There are a few key words sheltered beneath the lo-fi winemaking umbrella. Low-intervention. Minimal addition. Natural yeast. Minimal sulphur. Small batch. Hand-picked.
To spend a little time in lo-fi winemaking territory is to meet a collection of winemakers dedicated to the quest of bottling season, terroir, varietal, place and moment in the search for a unique glass.
Keep in mind that many of these producers don’t operate cellar doors. Most offer tastings by appointment only, while others can be sourced at local bottle shops, restaurants and bars. This is a trail for the intrepid oenophile.
It’s taken time for Blind Corner’s, Ben Gould to establish the character of the wine he wanted to produce. The philosophy was always clear – organic in the vineyard and no additives in the winery in order to emphasise terroir. Finding the wine’s expression is where the play comes in.
“To produce clean, expressive wine without the conventional fixes takes experimentation. This is not a safe path. I’ve produced a lot of rubbish wine to get where we are today,” Ben laughs. “In the vineyard there are no ‘nuclear options’ when things go wrong. So lower crops and other preventative steps are the way to go.”
Ben’s current planting of Aligote – to his knowledge, the only planting in the state – is his current obsession. And finding out more about the ideas behind such experimentation is as easy as dropping past the Quindalup cellar door, replete with bee hives, chicken, biodynamic veggie patch and skate ramp. Margaret River region wine tasting with a whole family feel.
When it comes to lo-fi, winemaker Julian Langworthy is a high-calibre inclusion. Last year’s Halliday Winemaker of the Year and head winemaker at awarded Deep Woods Estate, Julian runs Goon Tycoons along with his co-creators, John and Mark Fogarty. The project allows them to colour outside the lines.
“What we’re trying to do is frame unusual varieties or use alternate techniques in the most pure way possible,” Julian says, succinctly. “We don’t want our wines show-worthy. We want them gritty and truthful and undercover.”
Working with classic varietals in his day job means Julian looks to styles that are less typically identifiable to the region, and to Australia as a whole, for his Goon project. Take his winemaker’s fixation with Teroldego. The grape Julian describes as alternatively “brooding, inky and expressive” is little grown in Australia.
Educating drinkers is an opportunity for storytelling, which is what makes a visit to their Abbey Vale Vineyard’s cellar door such a step inside the wine label itself. The pretty little Yallingup set-up is also home to the Yallingup Cheese Company and Wulura Olive Oil – a trifecta, then, of Margaret River region food and wine experience.
Resurrection is the theme behind Stormflower Vineyard, a certified organic Wilyabrup small batch producer committed to “hand crafting” wine. Vines planted in the 1990s were restored and reinvigorated via sustainable agricultural methods when Stormflower took over in 2007. The idea was to be committed to expressing the region’s natural character through the vines that had spent so many years establishing themselves in that patch of soil – Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, alongside Shiraz, Semillon and Chenin Blanc.
Winemaker Stuart Pym takes values a considered and organic approach to viticulture and winemaking. Evidence of his intent is there in the pour of the glass and in the Wilyabrup cellar door, where the tasting table is made from a reworked Marri tree that fell on site. Picnic rugs provided by the vineyard in the garden are the ideal sunny day setting to try Stuart’s wines in the context in which they were made.
In the heart of Witchcliffe, or as locals prefer it; Witchy, you’ll find this small-batch artisan winemaker with a philosophy of embracing wild-ferments, minimal adjustments, gentle handling and traditional processes. Using an old-school approach, yet with a modern flare for creativity and adventure, Amato Vino offers wine made from eclectic and unusual grape varieties. Currently bottled into three key series of wine; ‘Wild’; ‘Fusa’; and ‘Mantra’, owner/winemaker Brad Wehr continues to grow the Amato Vino labels and wine styles.
With no formal training, Brad brings creativity and passion to the fore. He knows enough to be dangerous, but equally knows how to not stuff things up (not too much anyway). Luckily, he’s got Sharon Batle and Simon Kaell to help. Together the team brings wisdom, a little science, and a sense of balance and structure to some of Brad’s wilder ideas – making sure it doesn’t steer too far off the road and over the cliff bursting into flames and many other sorts of bad things.
Swing past their cosy tasting bar in the iconic and heritage-listed building “Darnells’s Trader” in Witchy for an intimidate and immersive lo-fi wine tasting experience.
“Wine is a raw product even packaged on the shelf. It’s agricultural and should represent the seasons,” says Josephine Perry, winemaker and owner at Dormilona along with her partner, Jimmy. Jo’s on her way back from Bunbury in the car on hands-free. She doesn’t have a lot of time to talk. It’s the weekend. The kids wait at home. As do her other babies – those acres of budding vines.
Perspective is all-important for this group of winemakers. How they see wine drives their philosophies. For Jo, this means being serious about natural yeasts and true to what she views as the Margaret River region classics of Chardonnay, Cabernet and Chenin Blanc (“I think every other variety should be pulled out,” she adds, only partly tongue-in-cheek). But it also means seeing wine for what it is.
“It’s just a drink,” Jo laughs, with that balance of irreverence and reverence peculiar to those who understand how to commit and see the lightness in a singular frame. A tasting by appointment organised with the winemaker at her Cowaramup-located winery, however, shows it’s a little more than that.
Si Vintners’ Iwo Jakimowicz is a winemaker and small-batch vineyard co-owner with partner Sarah Morris. They’re committed to their Rosa Glen wine label’s low-key approach. “We don’t use tartaric acids or added tannins,” Iwo says. “We are about making really pure, sound wines with no chance of fermentation in the bottle while letting the site express itself as it is; not adjusting acidity and no irrigation in the vineyard.”
For Iwo, wine requires an individualised approach. Each season and each plot is different. As an example, the Chardonnay fan makes three separate Chardonnays from three separate sites resulting in “individual” wines that allow Iwo to play with and appreciate the idea of terroir on a micro level.
Experiencing his winemaking first hand is a highly personal experience – until the Si Vintners planned cellar door is complete (“hopefully next summer”, Iwo says), tastings at the Rosa Glen winery are made via appointment only. A little one-on-one to ensure you get the best of the glass.
South By South West
Sustainable farming and expressive production is the central winemaking philosophy of dynamic winemaking duo, Livia Maiorana and Mijan Patterson. Like their fellow small batch producers, Livia speaks of the importance of the vineyard.
For South by South West Wines this means vineyards free of pesticides, fungicides or chemicals, and irrigation. (Livia: “We let the vines thrive off a little neglect.”) It’s a doer’s approach that favours action and results in wine that is as interesting as it is textural and delicious. As winemakers, Livia and Mijan source their grapes from growers across the Margaret River region, meaning there is no centralised vineyard. They are committed to their role as winemakers and producers.
Tastings are organised via appointment. It’s an opportunity for a personal vineyard and winery tour finishing in tastings of what Livia promises will be “very smashable wine”.
Nic Peterkin wasn’t aware of the lo-fi wine term when he started L.A.S. Vino in 2013. All he knew was that when it came to the wines born of his skill and experience, he had no desire to strip the grape’s essence. “I noticed winemakers adding things to wine to strip tannins and bitterness,” Nic recalls. “It seemed counter intuitive to add egg whites and gelatine and strip away the essence of what it was.”
Under the LAS Vino label flavour is Nic’s first priority. This is part of the lo-fi credo – viewing the finished product in the first action, not as a result of final intervention. “It’s how you treat the grapes,” Nic explains. “Hand picking. Hand sorting. Sorting the berries. Putting them into small, ten-litre baskets. Making wine in one litre batches.”
In line with his low-key and curious approach, Nic has no established cellar door. The winemaker works out of Wilyabrup, that picturesque slice of wine heaven between Margaret River and Yallingup townships. Pick up a taste of his wines at Settlers Tavern or Dunsborough Cellars, or go pair them with a top-notch meal at Arimia or Miki’s Open Kitchen.
Dylan Arvidson is a winemaker well aware of the subjective nature of wine. He knows palates vary and tastes are defined by experience and personal preference.
As founder and winemaker at LS Merchants, Dylan is one of the many Margaret River region lo-fi style producers who ensure continued consumer engagement via his label’s commitment to soil, vineyard, vine, grape and – ultimately – wine. But even beyond his commitment to sustainable fruit and unique wine expression is his allegiance to a commercial conscience.
“We approached LS Merchants with the idea not to haggle or drive down prices on fruit, we wanted growers to feel comfortable and able to turn a profit,” Dylan says, recounting a side of the sustainable wine industry not as openly spoken of as organic and sustainable agricultural practice.
Getting a taste of Dylan’s drops means seeking out Margaret River Region stockists or restaurants who have his bottles in stock. LS Merchants has no cellar door and tastings can’t be arranged by appointment. A great excuse, then, to check out his wine at Settler’s Liquor Store in the Margaret River township, or enjoy a select glass at Morries, Burger Baby, Pizzica or Swings Taphouse on the main street.