‘I just like squishing the grapes’: Homemade wine a vintage family tradition

If you make wine at home, you’ve got to be prepared to make a mess.

But that’s precisely what Alexi Sideris,10, loves about the process.

Squishy fun: Alexi Sideris, 10, helps his father Laki Sideris crush grapes for the Thornbury family’s 2021 batch of home- made wine. Credit:Chris Hopkins

In his family’s Thornbury backyard on Sunday, it was Alexi’s job to help pour grapes – stems and all – into the hand-cranked crushing machine, before they fell into a large bucket below.

“I just like squishing the grapes,″⁣ he said. ″⁣I squash ’em with my hands.″⁣

It’s vintage time, not just at the big wineries. but also in backyards and garages, where amateur enthusiasts have been hard at work on their own boutique wines.

Wine as a gift: One of Laki Sideris’s custom made ‘Normanby Estate’ wine labels he gave to friends. Credit:Laki Sideris

Alexi’s father, Laki Sideris, is aiming this year to make 450 bottles of cabernet sauvignon and rose, a number that may reduce before bottling after he’s sampled some from the tank – to test the quality, of course.

Mr Sideris, a photographer, likes to give friends and family bottles as gifts, under the name Normanby Estate, after his home in Normanby Avenue, Thornbury.

Their labels include a photo of the recipients, with personalised subtitles. He gave one saying “Tarkovsky’s Dilemma” to filmmaker friends, in a a reference to Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.

The 2021 winemaking was a good excuse for Mr Sideris to get together with his son Alexi, partner Gretel Taylor, sister Voula, her daughter Ellen and Voula’s son Michael and his partner Maria.

The group lunched on mezes – share plates including dips, octopus and homemade bread – and drank last year’s wine, saying “yamas”, or “cheers” in Greek.

Laki Sideris sits down to lunch with son Alexi. left.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Homemade wine is a tradition from Laki and Voula’s parents’ native island of Lefkada in Greece. Here in Thornbury, after Laki’s mother Elefteria retired from factory work, she grew 45 vines, with winemaking days a cherished family practice.

″⁣It was something that tied us all together,″⁣ Voula says. “The kids enjoyed it because they were in it right up to their elbows.″⁣

After Elefteria died in 2014, Laki and Voula wanted to continue the tradition, although they don’t have time to keep vines.

This year Laki bought 500 kilograms of grapes from a pop-up outlet at a vacant former service station in St Georges Road, Thornbury. The grapes came from a vineyard in Renmark, South Australia.

Elefteria Sideris with her grape vines in 2009Credit:Laki Sideris

Mr Sideris loves having the family still making wine together and hopes Alexi will carry it on in future.

“These days, families break apart and move around. It’s all fluid,” he said. “So I like to perpetuate a traditional line. It’s a bit of a conscious effort in that respect, but also I like doing it.”

Mr Sideris’s photographs of other suburban winemakers in the City of Darebin feature in Suburban Vintage, an exhibition on until April 17 at Darebin Arts Centre for the FUSE Darebin Festival.

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