter, and his Cam’s mates (both winemakers) did the sensible thing given the situation: ordered half a tonne of Shiraz grapes and gather some friends for some good old fashioned stomping. The success lead to repetition and soon enough they were formally opening a vineyard in which members can make their own wine.
“Our formula is simple: we get our hands on the best fruit we can, do as little to it as possible and create delicious wines that drink well young. Our members don’t want to wait around too long to enjoy the fruits of their labour and neither do we!” Cam explains.
“We try to showcase the breadth of styles and regions Victoria has to offer”, he adds and as an example, he points out a Shiraz from Heathcote and a Shiraz from Geelong which they made in 2015 and which allowed them to highlight “the environmental differences between those two places that produced two really distinct wines.”
The Adelaide Botanic Garden project is even newer, and their first two wines are scheduled for launching mid-September. Janice points out that the wines will be a dry white and a rosé, produced with the support of Jacob’s Creek Winemakers. These is one of the very few wines in the world that not only will be made in the city, but will only use grapes grown in the botanic garden.
“Wine is intrinsically linked to South Australia”, explains Janice, and she points out that Adelaide has some of the oldest grape vines in the world and the region is responsible for producing 75 per cent of Australia’s premium wine.
Regarding the reasons to start the project in the first place, she explains: “The aim of this project was to show people the ancient process of cultivating a crop, fermenting its grapes and transforming it into a tantalising product for people to consume. The vineyard tells a unique story, one about the importance of wine to South Australia, of the importance of plants to our lives, and of collaboration. Being able to do all this in such a small space in the heart of a city is testament to the hard work of all the partners involved!”.
They wanted to “be able to demonstrate this ancient process of cultivating a crop, fermenting its grapes and transforming it into a tantalising product for people to consume”, all in the city, where people found it easier to approach.
For Cam, “the process was so hands-on, messy, fun and accessible and so different to how I had assumed the process of winemaking would be” that he felt that it had the potential of appealing to more than just his friends and friends of friends. “The wine we made tasted great and we realised it might be an experience even more people might like to be involved in as well. So we decided to go for it and run a crowdfunding campaign to fund our next vintage in 2015, which we made in a pop-up space in Preston with 100 members. We’ve just finished making our 2016 vintage with another 100 members, and opened our doors to the public permanently in June this year.”
Adelaide Botanic Garden’s wines will be available only at the National Wine Centre and Café Fibonacci (within the garden itself). Noisy Ritual offers it at their own wine bar/cellar door (249 Lygon St Brunswick East) and through their website, as well as a small number of independent retailers, bars and restaurant. “We definitely plan to expand the distribution channels in the future”, adds Cam.
MORE URBAN VINEYARDS AROUND THE WORLD
Just as Cam and Janice are leading urban wine projects in Melbourne and Adelaide, here are some other projects from around he world, most of them opened in the last few years, that show that urban vineyards are a trend to keep an eye on.
ROOFTOP REDS – BROOKLYN, NYC, UNITED STATES
“The first commercially viable rooftop vineyard in New York City”, is the project of Devin Shomaker, Chris Papalia and Thomas Shomaker. They started this project on spring 2015 and have received expert support from Finger Lakes industry leaders and Cornell University, to develop an innovative wine planter system that allowes them to grow grapes on their 14,800 square-foot rooftop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Not only they grow grapes and make their own wine in the Big Apple, the rooftop doubles as a trendy venue for parties and events, tastings, yoga classes, tours and many other activities.
More info at rooftopreds.com
NEIGHBORHOOD VINEYARDS – SAN FRANCISCO, UNITED STATES
America’s first urban vineyard was planted in 2013 and it’s open to the public. San Francisco’s Urban Vineyard Project was founded by Elly Hartshorn who was inspired by Paris’ Clos Montmartre, which she had the opportunity to discover when living in France in 2010.
It’s only 1/2 acre of Pinot Noir, worked by a team of viticulturists, winemakers and friends. “My hope is that this simple project will blossom to one of large scope – encompassing farming, community building, cultural identity, progressive urban usage, and yes, wine”, says Elly on a letter on her website.
More info at neighborhoodvineyards.org
MONTMARTRE, PARIS – CLOS MONTMARTRE, PARIS, FRANCE
There are countless vineyards in France, but only one in Paris (not counting experimental and educational examples). A tourist trap worth falling for and the last of Montmartre’s vines planted surface (the region used to be covered in vineyards in pre-industrial times), saved from becoming an apartment lot in 1933 and nowadays the home of a yearly five day festival, the Fête des Vendanges, as well as a proper working vineyard which covers about 1,556 sq m and produces 1,500 half-litre bottles of wine a year, mainly from Gamay and Pinot Noir, as well as a few historical and experimental varieties.
Every fall, volunteers harvest the fruit and winemaker Sylviane Leplatre leads the winemaking process at the 18th arrondissement’s city hall winery.
More info at sebastiendassigny.com
URBAN WINERY SYDNEY – SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
Another Aussie addition to the list. It was opened by Alex Retief, experimental winemaker who wanted to bring the experience of visiting a vineyard to Sydney (mind that even when Australia is a huge wine country, the city is quite far from most vineyards and he wanted to make it more approachable). He was especially interested in highlighting the quality of grapes from less known valleys in New South Wales.
The winery opened formally in February this year, after more than a decade in the making. It presents itself as “Australia’s first fully-functioning city-based commercial winery” and it’s fit to process at least 50 tonnes of grapes a year.
More info at urbanwinerysydney.com.au
FORTY HALL VINEYARD – LONDON, UK
A social enterprise that looks after a 10 acres of south-facing, gravelly plot, organic vineyard in the North London suburb of Einfield. “The first commercial scale vineyard in London since the middle ages”, produces both still and sparkling wines made by local volunteers with the guidance of Capel Manor College and expert winemaker Will Davenport, from Davenport Vineyards.
Their first vines were planted back in 2009 and they have a strong focus on environmentally friendly practices including encouraging biodiversity and minimal intervention winemaking. They are currently in the process of moving towards biodynamic winemaking.
More info at fortyhallvineyard.com
WIEN – VIENNA, AUSTRIA
There are approximately 612 hectares of vines planted within the limits of the Austrian capital and looked after by over 600 vintners. The city has a history of urban winemaking that can be traced back to the Middle Age. In the west of the City, the carbonate-rich soils see plantings of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc; the calcareous, brown and black soils in the South favour the production of full bodied white wines and some reds.”
Most producers also make the traditional ‘Gemischter Satz’, where different grapes are planted, harvested together and turned into wine. The traditional Viennese ‘Heuriger’ (wine taverns) are also a hit among tourists and locals alike.
More info at austrianwine.com
KTIMA GEROVASSILIOU – THESSALONIKI, GREECE
The Greek city implemented the idea of an urban vineyard in 2013 and has worked with the Viticulture Laboratory of the School of Agriculture of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to plant two acres of vines (whites Robola and Malagousia and red Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro).
The site’s main purpose is educational and it’s open to students and tourists. There is also a Wine Museum in the Winery.
More info at gerovassiliou.gr
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.