When the lovely team at Australian Good Food Guide invited me to Sydney’s ultimate wine festival, Wine Island, earlier in the year – I knew I had to find a way to jump over the border to New South Wales.
I managed to twist Naomi’s rubber arm to join me in Sydney for a long weekend. I would fly in from Victoria and she would fly in from Perth. We both agree that it was a pretty cool way to spend a girls weekend!
On my flight over and back, I managed to watch the first 8 episodes of 600 Bottles of Wine on the Virgin Australia Inflight Entertainment system which was a great prelude and wind-down from the weekend.
We attended 2 of the festival sessions, one on the Friday and one on the Sunday. Which meant we had plenty of time to also explore Sydney – well the wine and food scene anyway!
So without further ado, let’s get stuck in. I’ve just poured myself a glass of the Mino & Co ‘A Growers Touch’ 2017 Chardonnay which I bought at the festival, to assist with my blogging…
About the Wine Island Festival
The festival is located on Clark Island in Sydney Harbour. No one (even Sydney-siders) seemed to have heard of this island, which I found quite funny. The island is a national park and it’s about a 30-minute boat ride from the Man’O’War Steps outside the Opera House. This is the meeting point for Wine Island festival-goers.
The festival typically takes place over a Friday-Sunday in early November. There are 2 sessions per day, a morning and an afternoon session which are both roughly 4 hours long (10am-2pm and 4pm-8pm). See my top tip down the bottom of this post about maximising this time on the island.
On the island, you’ll find wine vendors alongside beer, spirit and food vendors as well as masterclasses and plenty of chill out areas.
What the tickets included
There are 3 tiers of Wine Island tickets.
The 5 Star ticket is your baseline ticket which costs $99. It sounds like a lot for the cheapest ticket option, however when you counter in the fact you have to be transported to the island and all masterclasses are free, then it’s not too bad. You also get 5 free tastings (30ml pours) with this ticket.
The 7 Star ticket for $199 includes all free tastings alongside access to the exclusive 7 Star area where you have your own private masterclasses and the option of free beauty treatments. When you travel 7 Star you also get a free Wine Island tote, which I found extremely handy to stash purchases in. Plus you get a meal voucher too.
Both the above include a free plastic wine island tumbler and a 30ml taster of Bellini Cipriani on the boat ride over. My one recommendation for this leg of the festival would be if they could pour a slightly larger taster, as it was barely a mouthful and had us craving more the whole boat trip! Although I did hear that apparently, someone fell into the water on the island in 2017, so I think they may have become a bit more cautious this year.
And… then there is the 10 Star ticket. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience this level of luxury! This ticket includes all of the 7 Star perks alongside transfers to and from the island on a luxury super yacht with bubbles and canapes. On the boat, you also have private masterclasses available throughout the festival and food by a private chef + a premium beverage package by Grant Burge. At $399 it must be pretty special!
Wine Island does have its own currency which means you have to either load your wristband up with credit prior to the festival or do so once you’re on the island. There is a booking fee and you can get refunds which can take up to 2 weeks post-festival FYI.
How we got to Wine Island
As mentioned above, we took boats over to Wine Island. We were told to meet at the Man’O’War Steps outside of the Sydney Opera House 45 minutes before our sessions.
To be honest, we weren’t waiting around long before we boarded 1 of the 2 boats over to the island. The trip took about 30 minutes and if you’re tourists to Sydney like we were (as shown very obviously below), then you’ll love the views of the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city from the boat. Don’t forget to take your camera!
What we tasted and did on Wine Island
Now, this is the exciting part! I think having the baseline ticket with only 5 free tastings was a good thing as it meant the crowds were evenly dispersed. Which for a wine geek like me was a good thing as it meant I was able to chat easily to the producers on the stands.
We were told on the Friday morning session that there were about 500 people and at the other sessions about 800 people. The speed of the Friday session was definitely more for me!
I was also really impressed with the line up of wineries on show and the wines they bought with them.
Some of my highlights included:
Catching up with Signor Vino / Mino & Co
I tried some of the Signor Vino wine range probably about 2 years ago. It was great to see the 2 brothers behind the brand at the festival and learn more about their wine-y work that’s coming out of Griffith in New South Wales.
I really enjoyed the Signor Vino 2017 Pinot Grigio and the 2018 Sangiovese Rose.
It was also great to hear about their Mino & Co ‘A Growers Touch’ range with its striking labels. This range includes a Chardonnay and Shiraz, which I bought one of each as they were discounting it from $20 to $10 on the Sunday. Bargain!
The range is all about supporting their growers. The hands on the front are the farmers who grow their grapes and there’s also a little bio on the back.
Dandelion Vineyards Roussanne
I’m always on the lookout for something out of the norm when it comes to wine. Which is why I was excited to see Dandelion Vineyards had a white wine made from the Roussanne grape variety at the festival. This ‘Honeypot of the Barossa’ was absolutely delicious with its honeysuckle and guava-like aromas.
As much as I like trying out-of-the-box wines, I also am a sucker for a good Chardonnay. The Taylor Made 2017 French Oak Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills has that perfect balance of oak and fruit. It was an absolute pleasure to sip on!
Wine Selectors Bubbles & Blush Masterclass
I do love masterclasses at wine festivals, as it’s a great chance to take some time to sit down, try some wines and perhaps learn a thing or two. Naomi and decided that the ‘Bubbles and Blush’ masterclass was definitely up our alley. The line up of tipples to try went down a treat.
Hungerford Hill’s Award-Winning Fiano
After chatting with the girls on the Hungerford Hill stand I am now even more eager to get to the Hunter Valley! Lunch at their restaurant is definitely going to be on the cards too. The stand out wine for me was their incredibly refreshing 2017 Fiano which has also recently picked up a couple of awards.
UnWined with Cellarmasters
It’s always lovely to see the guys from Cellarmasters. They had the ultimate chill-out out zone on top of the hill at Wine Island. We tasted through the wines they had available to try which included the delicious Stefano de Pieri di Qualita Vino Rosata 2017 made from Sangiovese and the delicious sparkling rose (made from Merlot) from Black Wattle in Mt Benson, South Australia.
The route up and down from the area looked like a bit of an accident waiting to happen after a few drinks. But maybe that’s just my clumsiness coming out!
Wine on tap and in cans with Riot Wine Co
I’m not a prude when it comes to wine. I see no issues with trying wine on tap or drinking wine from a can. Actually, the guys at Riot Wine Co made an excellent point that cans of wine are easier to store and carry than bottled wine. They take up less room and weigh less making them good to take on boat trips, camping etc.
I was actually really impressed with the Blanc Riot Wine on tap and the bubbles and rose in cans. We actually bought a couple of the bubbles and rose in cans to enjoy later that day.
Gage Road Brewing Co
Seeing as I spent the last 6 years in Perth before moving to Victoria, it would have been rude of me not to stop by for a pint from the guys at Gage Road Brewing. We also heard that they recently bought Broome’s Matso Brewery so they had the very popular Matso Ginger on tap. It’s always nice to see a WA presence over here on the east coast.
Speaking of which, how cool is this South by South West Wine top that Naomi brought over for me to wear to the festival! We were actually going to go with matching shirts but unfortunately, the 2nd top she bought didn’t arrive on time :(
I also love seeing a bit of a New Zealand wine presence at wine festivals in Australia. I remember back in the day selling Cloudy Bay wines when I worked for Glengarry bottle shops in NZ while I was studying at university.
The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardy were beauties alongside the Pelorus bubbles being a major stunner!
It was so great to see Irvine Wines from the Eden Valley at Wine Island and meet winemaker/marketing manager, Rebekah Richardson. This lady is super knowledgeable and just so lovely! In fact, I recently tried Irvine’s The Estate 2017 Shiraz and The Estate 2017 Merlot. So it was great to taste more of the range.
The standout for me had to be the sparkling under crown cap. This bubbles is a Pétillant Naturel (Pét Nat) sparkling wine. It’s made in the traditional champagne style and is left on the yeast lees. It’s made from 58% Petit Meslier (a lost Champagne variety) and 42% Chardonnay. So refreshing and incredibly delicious!
Mount Langi Ghiran
One of the 7 Star masterclasses was run by the chief winemaker of Mount Langi Ghiran. The wines were stunning but it was just a pity that the presentation was incredibly lacklustre. We found out later that previous masterclasses had talked all through his presentations and been downright rude. However, it meant that he then treated our group that way, which was a darn shame.
We first tried the 2017 Langi Riesling vs the 2017 Spinoff Skin Contact Riesling, both of which I really enjoyed. We then moved onto the 2018 Cliff Edge Pinot Gris vs the 2018 Spinoff Gris de Gris which was a skin contact Pinot Gris. I was totally crushing on the later! A stunning ‘orange wine’!
Chur Burger Food Truck – Bao Hut
With our 7 Star meal voucher, we decided to opt for a set of 3 bao buns from Chur Burger. The trio was absolutely delicious! They were:
- Crispy pork belly, hoisin sauce, crisp iceberg lettuce, red radish cucumber, coriander, spring onion and kewpie mayo
- Panko crumbed barramundi, crisp iceberg lettuce, red radish cucumber, coriander, spring onion and wasabi mayo
- Salt and pepper tofu nuggets, crisp iceberg lettuce, red radish cucumber, coriander, spring onion, chilli caramel and kewpie mayo
My top tips for Wine Island 2019
- Pack for the weather, while there is some shelter from rain and/or sun, our hats and sunscreen saved us from getting incredibly burnt
- Try to get on the first boat going over to the island. On our day 2 of the festival, we got on the second ferry which meant we didn’t step foot on the island till nearly 4:30pm which meant we had only 3.5 hours on the island instead of 4 hours
- Check out the masterclass lineup as soon as you get on the island and set an alarm for a good 15-20mins before the session time so you can make sure you’re near the front of the line as the classes are first in, first serve
- You’re not allowed to take water bottles over to the island unless they are empty. There are water fountains on the island and also you get a free bottle of water when you arrive