The Vinteloper Urban Winery Project
The first article I wrote for Savour SA, my blog of 2012, was about Vinteloper. It was March in Adelaide, which meant many a festival, including the always fabulous Fringe. The blog explains the goings on, but before I post it in all its eight-year-old glory, let me add some 2020 colour.
Vinteloper has been present at a few key junctures in my life, beyond the 2012 blog experience. My last dinner in Sydney before I left to live in Los Angeles in 2015 was with a dear friend of mine, Pat. He took me to Nomad and once I spotted Vinteloper on the wine list, we obviously had to have it. And by “it” I mean more than one bottle. It was a night of sharp wit, amazing food and wine, and then some slight stumbling around Surry Hills. The most joyous send-off from a city I’d called home (though I never really felt at home there).
Vinteloper showed its face again a couple of years later when still living in L.A. Literal face, in a way. This time found winemaker, Dave, sleeping in the living room of the apartment I had with my then-husband. My then-brother-in-law was staying us too, and these three childhood basketball friends were touring the country to watch their other pal, Joe, play in the finals with the Utah Jazz. I’d like to say I know what all this means, but all I really remember is sneaking out to get to work in the mornings as to not wake weary basketball fanatics, and that on one leg of the “tour”, my husband and his brother came back with bed bugs. Probably not entirely relevant to this story.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m back in Australia, having settled into my new home city, Melbourne. It’s the week before Christmas 2019 and my mum is visiting me, with the intention of accompanying me for the drive back to the Adelaide Hills in time for Christmas Eve preparations. On that Friday before Christmas a hellish fire ripped through the Adelaide Hills. Mum and I sat at one of my locals here in Melbourne, downed a marg (or two in my case), nervously gnawed on some lamb ribs, while we refreshed and refreshed the CFS fire map. While my family home only suffered some burnished fences that night, Vinteloper was not so lucky. The fire continued to burn and the following day the Vinteloper vineyard and estate was completely destroyed.
Vinteloper is a brand, a label, and a delight that’s peppered my life over the last 10 years. In interesting ways and at interesting times; often at some kind of quiet spell before a life-changing shift. It’s not surprising to me to have an affinity with a brand that stretches beyond just the consumption of the product, but to the essence of a time and a place where it was present. Since last year’s fire, they’ve rebuilt, but still need your support. Try a drop if you haven’t already.
So, here I am, dusting this off, asking you to mind the pre-iPhone photos, but to make room for the vibe, because the spirit of Vinteloper is the same now as it was then: plucky and delicious.
Past the soggy green parklands, past the jolly ol’ Garden carnies, past the line-up at The Stag, the smokers in the alley next to Cocolat, and well, well past the fat man with the flute you’ll find a cobblestone yard full of stuff.
Roughed-up Chesterfield couches, chocolate leather armchairs, and odd-bod teeny tables and crates are arranged in make-shift lounge rooms. A retired park bench, thirsty for a good oiling, sits snuggly in the corner, and admires all his other wooden chair friends that have been lovingly placed throughout the L-shaped yard. And the Vinteloper Urban Winery Project, all gritty and tousled and sexy, glows with the help of lit up lamp shades, and strings of globes enveloped by upside down wicker baskets. It’s the kind of eclectic décor you might expect at Aunt Mavis’ unit at the retirement village. Of course, that’s where the similarities stop (unless your aunt is a raging alcoholic who fancies making her own brew and then there’s probably a few more).
There’s plenty to see in Adelaide in the month of March — everyone knows this (except drunk Aunt Mavis). So why on earth would you bring your dirty, stinkin’ winery and set it up in an already culturally crammed East End? Because you’re a bloody genius, that’s why. At the VUWP, David Bowley is doing the Adelaide masses a service. I’m from a winemaking family so I’m lucky to have experienced the buzz that comes from vintage; the picking, the crushing, the blending, and the wonderful mess. Here, in the CBD, in this yard, Bowley has created a mini winery — a place where one can crush grapes until their hands and feet stain purple — and a cellar door — where there’s plenty of wine for the tasting, and bottles to buy and take home.
Standing in the entrance at 188 Grenfell St, looking past the first few lounge room groupings of pre-loved furniture, peering to the back of the yard, and just to the right of the bar, you can spot a few large, square white bins. It’s in these bins that grape juice is made with feet. On this particular night, however, in the holy glow of lamp shades, there’s no crushing, just savouring and socialising.
For 15 big ones you can get yourself 5 tastings. The friendly folk behind the bar hand over a tasting card; a little piece of stationery where ‘WOW!’ and ‘Hard work award’ stamps are used to keep track of wines you’ve tasted. The cards of patrons past are pegged to string and hung above the bar. So, you stamp your stationery, you take your tasting, and plonk yourself somewhere. The Vinteloper set up is all about the experience. Stamp by stamp and sip by sip there’s more to savour; the drop, be it cleansing, or rounded, or a punch in the face; the tunes, with the chill-out bass or big band brass; and the company, whether it’s your pal sitting across the table, or the hipster with the hat perched under the free-standing gas heater. And you sit on the couch and savour, then stand and stamp, and sit and savour again until you’ve simply had enough awesome for the night. For the purpose of this blog, and as a nod to my philosophy of life, I find the process of tastings magical. Yes, it’s true — you can’t buy a whole glass of wine here at the VUWP. But get over it, Mavis. It’s not the point. While the chaps next door at the Cranker are getting sloshed, the patrons at VUWP are sober enough to enjoy everything this cobbled yard has to offer; not just the wine for trying and buying, but the funky furniture, the funny-looking wine making tools, the mood-elevating tunes, and most of all, the people they have the pleasure of sitting with.
It’s the project that plays hard to get; so mysterious and enticing that you’ll want to come back to taste more, to see more, to get some more damn stamps, and maybe just to sit and enjoy what is a rare quality experience. And chances are on the way back to your car, past the street spill-out from the pub, and the giggly friends dining on Rundle, you’ll pass a few drunks, and as they stumble and slur, it’s quite easy to see that they’ve had their quantity. But you’ve had your quality, and in my opinion, that’s heaps better.