Getting our Stomp On: Noisy Ritual's 2018 Vintage
The idea of stomping grapes has always, oddly enough, been tied to some very early childhood memories. Specifically, a well-worn VHS of Disney’s 1940 classic, Fantasia. Stomping grapes was a whimsical pastime attended to by sexy centaurs and winged horses, a plump and clumsy Bacchus, and flute-playing fawns. Whilst a modern meme threatened to overtake that association, the stomp remained a magical kind of practice in my imagination.
So signing up to be part of Noisy Ritual’s 2018 Vintage seemed a no-brainer on many fronts then: for one, Cass and I would get to learn about winemaking hands-on, two, the winery is a wonderful little hop-skip-and-jump from my house, and three, I’d get to live out my very own pastoral symphony at last.
Full transparency: the membership set us back $390 AUD each, but scores us access to three winemaking workshops (the Stomp, the Press and the Bottle), three barrel-tasting sessions, six bottles to take home from our vintage, and 20% off Noisy Ritual wine all year long. By our reckoning it was a massive value investment in our boozy ambitions this year, and judging by how much we loved the Stomp, we’d say it’s already been well worth the leap of faith.
The Stomp and Press groups are nice and cosy: about thirty of us rocked up at noon and limbered up with a Noisy Ritual tipple of choice. Cass and I each opted for the 2017 Pét-Nat Chardonnay, which was a lovely little buzz for two gals just getting onto the Pét-Nat train. The proceedings kicked off with an intro from Cam and Alex, Noisy Ritual’s founders, who brought to life the idea of a ‘people-powered’ winery after finding an abandoned wine fermenter underneath Cam’s house back in 2014. The backyard project drew the interest of friends (and friends of friends!) who were keen to pitch in, in exchange for the unique adventure of learning about winemaking through actual practical experience.
The grapes were laid out before us in big grey tubs. Ours - the maiden stomp of the 2018 Vintage - were Shiraz, and had just been shaken from the vines by some very fancy new machinery up at the Camelback vineyard in Heathcote. So much tiny little fruit, ripe and ready - such a deep purple it’s almost black; it’s an intoxicating sight long before alcohol is even part of the picture. A world away, certainly, from the dusty red grapes sitting in your supermarket fridge.
The labour began with a process called de-MOG-ing - ‘MOG’ being Material Other than Grapes. Basically, we removed any stowaways from those fancy new machinery shakedowns. Leaves, stems and pieces of bark mainly - but we did save a cricket and a spider (not from their untimely demise, sadly, but at least from our precious wine). And so, we scooped up the grapes and sorted through them, were repeatedly told by the Noisy Ritual crew that we were being far too thorough, and then dumped our clean grapes into new blue vats to prepare for the Stomp. It was awesome to get our hands onto the grapes, and taste how they changed the further down we worked. Even chewing on the seeds and stems gave insight into the kind of flavours and textures that could be imparted into our wine.
Alex whisked us away during the de-MOG-ing for a ‘benchmark tasting’, taking us through Noisy Ritual’s Heathcote Shiraz wines from 2016 and 2017 as well as a Jasper Hill Shiraz (considered to be one of the best from the region). It was an interesting way of getting an idea of how different fruit-growing seasons can affect a wine, and what each winery’s intention for their wines is – Noisy Ritual, to our delight, makes wines ready to be uncorked and guzzled straight away. After all, we discovered, that in Australia 95% of wine is consumed within 2 hours of being purchased! This tasting also gave us somewhat of a prediction as to how our own vinous masterpiece would taste come November this year.
Once the de-MOG-ing handiwork was done we took a short break for some super tasty cheese and charcuterie plus a glass of wine (or two), and then got straight into the main event: the Stomp. Yep, we slipped on our short shorts and then hopped straight into those tubs with giddy abandon. So thick and cold, and so delightfully messy!
Let me just tell you: sipping from a fresh glass of last year’s Great Western Shiraz with my kneecaps lost in a slush of deliciously deep purple grapes with a bunch of super fun people on a Sunday afternoon is damn near perfection. For a desk jockey like me it was such a marvellous, thrilling escape from the city grind all whilst in the comfort of my own neighbourhood.
We stomped those grapes as much as we could; certainly we laboured far longer than they technically needed to be stomped. Eventually, after some subtle hints from the crew that we had duly completed our stomping duties to the extreme, we emerged from the tubs and washed the slick of skins and juice from our legs. Alas, the day’s hard work was over.
Alex took us through some analysis of the juice from our efforts, using pH and sugar levels to predict what our wine would eventually taste like and if any additional acid was required to make sure it didn’t taste totally terrible. The level of experience and trust Alex had in his palate to determine how this plain ol’ grape juice was going to taste in nine months was very cool indeed.
Full of knowledge, wine, and the glorious feeling of physical achievement, we finished the day by sticking into some delicious lasagne from Alimentari (and more wine, obv). We also somehow unearthed the fact that Cam grew up basically next door to me (a very startling revelation for someone who grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere), which is surely some vague sign that life is cyclical and making this batch of wine was a strange destiny divined by Bacchus himself, right?
So, yes. Turns out that stomping grapes is actually totally magical. We’re due back soon, after the grapes have been through the very special alchemy of fermentation - so stay tuned for the next enchanting episode in our winemaking exploits.