Western Australia's new wave of winemakers
Author: Max Allen
Watch out, wine world - the West Australians are coming. Not content to let the cool wine kids in the east dominate headlines and lists, a band of new, small-scale, adventurous winemakers is emerging in Margaret River, Great Southern and elsewhere in WA.
At the head of the pack is Josephine Perry, winner of the Young Gun of Wine award in 2016. Perry typifies the new wave: a WA local, she started working in Margaret River wineries, then spent years making wine in France and Spain before returning home to bring up her kids and set up her label, Dormilona, in 2013.
"I wanted to do my own thing even if it wasn't what many others in the region were doing," she says. "I'd seen natural winemaking in Europe: every house in Galicia has its own bodega; they do lots of skin contact for their whites, use all the grape, don't add anything."
Perry chose to focus on conventional Margaret River grapes - chardonnay, cabernet, sauvignon blanc - but apply unconventional methods. The results were exciting, especially when she started fermenting in amphorae and releasing textural wines under the Clayface label. Initially some conservative members of the WA wine trade were wary. But as producers have launched new labels, the market has become accepting.
One of the best new producers is Nic Peterkin, whose excellent LAS Vino label was established in 2013. Peterkin grew up in the Margaret River wine industry: his father is Mike Peterkin of Pierro, one of the region's leading producers, and Nic remembers his early experiences of wine as rather boring - hot summers weeding the vineyard, cleaning the winery floor. As he got older, though, he realised there were opportunities for creative expression in winemaking.
"I didn't see the point in doing something that'd been done before," says Peterkin. "So I decided to make a chenin blanc; other winemakers had kept telling me it was a great grape but consumers didn't understand it, so it was a hard sell. I gave it the same treatment as the best chardonnay and made a wine full of flavour."
Chenin blanc is enjoying a revival among other Margaret River new-wave winemakers - partly perhaps because it's underappreciated so the grapes are readily available. South African-born Remi Guise of Tripe Iscariot, for instance, produces lovely, subregional expressions of the variety - one from Wilyabrup in the north, one from Karridale in the south - while Ben Gould at Blind Corner vineyard uses his chenin to produce a fine crémant style of sparkling wine.
Unlike many of the eastern wine regions where growers and makers have been experimenting with alternative Italian and Spanish grape varieties, most of WA's vineyards are still traditional and concentrate on stalwarts such as chardonnay and cabernet. It's what the new-wave producers are doing with these traditional grapes that sets them apart.
Andrew Hoadley of La Violetta, for example, one of the most influential of the new-wave producers, makes exceptional wines such as a riesling, a shiraz and a cabernet-malbec blend that are quirky enough to satisfy the hipster somms but classic enough to please anyone. Elizabeth Reed and Skigh McManus of Flor Marché craft particularly precise wines from single vineyards across the state's south-west - super-crisp riesling, elegant cabernet - while Ryan Walsh and Freya Hohnen of Walsh & Sons produce both superb, generously flavoured single-varietal wines as well as blends such as the Lola shiraz cabernet grenache.
More WA winemakers are adopting a no-additions, lo-fi winemaking approach, too. Sarah Morris and Iwo Jakimowicz of Si Vintners in Margaret River were among the first to head down the natural route, with wines fermented in ceramic eggs and aged under flor; others include Freehand preservative-free wines in Mount Barker and Sam Vinciullo with his adventurous blend of Margaret River merlot and sémillon.
Another début label showcasing all things lo-fi - skin contact, egg-fermented riesling; unfiltered whole-bunch shiraz; pet-nat pinot - is Andries and Yoko Mostert's Brave New Wine. "I've always been interested in alternative styles of winemaking, in doing as little as possible in the winery, in breaking the rules," says Andries. "With our own label Yoko and I get to do all that. And we're lucky there's now a climate where people are keen to try something new. But unless it's delicious they're not going to buy it again."