When millions of hectares of the Australian landscape were incinerated during the 2019 bushfire disaster, it wasn’t just the flames that caused lasting damage. The choking smoke that blanketed much of NSW, turning summer skies an otherworldly shade of orange, led to the total loss of the 2019/20 vintage across the NSW and ACT wine regions, as the grape crop succumbed to smoke taint. For many wineries, this meant that there would be no 2020 vintage – but Bryan Martin of Ravensworth Wines just outside of Canberra was determined to find a way to make use of this otherwise wasted harvest.
An innovative partnership between Ravensworth Wines and Marrickville-based Wildflower Brewing and Blending has led to the creation of a collection of wild ales flavoured with smoke-tainted fruit. It might sound like an odd marriage of the grape and the grain, but wild ales – brewed using naturally occurring, foraged yeasts and bacteria – share a surprising amount in common with the fermentation process used in the production of natural, skin-contact wines.
Wildflower’s Bright Side Beers, which feature several varieties of grapes including shiraz, gamay, riesling, viognier and sangiovese, are similar in flavour to a sour beer or sparkling fruit cider, with subtle notes of char underpinning a crisp, refreshing finish. The red varieties sing with a tart, citrusy flavour while the white varieties offer a dryer, more complex taste. Unlike their wine counterparts, both white and red blends in the Bright Side series are superb served chilled.
In addition to solving the conundrum of what to do with smoke-tainted grape crops, $1 from every sale of the Bright Side Beers will be donated to bushfire relief funds and organisations working to reduce fire hazards in the future. Bryan Martin and co-founder of Wildflower Brewing and Blending, Topher Boehm, are also going on a national speaking tour, delivering talks about the collaboration and the potential opportunities unlocked by such partnerships.
You can order these limited-edition beers and find details of Martin and Boehm's speaking tour on the Wildflower website.