Get to Know Your Young Guns of Wine
Seven Margaret River winemakers have reached the Young Gun of Wine Top 50. Get to know them.
For a region that produces only 2% of the country’s total wine, to have seven Margaret River winemakers recognised for their innovative and creative winemaking methods in this year’s Young Gun of Wine Top 50 speaks volumes.
The Young Gun of Wine awards are an incubator for emerging talent in the wine industry, celebrating wine that pushes the envelope on convention without sacrificing quality and flavour. But they aren’t just awarding kids making wine – they’re looking for people who are young at heart and, most importantly, reflect a youthful spirit in their winemaking.
A product of two days of bench-marking almost 300 wines, the Top 50 reflects the intersecting ideas and philosophies that make up Australia’s multidimensional modern wine industry. The Margaret River wine landscape is becoming more and more diverse, with emerging winemakers both refining established methods and inventing their own; so it’s no surprise that many of them are being recognised by Young Guns.
Those who’ve been recognised in the Top 50 will join other winemakers from around the country for an event in Melbourne on May 12 designed to showcase their wines to the public, before finalists and winners being announced in July.
Nic Peterkin – L.A.S. Vino
Just as his much-loved Albino Pinot may be the perfect blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Nic Peterkin may be the perfect blend of creative soul, scientific brain, and business mind.
Despite hailing from Margaret River wine royalty, Nic’s award-winning wine is more a product of trying to avoid ending up a winemaker than anything else.
After spending his formative years working in vineyards to perpetuate his travels and collecting an impressive arsenal of academic titles, Nic was clear on what he wanted from life: something autonomous, non-corporate, big-picture focused and creative. He laughs as he reflects on these things ultimately converging as a winemaker – you know, as though it should’ve been obvious.
He started making wine under the L.A.S. Vino label back in 2013, after returning from travelling with ‘absolutely no money’. It’s a position many young people can relate to.
‘When I started, I was like – ‘wine is so competitive, it’s one of the oldest industries in the world, and it’s dominated by people with a lot more experience, a lot more money and a lot more resources than me. How can I compete in this industry?’’
Nic turned to the forgotten varietals, and uncovered his true passion: not winemaking, but the creative process that winemaking entails.
‘Wine isn’t the driver: it’s the creation process. Starting with a raw ingredient – something undervalued, something that people have overlooked – and creating something beautiful out of it. That process from neglect to beauty, that’s what drives me.’
There are still, obviously, key principles that define Nic’s winemaking. While his wines are broadly non-interventionist, his priorities for the finished product are unchanging: flavour and quality.
‘A lot of the time in wine you add things to the process for efficiency as opposed to flavour. I’m not interested in yield, I’m interested in how it tastes’, he said.
While Nic never set out with the ethos of breaking convention, he said that one thing he’s come to enjoy about the L.A.S Vino journey are the conversations and connections it’s sparked, both for the brand and personally.
‘When you’re doing new stuff, interesting, creative stuff, you kind of send out a message to people’, he said. ‘You end up surrounded by people you find interesting.’
And on Young Guns? Nic said the competition ‘speaks to the next generation of wine consumers.’
‘What you’ll find with all of these people in the Top 50 is that they have a passion for what they do. They wouldn’t be in there without it.’
Dylan Arvidson – LS Merchants
A project that was conceived partly to ensure there was always enough wine to go around at local bush-doofs, and partly to allow winemaker Dylan Arvidson space for experimentation, LS Merchants emerged in 2015 as a purveyor of seriously good (but not too serious) wines. Production remains small, but with minimal intervention, wild fermentation where possible and a lot of experimentation, Dylan’s wines are a recipe for Young Gun of Wine recognition to their core.
Originally from New Zealand, Dylan was born in Blenheim – or ‘the heart of Sav Blanc country’ as he calls it – with no family ties to the wine industry. He was lured by the prospect of travel, so went to study winemaking at university when he was 17 and ‘fell in love with it.’
Dylan recalled sitting in front of 12 white wines lined up for his first tasting at uni. Back then, Dylan rested on old faithful: ‘I just said they all tasted like lemon,’ he said. He’s certainly come a long way since, now making a suite of award-winning wines not only at LS Merchants, but for Cape Grace and a whole host of other wineries as well.
Dylan came to Margaret River after being offered a job at Juniper Estate in 2009. ‘The vastness [of the region] really got me’, he said, ‘and surfing is a big part of my lifestyle’. After six years at Juniper, Dylan started to think more about playing with different styles and varietals and thus, LS Merchants was born.
‘I was seeing a lack of experimentation,’ Dylan said. ‘But I wasn’t driven to have a label, it just kind of happened.’
With LS Merchants, Dylan seeks to express the varietal characters of the region and fruit used, while also pushing the boundaries of conventional winemaking. The result? Interesting, enticing styles that contain a taste of the fun that Dylan has making them.
Dylan likes to work with people who share his philosophy. ‘The most important part, before you even get to the winery, is finding the right vineyards. You can’t have flavour unless you start with the right grapes.’
And flavour is certainly important to Dylan. He described sharing his wine with friends: ‘I love seeing the look on their faces after the first sip. It’s all about flavour.’
Dylan said that the Margaret River region has a unique ‘open door policy’ – he’s always felt that you can ring any winemaker or viticulturalist and ask for help should you need it. ‘People are interested in what you’re doing,’ he said, ‘they’re always up for buying or swapping fruit’. Dylan believes this ultimately pushes the region to greater heights.
When it comes to Young Guns, Dylan’s pretty excited. ‘We’re pumped for it,’ he said. ‘We’re over the moon to get in’.
‘It reinforces what we’re doing as a brand, which is maybe something you wouldn’t expect in Margaret River’. Well, you can be sure to expect it from now on.
Kate Morgan – Ipso Facto Wines
Surely there’s not many people who’ve dreamt of being a winemaker since they were a teenager, but Kate Morgan is one of them, and her dream is now well and truly a reality.
When asked what piqued her interest in winemaking from such a young age, Kate is clear. ‘It was the sights and smells and hands-on nature of the job,’ she said, ‘and the satisfaction of creating something tangible and enjoyable’.
After gaining her degree in viticulture and oenology from Curtin University, Kate worked vintages around Australia and overseas before settling on Margaret River as the place she wanted to establish her career. She said that ‘the ability to make world class wine in a region that has the lifestyle we do is a no-brainer’, and that in terms of viticulture, the region’s offering ‘ticks the boxes’.
But the natural abundance of the Margaret River region isn’t all that makes being a winemaker here so enjoyable, Kate said. ‘We have such a tight knit winemaking community that is so exciting to be a part of.’ Kate said that over the last five to ten years, the region’s wine landscape has become increasingly diverse in ‘wine styles, grape variety, business models and the personalities.’
‘I think everyone has something to give and equally something to learn, including Ipso Facto!’
Not to mention, Kate said, the ‘beaches, forest and great places to eat and drink’ that make this region a great place to live.
While for many, creating their own wine label seems to have just ‘happened’, for Kate, it was a long-term goal. Kate’s aspirations to have her own label culminated with a bit of good timing: ‘one vintage,’ she said, ‘the right fruit presented itself and it was on like Donkey Kong!’ And thus, Ipso Facto was born in 2010, and has gone from strength to strength since.
In the early years of Ipso Facto, Kate was working at Fraser Gallop Estate as Assistant Winemaker and said that the two roles were mutually reinforcing. ‘There were techniques I employed with Ipso Facto that I learnt at Fraser Gallop, and some of the techniques I tried out with Ipso Facto then got used on some of the Fraser Gallop batches – so it worked well for everyone,’ she said.
However, Kate recognises that it’s much easier to work on the success of Ipso Facto now that she’s moved on from Fraser Gallop. Ipso Facto is ‘single batch, small scale, paired back winemaking’, but it’s laborious work and requires great focus, especially when taking risks.
‘It is my own wine,’ Kate said. ‘So the risks are mine.’ If that’s pressure, it’s also motivation.
This is the second year running that Kate has been recognised in the Young Gun of Wine Top 50, and she said ‘it’s great to get that affirmation that my wines are good, and to be in the company that I am is incredible!’
For Kate, the Young Guns competition plays a role in ‘giving emerging producers a platform to put their wine in front of both consumers and trade.’
‘In addition,’ she said, Young Guns ‘encourages and celebrates the left of centre wines, which I’m sure has inspired some to push the boundaries with their wines.’
Dan Stocker – Heretic Wines
Dan Stocker considers himself a farmer who just happens to make wine, but his wines speak for themselves.
With a day job as Vineyard Manager at Arimia Park, a rather unique little winery set in the bush land just outside Yallingup, Dan spends a lot of his time feeding the winery pigs, tending to the vegetable garden, and maintaining the health of the vineyard. His technical ability as a winemaker was birthed at Houghton Wines and entrenched as Winemaker at Deep Woods. But for Dan, it was always more about being a farmer. ‘I used to be so jealous of the farming kids at high school,’ he said.
That love of farming is reflected in the making of his own wines: Heretic Wines. ‘I’m the least artistic person you’re ever likely to meet I think,’ he said. ‘I actually just love the farming side of it – the wine is the product, but to me the process is much more interesting.’
Dan’s approach to winemaking is refreshing. ‘There’s no real recipe to it for me – there’s no right or wrong way. We just keep tasting, until it tastes good.’
‘We still analyse and get numbers,’ he said. ‘We just don’t act on them as much’, he laughed quietly.
Dan’s not unaware of the risks of making wine this way. ‘You sacrifice consistency,’ he said, ‘but you gain interest and a real authentic example of what the patch of dirt is capable of doing.’
Dan studied a Bachelor of Science in Oenology at The University of Adelaide, and it was there that he said he was sold on becoming a winemaker. When asked what it was that convinced him, he responds immediately: ‘the 1991 Chateaux Musar’.
‘That was second year at Uni,’ he said. ‘They served this wine – I didn’t know what it was, but it was delicious and really interesting … It was this wine from Lebanon, and the guy that made it – this was during civil war – on occasion, there’d be gunfire and they’d be trying to pick their grapes’.
‘’To hear the story of a guy who was so dedicated to his wine that he was willing to go out amidst gunfire to pick his grapes!’ He’s exclaiming at this point.
While Dan said he probably wouldn’t face gunfire to get his own wines made, he still pursues it with a kind of reserved passion that makes his low-intervention method successful. He comes across as patient without being detached, and precise without being overbearing.
‘I had an idea initially about the kind of wine styles I wanted to make and that went in the bin pretty quickly. I kind of got more fascinated with how they were grown and how they were made’, he said.
‘Now I’m kind of just an interested onlooker’.
Dan’s love of the land continues to shine through the more he speaks. ‘Whether or not it’s becoming a Dad, I don’t know, but I want to make sure that we become better stewards of the land’, he said. ‘I grew up here, I want my kids to grow up here and I want them to enjoy the same Margaret River as what I enjoyed.’
Of course, he wants his wines to taste good – and they do. But the real aim? Dan said: ‘That when we’re finished here, the land is in a better place than it was before – that’s the end goal’.
Julian Grounds – McHenry Hohnen Vintners
With a resume that includes receiving both Dux of Viticulture and Oenology at Curtin University and the Leeuwin Talijanich Award which saw him spend a vintage in South Burgundy, it’s no surprise that Julian Grounds has gone on to make exceptional wines. His first posting as Senior Winemaker was at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley region, where he grew a passion for producing single site wines that express the unique characteristics of the vineyard. Today, as Senior Winemaker at McHenry Hohnen, he still sees site expression as imperative to making quality wine, along with vineyard and winery sustainability.
“For me, every wine should be the purest expression of the site from which the fruit is grown. All elements of that site (biological activity, soil type, prevailing winds etc) are critical at giving a wine its personality, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that these elements shine through”.
This fits in nicely at McHenry Hohnen, who live by the ‘simple and forgotten’ philosophy of just allowing grapes to become wines. Using biological farming principles where soil health and vine vitality are key in the vineyard, McHenry Hohnen has produced some highly-acclaimed and award-winning wine with Julian at the helm.
Remi Guise – tripe.Iscariot
For Remi Guise, who’s in the Top 50 for the second time running this year and was one of 12 finalists in 2017, driving his own label at tripe.Iscariot enables him to ‘get ideas out of [his] head, and into the bottle’.
Tripe.Iscariot is a premium, small batch producer, sourcing grapes from the Southern end of the region for its longer growing season, cooler climate and vibrant acidity. While Remi’s technical skills might be nurtured by his day job at Naturaliste Vintners, his flair for doing things differently is embodied in tripe.Iscariot’s Absolution range, described by The Wine Front as a ‘postmodern interpretation of the region through its historical past’.
Remi was never quiet about his boredom with the homogeneity of the modern wine market, but he’s ecstatic about the way the industry is shifting and shaping up. ‘I must not have been alone,’ he said.
As winemakers all over the country become more and more confident in making wines that push the envelope and challenge convention, Remi said the result is ‘wine that people want to drink’.
‘I’m definitely not bored anymore,’ said Remi, ‘and nor should the Australian wine drinker be.’
For anyone who’s familiar with tripe.Iscariot wines, it’s assumed that the man behind it must be passionate about keeping the wine industry diverse and ever-evolving. According to Remi, there’s no better place for this change to be realised than in the Margaret River region.
‘If you look at the Margaret River region, it’s not just about one thing. You come to Margaret River because you can see surf, forests, caves, and a whole range of other things – it should be the same with the wine industry.’
Originally from South Africa, Remi says he was enticed to the region after tasting a Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay whilst studying at the University of Stellenboch. When his then girlfriend, now wife’s family was emigrating over, he thought he’d ‘tag along for a vintage in Margs’.
‘We kind of just never left.’ He said. ‘I like the culture, I like the town, I fell in love with the region. It just works for us.’
As for the Young Gun of Wine competition, Remi believes it’s a huge part of pushing innovation and ingenuity in the wine industry forward: ‘they’re publicising change,’ he said. ‘These days, people care about how and where things come from. They want the stuff they consume to be made by someone with a pulse.’
Remi said he considers all the winemakers recognised in the Top 50, and especially those seven from the Margaret River region, to be ‘making world-class wine’.
‘It’s tremendously humbling to get in to the Top 50.’
But for Remi, it’s all about solidifying Margaret River as an internationally renowned winemaking region, and he hopes for strong recognition of Margaret River winemakers in the Final 12.
As Remi describes a community of winemakers in the region who support and celebrate each other, it becomes clear that his strong connection to the region plays a big part in his love of and dedication to winemaking. ‘It’s about pushing this region forward,’ he said. ‘When someone gets a trophy, we all get a trophy.’
Julian Langworthy and John Fogarty – Goon Tycoons
The Goon Tycoons describe themselves as a couple of young guys who’ve been ‘let out on good behaviour from their day jobs’, making wine that dances ‘on the verge of stupidity and sensibility’ – wine that promotes the unique varieties of the sites from which they source fruit, without forsaking wine quality.
For Winemaker Julian Langworthy and Viticulturist John Fogarty, Goon Tycoons is an opportunity to tinker with the Margaret River model of winemaking, and showcase some of the smaller vineyards they stumble upon.
According to Young Guns, these guys are holding court in the Top 50 after Julian Langworthy was awarded the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy back in 2016 for his 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at Deep Woods Estate, where both Julian and John continue to make a formidable team.