Five minutes with Maria Crews, director of the Noosa Food & Wine Festival (Halliday)

Noosa Food & Wine Festival adds emphasis to the ‘wine’ in its title this year, says director Maria Crews.

The festival has undergone some changes in the past couple of years – tell us about the fresh approach.

We’ve brought back the focus on wine, so it literally now is a food and wine festival. Wine has been a part of it in previous years, but this year we’ve brought it more to the forefront. We’re putting on new events such as The Woods, which is our wine and produce village. And we’ve made it more accessible, with 50 per cent of the tickets $40 or less. We’ve also for the first time got a pop-up restaurant by French Saloon from Melbourne, which will be right on the beach.

Tell us more about The Woods – what’s the idea there?

The idea is that you can pop in for an hour or stay all day. You can visit in between events for a glass of wine, or stay a little longer to watch a food demo or a chat with a winemaker. We’ve got 30-odd winemakers, plus the Dal Zotto guys will be doing prosecco cocktails, Sticks Yarra Valley will be doing a cheese and wine bar, Asahi is doing oysters and beer, and Infiniti is doing a share table with Adam D’Sylva. It’s at the end of Hastings Street and it’s in a big park area that looks out over the river, so you can either walk to it or get on a ferry and come by boat.

Which producers are on your must-visit list at The Woods?

Dal Zotto and Sticks for sure, as well as Shaw + Smith, S.C. Pannell, the guys from Oakridge, Vanya and the team from Cullen Wines, Journey Wines and Rudi from Quartz Reef [NZ].

What wine events at the festival are you most excited about?

We’re doing an event called Make Peace With Wine hosted by [sommelier] Matt Skinner, which will be a fun, easy way to learn about wine. Another that we’ve just launched is an urban winery concept that Dan Sims and Mike Bennie have developed, which will be a really casual wine masterclass ‘in the round’, meaning that rather than having a formal table everyone will be sitting at high tops tasting wines with the winemakers, Dan and Mike walking around – more of a relaxed way to educate people.

There are about eight sessions as part of the Urban Winery and one of the ideas the guys have come up with is ‘Bangers and Smash’, showcasing the kinds of wines you’d smash at a barbecue. There’ll also be a Pinot Palooza Unplugged session. The other one that is kind of cool is Bernadette O’Shea’s Champagne masterclass. It’s all just really chilled out – we’re serious about the wine but not serious about how we deliver it.

With all of the wine-focused events happening around the country over the next weeks and months, what’s Noosa Food & Wine Festival’s point of difference?

Firstly, it’s at Noosa on the beach. You can’t beat that. Noosa is a lot more approachable and accessible – the chefs and winemakers often bring their families and make a holiday of it, so you’ll see them walking around and can chat to them on the street. It’s a really condensed area and because everyone flies in for the four days, you’re all kind of hanging out for the whole time rather than, say, events you go to in Melbourne where you’d head straight home afterward.