That the Margaret River region is called home by a quarter of this year’s 12 Young Gun of Wine Finalists will come as no surprise to those within the local industry. Turns out the region doesn’t just grow great grapes. It grows great winemakers, too.
The Young Gun of Wine Award has been around since 2007, celebrating new wave, young or young-at-heart winemakers who are pushing the boundaries of wine. A list of 50 finalists gets narrowed down to 12, and a winner is selected based on their authenticity, confidence, capability and the taste of their drop. This year, there are more Margaret River region producers represented in the final 12 than ever before.
Who are these winemakers, and what makes them tick? Sarina Kamini investigates below.
Rhys Parker – Vallee du Venom
As one half of the Vallee du Venom duo, Dunsborough-based Rhys Parker is the epitome of the new generation of winemakers – professionals looking to express unique personality in their wines, who are dedicated to ensuring a sustainable craft. “I didn’t want to make commercial wines,” explains Rhys. He’s fireside on a Friday night, wine book on his lap and a cold beer in hand. The winemaker has a curious palate: asked what he’s currently drinking for inspiration and he quotes Nika Bhakia’s wine label – Nika Marani; these are wines produced in the traditional Georgian method. Italy’s Frank Cornelissen also gets a shout out for his “crazy, electric” wines. And a recent trip to the French Alps has got Rhys wound up about Roussette and Mondeuse, to varietals from the Savoie region described as “lively” – a bit of a running theme for the enthusiastic surfer. When asked how these palate trips inspire what goes into the bottles produced by himself and winemaking partner in crime, Paul Hoffman, Rhys is direct. “I don’t want to make some massive alcoholic drink. I want to drink wines that taste like grapes – a fruit derived drink,” he says. “I worked in commercial wineries where we were putting in plastics and sulphites, acids, fish guts, egg whites, just so you get wine that tastes consistently the same year after year.” He’s not casting judgement. It’s just not what Rhys wants. As for what he does want, well, that sounds much more poetic: “we are just trying to capture a moment in time.”
Remi Guise – tripe.Iscariot
The analogy grabs attention straight away – the idea of a “nose to tail” wine. Winemaking that uses “the whole beast”. For Margaret River winemaker, Remi Guise, it all makes perfect sense. “I’ve spent a great deal of time chewing on skins, cracking seeds between my teeth and sucking on stalks, forcing me to ask: ‘Why are we getting rid of all this flavour?’,” he muses. “So I started tripe.Iscariot truly as an experiment in flavour, texture and style.” The use of solids in his wines allows Remi the “positive” point of taste difference that he seeks when it comes time to stick his nose in a glass. “I really want my wine to be textural,” he explains, “because it matches more with food.” A natural marriage that is, believes Remi, a huge part of the wine drinking experience. But Remi is the first to admit that his initial super gung-ho approach to philosophical difference has calmed a little since the birthing of his label seven years go. Experience and time has led him to believe that the “status quo” around winemaking methods exists for a reason: “I’ve changed my mind about some ideas, going back to being more traditional in some ways.” Experience and maturity equals humility. There is a generosity and an honesty in this approach – not pushing the bounds for extremism’s sake, but of respecting tradition while still managing to find self-expression within it. Just don’t expect to see a Sauv Blanc on tripe-Iscariot’s list anytime soon. “You have to believe in what you’re doing and I’ve wanted to ensure I only ever make wines I wanted to drink,” says the man whose palate clearly isn’t orientated toward the popular white style. “At least that way if no one wants to buy it,” he laughs, “I can still drink it.”
Liv Maiorana and Mijan Patterson – South By South West
Taking a non-parochial approach to produce wines exquisitely focussed on vintage conditions is what lies at the heart of the winemaking philosophy of South By South West duo, Liv Maiorana and Mijan Patterson. “The whole idea is that we live in Margaret River, we produce in Margaret River, we have a little vineyard in Margaret River – but we appreciate that having a broader outlook allows us to represent the best of a blend from that vintage,” Liv explains. This appreciation of the broader south west region means grapes from Manjimup or the Great Southern might make it into a South By South West blend if the twosome doing the creating feel that this fruit tells part of that year’s wine story. It’s the common theme among our region’s nominees – a desire to get the best of the grapes, to express the truest character of the year’s vintage and to make wine “that tastes like the grapes on the vine”. Liv explains their approach as “lo-fi but not natural”, and definitely experimental. “This year we’re making a field blend,” enthuses Liv, excited about the challenge of picking diverse varietals from the same block at the same time for a co-fermentation process. “Because we’re small batch we can experiment. If people like it, we can make a little more next year.” And if not? There’s always something else to try. Chardonnay with more skin contact or a second fermentation process. Every year and every vintage is different. Which is just the way Mij and Liv like it.