Grenache vines of Alkina Wine Estate.

What’s on the cards for this year’s festival?

A lot! I’m building a huge drinks program in 2020 – my mission is to lift the lid on this side of the festival. There’s so much room for innovation, for building narratives and telling the stories of winemaking, spirit production and brewing, as well as cocktail and drink making.

We will stage over 40 masterclasses and dozens of interactive smaller sessions which means that whatever you like to drink, we have you covered.

My model is to work local producers into a global context by aligning them with people that share the same categories or philosophies.

The reputation we’re building around the wine offering in particular has resulted in accomplished producers from around the world approaching us to get involved, too.

We’re diving into the past, present and future of Australia’s most famous wine style, Barossa shiraz. Robert O’Callaghan of Rockford will co-curate this tasting; it promises to be a festival highlight.

The wines will then be framed in a context of global excellence with other shiraz sessions featuring the wines of great producers like Jean-Louis Chave and E. Guigal, as well as Australia’s king of cool climate, Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk.

Nick Stock is one  of the names  behind the Tasting Australia festival.
Nick Stock is one of the names behind the Tasting Australia festival.

Tell us about the key events focusing on Australian wines and winemakers.

We’ve forged strong ties with many local winemakers and producers of all sizes. Yalumba and Negociants Australia play a big part in the festival, and the Hill-Smith family will be hosting a long lunch for 150 guests at the 170-year-old Yalumba winery. Lunch will be cooked by Matt Moran, Simon Bryant and Peter Clarke from Vintners Bar & Grill in Angaston.

Arguably the most popular masterclass (more like a comedy show with great wine) is The Glory of Grenache MKIV which pitches the Barossa against McLaren Vale. We have Yalumba’s legendary Jane Ferrari and Seppeltsfield’s Fiona Donald representing the north against Yangarra’s Peter Fraser and d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn.

We have a roll call of great Adelaide Hills chardonnay with the man who started it all 40 years ago, Brian Croser, joined by the region’s newest chardonnay superstar, Michael Downer, as we study the wines of Tapanappa, Penfolds, Shaw + Smith and Murdoch Hill.

Stephen George (Ashton Hills) will form a panel with Paul Pujol (Prophet’s Rock) and Marquis Sauvage (Burn Cottage) to explore the world of great pinot noir; George will also profile South Australia’s great festive drink in a dedicated sparkling shiraz tasting.

Seppeltsfield’s Warren Randall is hosting a fortified wine session and Chester Osborn is bringing three decades of d’Arenberg’s top shiraz, The Dead Arm, including the very first release, the 1993 vintage. We’re lucky to have these rare old wines being opened at the festival.

Tasting  Australia Airlines  destination.
Tasting Australia Airlines destination.

There is a stellar line-up of overseas guests – who are they and what will they be doing?

We have a handful of next-generation winemakers visiting from Piedmont: Elisa Scavino (Paulo Scavino), Giuseppe Vajra (G.D. Vajra), David Fletcher (Fletcher Wines), Simone Revello (Revello), Nicola Oberto (Trediberri) and Pietro Colla (Poderi Colla) presenting alongside the best local nebbiolo producers in a day-long nebbiolo symposium.

There’ll be a spotlight on sparkling and Champagne with Pol Roger Managing Director Laurent D’Harcourt and Champagne Bollinger’s Guy de Rivoire, plus an intimate brunch with Krug.

GT WINE Winemaker of the Year finalist for 2016, Kate Laurie is leading the charge for Adelaide Hills sparkling, too, with a tasting that explores all the styles possible from local value through to the most luxurious.

Michael Hill-Smith MW and myself are back again with an International Chardonnay tasting pitting the best local producers against the biggest names in Corton-Charlemagne, Chablis, Chassagne and beyond.

It’s not all about wine; you have plenty of events involving spirits and beer, too.

Wine is certainly a big focus but we’ve built a strong layer of programming around locally produced spirits.

The third Tasting Australia Spirit Awards is taking place and we’re hosting a spirits tasting where guests can interact with some of Australia’s great distillers.

Aside from the new and the next, we have two legends of the spirit world holding court together, Jon and Bill Lark. Jon’s KIS (Kangaroo Island Spirits) and Bill’s Lark Distillery have formidable respective standings in the world of gin and whisky and they deliver a unique and entertaining backstory of their work.

There’ll be a front bar in Town Square, designed to be, like every great pub, a casual meeting place with cold beer. We’ll be hosting some beer masterclasses, too.

Yalumba  on show.
Yalumba on show.

We hear you’re also chartering some planes?

We had this crazy idea two years ago that we wanted to start our own pop-up airline – Tasting Australia Airlines (TAA). This year we’re flying in private jets from Brisbane and Melbourne, providing guests with a specially curated once-in-a-lifetime eating and drinking experience.

It sounds like the range of events covers all tastes and budgets.

It’s important to offer a range of different experiences and, as a festival, we want to  celebrate the best quality of everything we do. The level of care that I put into making sure we have the best of everything on offer, alongside my co-director Simon Bryant, means that you can spend $10 or $100 and know that you have the very best of whatever it is you choose to eat, drink and experience.

Town  Square.
Town Square.

Lastly, what are the ‘absolutely not-to-be-missed’ events?

The Vintage Table events – a small group travels to a local winery, gets their hands dirty in a real vintage winemaking experience before returning to a great city restaurant to toast their newest skills. We have a different winery and restaurant teamed up each day so you can even try your hand at more than one place!

There’s also a new wine initiative for the 2020 festival. Using Coravin, we can now serve wines that we previously couldn’t hold in a regular bar set up – unicorn bottles, older bottles and things that you can’t taste regularly – providing people with an unbelievable tasting experience.