Katie Spain's Wine Parties to Remember

Bus of Funky People

Wine parties come in many forms. The ones that stick out in my memory aren’t just about the booze (though that certainly plays a part). They’re the once-in-a-lifetime moments that won’t happen again. I call them Alice in Wonderland parties. The kind of adventure that leads you down a rabbit hole and spits you out later – changed somehow by the people you met, the wine you tasted, and conversations that happened around a table or on a dance floor. Whether it’s KFC with copious amounts of Champagne (my pals do this annually), or lavish themed feasts and tastings… the best wine party is the enlightening kind. These are just a few of mine. 

 

 

ThunderDot

Let’s face it, COVID-19 is a joy kill. During isolated, global pandemic times, genuine moments of connection and happiness are precious. As strange as these times may be, moments of creativity and kindness flutter like vine leaves in the wind. The ThunderDot Bus Boot was one of them. Put simply, it was a moving party on wheels. Dig a little deeper and ThunderDot Bus Boot was a wine delivery service (via a multi-coloured disco bus) that delivered so much more than bottles. I jumped aboard the inaugural journey late on a Friday afternoon in April 2020. With lights flashing, a smoke machine whirring, and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by Bee Gees blaring, it delivered organic, unfined, unfiltered wine to housebound South Australians. The onboard party crew was small (COVID-restrictions and all) but part-time wine distributor Jay Marinis, performing artist and winemaker Sophie Button, and DJ Mark Kamleh delivered joy like I’ve never witnessed before. The motley crew zipped around Adelaide, delivering wine and a healthy side of physically distanced joy to housebound residents. As they piled out of the moving disco on wheels, danced in the street (at a socially responsible distance) and delivered boxed of organic, unfined, unfiltered ‘living wine’ to the delighted recipients, people stood on their porches and danced in the street to Indeep’s ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’. 

It took no more than two minutes per stop but happiness hung in the air long after the smoke dissipated. It just goes to show, some of the best parties are small ones. 

What we drank: Commune of Buttons, Limus, Scintilla and Travis Tausend. 
 

Ochota Barrels: The Fugazi Vineyard Vertical Dinner

Every now and then you experience a once in a lifetime wine tasting. Taras Ochota’s ‘Ochota Barrels: The Fugazi Vineyard Vertical Dinner’ was one of them. It happened in November 2019 at underground Rundle Street wine bar Hellbound. We didn’t know it then but just a few years later, the bright spark behind the wines would no longer be with us.

It was an intimate affair, attended by die-hard Ochota Barrels fans. The location was fitting and Taras poured some cracking wines. All 12 vintages of Ochota Barrels Fugazi Vineyard Grenache was served alongside back vintages of their other drops. Fugazi was named after an American punk band and Taras had to search hard to locate them all. It was a line-up that will probably never happen again. “I haven’t even tasted them all side-by-side like that before,” he said ahead of the shindig. “I thought it would be good to share it when I did.”

When wine scribes Mike Bennie, Nick Stock and Nick Ryan stood up during the dinner to share anecdotes, their respect for the pair and their wines permeated their colourful yarnsThe love in the room was tangible; from the wine in the glass, to the accompanying food prepped by Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed and Imogen Czulowski and chef Hannah Jeffrey (of Peel Street). 

In true generous Taras and Amber Ochota fashion, profits from ticket sales went to the New South Wales fires wildlife emergency fund which only took the warm fuzzies up a notch. Simply unforgettable. 

What we drank: Ochota Barrels Fugazi Grenache – a lot of it.


Fresh Wine Disco

The inaugural Fresh Wine Disco happened at Uraidla Show Hall in the leafy Adelaide Hills during 2017. My group of pals and I dressed up (70s disco style) and it wasn’t until we arrived that we realised that no one else had – other than the paid entertainment (and some of the winemakers – Tassie winemaker Peter Dredge turned up in a muscle suit and orange wig). The following year, everyone dressed up. 

Put simply, it was loose. What started as an afternoon of wine tasting in a regional hall (most Hills winemakers poured unlabelled juice straight out of demijohns) and the dance-floor fired up when Driller Jet Armstrong (of Sugar nightclub fame) hit the decks. The food was great, too; Sydney burger-and-natural-wine bar Mary's made sure of it. It was convivial, other-worldly, and just about as ‘up-close-and-personal’ you’ll ever get to winemakers you adore. As anyone who attended the after-party lock-in at the nearby Uraidla Hotel can attest, it was wild. The following year’s event, at Hills castle The Manor at Basket Range was an explosion of colour and glitter. A moment in history.

What we drank: weird and wonderful booze by the likes of Charlotte Dalton, Ochota Barrels, Brian, BK Wines. 

 

The Surrealist Ball

Another memorable Tasting Australia event which happened twice (and twice only) was d’Arenberg Surrealist Ball. The brief was simple; dress up inspired by The Rothschild Surrealist Ball (circa 1972). The event, hosted by Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and her husband Guy at the Chateau de Ferrières was attended by the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Salvador Dalí. Google it, it’s wild. 

The South Australian version was held at the bonkers multi-level d’Arenberg Cube and attendees went to great lengths in the costume department. So much so, you often had little idea of who you were talking to. Winemaker Chester Osborn went to particular lengths on both years. Body painting, roaming performers, weird and wonderful nibbles (including tiny bags of ‘weed’) hanging in plastic bags from a tiny Hills Hoist was a highlight. It was the kind of party we’ll talk about for yearsand a ‘wish you were there’ for anyone who didn’t manage to snaffle a ticket. 

What we drank: d’Arenberg new releases and treasures from the vault. 

 


Wine Stand Bouteille 

There’s nothing like being perched around the tiny bar at Wine Stand Bouteille in Shibuya, Tokyo. Outside, more than 36 million people go about their lives in Japan’s capital. Just 10 of those fit around this small bar. A 10-minute cab ride away is Golden Gai, a rabbit warren of alleys lined with 200 ramshackle bars (some fit just five or six patrons). Many only accept regulars so unless you’re with a streetwise local, you’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting in. We attended with a local wine distributor – the only way to do it if you’re not a local. Wine Stand Bouteille’s little blackboard is scrawled with a small but specific selection of wines, among them are Lucy Margaux, BK Wines and Jauma. We made a handful of new Japanese friends that night. You can’t help but get to know strangers in an environment like this. We locked the door and got the party started.

What we drank: Lucy Margaux followed by an embarrassing volume of sake. When in Japan… 

 

The Elizabethan Feast

This is one from the history books, but is worth a mention for nostalgia’s sake. I didn’t actually attend these (they were popular in McLaren Vale during the 70s) but many-a Vale winemaker has regaled me with salacious stories about these shindigs.  

The late Greg ‘Trotty’ Trott and David Hardy were involved in bringing the Bushing Festival and Elizabethan dinners (held at Tatachilla Winery) to life in 1973. Wine critic Len Evans reportedly said the Elizabethan Feast was one of the best parties he had ever been to. More than 700 people turned up to the elaborate Elizabethan-themed lunches. Tables would be set (large slabs of pine trunk for ‘plates’) and a large knife each. Meat was piled on the table and bones flung across the room. One particularly memorable year, Premier Don Dunstan’s daughter dressed up as a mermaid and lazed on a table around which seafood was piled (served by winemakers using shovels). The feasts put a much-needed spotlight on the region. Few people go to such lengths to deliver parties of this immersive calibre these daysthere should be more of it. 

What they drank: McLaren Vale booze – the old stuff. And mead, lots of mead. 

 

Words by Katie Spain.
Photos provided by Ben McMahon & Katie Spain

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