Mike Champion, local urban soul singer. Photo: Jess Husband.

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By Rita Bratovich

If you keep getting a niggling feeling that something’s been missing this year, it’s probably because Pyrmont Festival didn’t occur in May as it has done for the last seven years. Don’t despair, it’s coming back for an eighth time and making a spectacular debut as a Spring event. 

The popular food, wine and art festival was rescheduled to September to take advantage of finer weather, longer days and to herald in Sydney’s season of revelry. Something else is new too: this year the wines will come from the lush, cool climate region of Orange. They say that life resets in seven year cycles, so it is fitting that in its eighth year Pyrmont Festival should experience a revamp.

Many of the features that have made the festival a Sydney favourite have been retained, including the two day main event in Pirrama Park. This picturesque half-island park juts into the bay mid-way between Anzac Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and basks under the full arc of the sun. It’s the perfect setting for a family friendly outdoor party. Kids will be amused by rides and activities and possibly by their parents after a few wine tastings. The event is also fur-baby friendly as long as your four-legged companion is on a lead. Last year’s very successful beer garden will be set up again with a new range of craft beers, and there will also be a harbourside bar. 

Food, wine and art are the festival’s key themes and each is well represented. 

A wine tasting alley will feature around a dozen of the Orange region’s finest wineries will make their newest and best releases available for sample and purchase. Food will be provided care of food trucks and local eatery pop-ups, whose combined offerings will encompass a wide range of categories and cuisines. Tables and chairs will be set up in the park, or you can sit on the wooden wharf steps, munch on gozleme and sip wine while watching boats cruise by. There will also be cooking demonstrations, gourmet products and local produce.

The Cat Protection Society is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year and they’ll have a stall at the festival so go over and hear some heart-warming cat rescue and adoption stories. And definitely seek out the SHARE SMR stand; they’re a charity raising money to address mental health challenges experienced by drought affected farmers. There will be collection tins in various locations around the park so remember to bring some cash.

The art part of the festival is fulfilled by an exhibition of art works produced by students from local schools and a display of entries from the annual Pyrmont Art Prize, now in its eleventh year. The prize and exhibition are coordinated by Lesley Dimmick of TAP Gallery in Surry Hills who has run the competition from the beginning and made it an integral part of Pyrmont Festival when that began. This year, Dimmick has invited art instructor, Vee Malnar of Paint It Up to give an art class in the park at 1:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. 

A big stage dominates one end of the park, indicating the importance of music at the festival. Past entertainers have been locals-made-good and this year’s headline act is no exception. Mike Champion has lived in Pyrmont for 15 years and will not only be performing at, but attending, his first Pyrmont Festival. Is he excited?

“Yeah definitely, definitely. I think, after living in Pyrmont so long, I never really shared my talent, my music, with the community I live in.”

Champion performs original songs and covers with his band, Mike Champion And The Cool. He recently travelled to Japan where he has a big following, and also did shows in London. Last month he launched an album at The Metro in Sydney and has several music videos ranking well on Youtube. His sound is soul and RnB with a dash of funk.

“It’ll definitely be something that if people feel like dancing, they can get up and dance to.”

Playing at an outdoor food and wine festival is quite different to playing in a standard music venue, but Champion says knowing how to adapt is part of the job description.

“As a professional  musician sometimes you have to play it by ear… Sometimes you think you’re going to go out and get the party going but everyone just wants to chill, so you’ve gotta tone it down, chill out.”

But there are elements that remain constant

“No matter what… I always try to have some aspect in my show that involves the crowd or the audience; I try to keep that in mind and in my performance regardless of the setting.”

Apart from the headline event in Pirrama Park, the other major aspect of Pyrmont Festival is the series of degustation dinners. Prominent restaurants in Pyrmont have been partnered with premium wineries from Orange to collaborate on a harmonious tasting menu showcasing the best of both parties. One restaurant taking part in the program only opened its doors last month. Mister Percy is a new wine bar and restaurant within Ovolo 1888 Hotel in Pyrmont. Its Mediterranean inspired menu is the collaborative result of acclaimed restaurateur Justin North and Mister Percy head chef, Luca Guiotto. For the festival, they have created a tasting menu that is a resume of their work. The menu was then given to Ovolo’s wine curator, Shun Eto, who consulted with sommeliers from Philip Shaw to select the wines. Marketing Manager, Merren Lynch worked closely with the project.

“We’re obviously excited to host a dinner in line with the Pyrmont Festival.  We’re hoping that the neighbourhood really love Mister Percy and embrace it as their local wine bar and kitchen,” says Lynch.

The restaurant uses fresh locally sourced produce to help create the lighter palate and beautiful flavours of coastal Mediterranean cuisine. Dishes are designed to be shared and range from small tapas to more substantial sized. Their regular menu informed the degustation choices.

“We looked at the overarching menu and saw this as an opportunity to kind of showcase some of the signature dishes from Mister Percy, […] a chance to give people a taster of the best we have to offer,” explains Lynch. With regard to the wine selection, Lynch says Eto has a unique approach.

“It’s not a traditional wine match, he’s really interested in different wine combinations, so not just a straight varietal as we might know it; he’s very interested in trying different styles…like unusual mixes of wines.”

Irma Dupuis is from Tamburlaine Organic Wines who have been paired with Whirly Bird restaurant in Pyrmont. She describes their process of preparing the degustation menu.

“We believe wine matching is a very individual experience, but there are tastes that are more pleasing to a greater number of people. For the degustation dinner with Whirly Bird, we worked with the chef to create a menu that reflects the best of Tamburlaine’s Orange wines, from creamy chardonnay to rich and smooth blends, each dish and each wine enhancing one another to create a multi-sensory experience.”

For the tastings in Pirrama Park, Dupuis explains what they’ll present.

“We have selected our most popular wines to get Spring started. We will be bringing our bright rosé from our Wine Lovers range but also some sparkling, fresh and zesty whites and beautiful rich reds all from our organic vineyards in Orange.”

Tamurlaine is certified organic and Dupuis believes this gives it a better, more consistent quality. While it doesn’t have a specific “organic” taste, there is a difference. The benefit of organic wine is in its production, explains Dupuis.

“The demand for organic wine options and other organic products is increasing as people become more concerned about their health and environmental issues associated with non-organic products. […] Overall, quality and reputation of organic wine now available in Australia is better than at any time in the past.”

Sep 15-16. Pirrama Park, Pyrmont. FREE.

Degustation Meals

Sep 15-24. Various Venues & Prices. Info & Bookings: www.pyrmontfestival.com.au