It was probably somewhere halfway through the bottle of Frank Cornelissen’s Susucaru that I decided to, on a whim, book flights from Melbourne to Hobart to attend Bottle Tops, Tasmania's foremost natural wine festival. I’m generally of the belief that many of my best ideas arise when I’ve had at least two glasses of wine, and this decision was no exception. Also, what could possibly go wrong by attending an event slated as a “Day of Wine, Wine & Wine?”
In its second year, Bottle Tops brings together some of the brightest and finest minimal intervention wine from Australia and beyond, alongside equally natural and delicious beer, food, and spirits. Organised by Forbes Appleby, head sommelier of Franklin restaurant in Hobart—and hosted by Franklin itself—Bottle Tops has garnered quite a reputation amongst winemakers and wine-lovers alike over its short life, as evidenced by the who's who in attendance at this year's fest.
Upon entering Franklin, you’re immediately met with the impressive concrete bar and a beautiful, light-filled open space. With Bottle Tops taking over for the day, the venue itself became a veritable verdant spiral of delights—a hedge maze of deliciousness. Look one way and you have Gareth Belton from Gentle Folk pouring wine alongside Patrick Sullivan; turn the other and there is a phalanx of delicious food coming out of the kitchen (more on that later); turn back and you’ll most likely be poured a taste of some Maidenii unfiltered vermouth; then head upstairs to be assaulted again with more delicious stuff on offer.
As with any optimistic weekend away and an event I needed to be on top of my game for, I’d gotten myself thoroughly boozed the night beforehand—drinking Two Metre Tall beer at the Dark Mofo winter feast—so I was slightly dusty and bruised by the time I showed up to the event (as were many of the winemakers presenting, to be fair). That said, it never takes that long to get into the flow of things when you’re greeted with a room full of booze, food, and great company.
The lineup of producers this year was nothing less than stellar, with the usual rag tag crew of Australian winemakers in good representation—Tom Shobbrook, Lucy Margaux, Ochota Barrels, William Downie, Commune of Buttons, Chevre Wines, Memento Mori, Xavier, Manon, Unkel, and so many more. If you're reading this outside of Australia, it might be difficult to acquire most of these wines, for which you have my deepest sympathies. More and more of these producers have been buying or leasing land (if they weren’t already) and taking on managing the viticulture in a thoughtful, minimal-intervention way. This is the New Australia, dolled up and ready to party in Tasmania.
Next to these great Australian producers was an array of unique importers bringing some of the best international wines to the people of Hobart. Living Wines offers an impressive array of French winemakers, including crowd favorites like l’Octavin and Jolly Ferriol. Cultivar Vino focuses on delicious old vine Chilean wines, including folks like Cacique Maravilla and Roberto Henriquez. And the inimitable Campbell Burton showed well with a bevy of sulphur-free goodness from France, Spain, Austria, Germany, and Australia (nothing like some lively François Blanchard or 2Naturkinder).
Food at wine festivals can sometimes be of the afterthought or food truck variety, but it's an integral part of what makes Bottle Tops special. The team at Franklin and their great guest chefs (Deborah Blank and many more) thoroughly brought the goods. Upon entry each attendee was handed a bingo card of sorts, with a yet-to-be punched hole for each delectable treat—Bruny Island oysters, Brassica dumplings, pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread!), and Kyoto-style sushi. If you were somehow still peckish after that feast, there were also beautifully laid out platters of house-made cheese.
Maybe it had to do with it also being the last weekend of Dark Mofo—the prolific pagan winter festival that takes over Hobart, spearheaded by MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) whose overarching theme is “Death & Sex”—but the atmosphere at Bottle Tops had a unique electricity to it. Some folks were there to get deep into the winemaking ethos and flavour notes, while others were just there to indulge in the all-round good times. I sat neatly in the middle, admiring the thing of beauty that Forbes, Franklin, and the winemakers brought into reality, already plotting my return to next year's festivities.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge Wine.