Noisy Ritual was born out of a chance discovery in a Melbourne rental house in 2014. From bucketing shiraz grapes down the driveway to a fully operational multi-purpose facility, it has grown to become the yardstick for urban wineries in this country. Winemaker Alex Byrne and Cam Nicol, who handles the events side of things, have set up their winery to be a place where anyone can sign up to get their hands dirty and shatter some winemaking mystique. Winery, wine bar and events space, Noisy Ritual is also the cellar door for wines made by Byrne and an over-subscribed list of member winemakers. They turn out everything from sparkling wine to skin-contact whites to brooding old-school shiraz from a multitude of sites in tiny batches, and all with approachability in mind.
Byrne got his first taste for working with wine as a 17-year-old, while studying agriculture/horticulture. That was at Taltarni, in the Victorian Pyrenees, under the legendary Dominique Portet. When Portet relocated to the Yarra Valley, Byrne found his way back into the ninth-generation winemaker’s cellar, following a few years dabbling in wine retail and hospitality. A degree in wine sciences followed, as did vintage work in Margaret River and the Northern Rhône to punctuate studies. Byrne landed more permanently at Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis’ Lethbridge Estate, in the Geelong region. His own eponymous label followed, based in Ballarat.
In 2013, Byrne and Kim Farrell banded under the Liquid Rock’n’Roll banner to make unconventional wines with “attitude”. A year later, when his mate Cam Nicol discovered a concrete fermenter in his Thornbury rental house, Noisy Ritual was born. Starting in Nicol’s basement, the pair crowdfunded a Preston pop-up, then finally in more certain fashion settled into permanent digs in Lygon Street, in Brunswick East. And they’ve recently taken on a warehouse in Preston to manage slightly larger volumes, which means the Brunswick East site can remain true to its micro-batch origins.
“We have come a long way from a bunch of mates having fun, to an urban winery that has maximum transparency for anyone who is keen to see how wine is really made in small batches by passionate people,” says Byrne.
Byrne is at pains to source high-quality fruit for the Noisy Ritual wines, and approaches the making with a low-intervention mindset. Having said that, the wines are not left solely to their own devices, with Byrne, and his loyal band of community winemaking apprentices, guiding them away from problems, while never trying to manipulate them with a recipe-driven approach. Across the ever-changing range there’s a vibrant immediacy to the wines, but layers of complexity, too – think about me if you like, or just drink me, they say.