If truth be told, I used to be a bit of a red wine snob. I didn’t even have credentials to back it up, other than having worked in the beverage industry as soon as it was legal and being damn confident in what I did and didn’t like to drink.
Early on, similar to most people hopping into wine for the first time, it was the soft and gentle merlots that got me hooked on red wine. Then my palate changed and developed and I began to only have eyes for big, bold reds, such as hot climate Shiraz from the Barossa, Malbec from Argentina or Nero d’Avola from my dad’s hometown of Sicily. Shamefully, lighter style reds were really not my thing.
Thankfully that all changed when I took a trip to the Mornington Peninsula shortly after I moved to Melbourne, where I discovered a whole world of cool climate red wines. It opened my eyes about what a good Pinot Noir could be, if the grape and the region are aligned as intended. I have been a staunch lover and supporter of Victorian Pinot Noirs ever since.
As we embarked on developing a vermouth that would pair perfectly in rye whiskey cocktails, I was keen to collaborate with our neighbours – urban winery Noisy Ritual. Not only are they similarly dedicated to producing quality drinks made from locally grown produce, they also share our love of good times with good people and good music.
When it came to selecting the wine for the base? We unanimously agreed that a cool climate Pinot Noir would best play off the savoury botanicals to create a robust and aromatic vermouth. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As part of our Pinot Noir Vermouth release, we had the chance to chat with Noisy Ritual Co-Founder Cam Nicol, to find out about his journey to date and why wine and is so important to him. Check the interview below and make sure you visit for a drink or try your hand at winemaking at their urban winery in Brunswick, 249 Lygon St, Brunswick East.
-- Noisy Ritual started after a chance discovery in a Thornbury sharehouse. Tell us about this discovery and what journey led you both to this meeting point?
We've been mates since high school, but we followed different paths. Alex pursued agriculture/horticulture and I pursued music. Alex went on to study wine science and worked at vineyards all over Australia and France. I worked in various roles across the music industry from tour management to merch management to sound engineering, performing and event management. We both share a love of good times with good people and good music but had no idea a chance discovery would give us the perfect opportunity to indulge these passions (and develop a few more).
Cam worked in the music industry prior to starting Noisy Ritual with his good mate
I moved into a house in Thornbury in 2014 and discovered a room underneath the house with a big old concrete tank in it (which I assumed was a water tank). When Alex visited for the first time and saw the tank was lined with wax, he knew immediately that someone had been making relatively large batches of wine under there, so naturally we decided to have a crack at making some wine. The following autumn we gathered some friends together – plate of food and six-pack in hand – to stomp some grapes, make some wine and have a good time. For all of us who hadn't been involved in winemaking before, it was such a surprisingly hands-on and simple and fun process! Since we started with a single batch of fruit from a single location, it meant everybody was comfortable to ask questions without feeling intimidated by the sometimes overwhelming complexity of the wine world. Plus, the feeling of community from all of us working side by side to create something we'd all share the spoils of, was such a magical time.
Alex making wine with friends in Cam's Thornbury backyard
Before long, word spread and the group started getting bigger – friends of friends started turning up to get involved and help out. We started to realise there was an appetite out there for this kind of experience, so we decided to start Melbourne’s first urban winery with the mission to demystify the winemaking process by bringing good people together over great wine, food and music to learn about, taste and create wine in the city.
Our particular histories and passions really drive what Noisy Ritual is all about: delicious food and wine (of course) with just as much focus on music, community and sustainability as well.
-- How did you first become obsessed with wine?
For me, falling into a love of wine was a very serendipitous thing. Discovering the concrete wine fermenter under my house in Thornbury and having an excuse to get a winemaker mate and a bunch of other friends around to make some wine was a transformative experience. The process of making that first batch got me obsessed with the winemaking process and fermentation in general and set me on a path of discovery that I suppose will never end.
-- Your friend and Co-Founder Alex has over 17 years in the winemaking industry. Where in the world has wine taken him?
Alex has completed vintages in Margaret River and the Northern Rhone Valley. After he finished studying, he travelled through South America, extensively researching the wine regions of Argentina and Chile while sampling many local wines and all manner of cuisine. He was fortunate to be offered a position working in Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy for the 2008 vintage. This experience allowed him to discover so much more about French winemaking, and also improved his understanding of the geography and the culture of the industry in France. Of course, this was accomplished by eating a lot of cheese and drinking a lot of wine.
Noisy Ritual winemaker Alex Byrne making wine
-- It's no secret that you make premium wines from grapes sourced all over Victoria - was this local focus important for you from the outset or was it a happy accident, working with what you had access to?
A little bit of both. In the early days we were sourcing fruit from contacts Alex already had (and they happened to be reasonably local), but over time it's been helpful to keep ourselves focused within Victoria, using the Noisy Ritual range to showcase the breadth of styles and climates the state is capable of producing. It means a lot of kms! This vintage we made more than 20 wines sourced from all over the state – from the Macedon Ranges to Mildura, Geelong to the King Valley.
-- How does the urban nature of Noisy Ritual differ from other local wines and wineries?
Our grapes are sourced from a network of premium vineyards throughout Victoria and once they are harvested, they come straight up the highway and all of the winemaking happens in our winery in the heart of the city. From that point on, the method of production is similar to what happens in sheds all over the countryside, but we enjoy being close to the wine lovers of Melbourne so we can get a really good sense of what people are into, and give them the opportunity to see (and be involved in) the process in action.
-- You're both inspired by all things handmade. Tell us why this is important to you and how you remain hands-on when trying to build a growing business?
For a few years now, people have been becoming more and more interested in knowing the provenance of the things they consume and that's obviously a lot easier when you can meet the people who make it and find out what motivates them and how the process happens. Making a product in small batches allows for some more creativity too and making wine with indigenous yeast and minimal intervention means we embrace variations in products from year to year and let the wine tell the story of the place and season it came from.
Making wine by hand in Brunswick East
-- What part of the winemaking gig are you most passionate about?
Vintage is always the most exciting (and exhausting) time. The promise of so many new parcels of fruit and all the possibilities in terms of the wine we can make, as well as all workshops we run during that time to demystify the winemaking process for local people who are interested in rolling up their sleeves and getting involved. It's hard not to feed off the enthusiasm of a first-time winemaker – even for jaded old timers like us!
Learn the winemaking process at Noisy Ritual
-- What excites you about the Victorian wine community?
It's an exciting time to be making wine in Victoria – there are heaps of small producers making great wine and the industry is generally so supportive of each other. Wine drinkers are increasingly open-minded and embracing new approaches and products too which means it's an opportunity to try new things.
-- And how about the Brunswick community?
Where else would you be mate? Brunswick is such a diverse, creative, progressive and exciting place with a really passionate community who care about each other and their local businesses. That's been particularly obvious over the past couple of years with all the support we've been shown. We're really proud to be a part of this community and do our best to serve the good people all the delicious things!
-- What’s your favourite place to go in Brunswick?
You can't beat the guys at Mankoushe for delicious authentic food cooked with passion.
-- And do you have a favourite hidden gem in the neighbourhood?
The best new sandwich place in town – our new neighbour Stefanino Panino.
-- Is there something (other than making wine) that you are fanatical about?
We're both big fans of music and we’re pumped that some of our favourite things are finally returning post-COVID. The return of the Meredith Music Festival this year is the big standout. We went to school down that way so have been visiting Aunty for forever (first attending back in the mid-90s!) and it's still my favourite place on earth.
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