Today’s guest is pushing boundaries, here in Margaret river. Think Portuguese native grapes in Australia – Luck art and science. L.A.S is Nic Peterkin. Join us on to Episode 3 of ‘Behind the Vineyard’ with Nic Peterkin of L.A.S Vino.
Hi Nic, how’s it going today? Thanks for coming on ‘Behind the vineyard’
Hi! Yeah, really good. Thanks.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. So Nick is the founder of Las base in Margaret river. So before we dive in any deeper, we love to kick things off by having you describe the vineyards around Margaret river, if you can.
Yeah, sure. Margaret River, I mean, a lot of people from Singapore have come to Margaret river, I’m sure. Cause it’s only sort of a four hour flight outside of COVID. It’s a very beautiful wine region and I think what grasp, a lot of people, when they get here, it’s not, it’s not sort of, you know, like the setting that you have behind you, like rolling sort of plains where you can only see vineyards. Margaret river is there’s just tiny little vineyards, all sort of sprawled out across about 120 kilometers. It has ocean on three sides. So it’s got ocean at the north and on the west and in the Southern ocean as well. So you nearly always have wind going often ocean, which regulates the temperature. Most of the vineyards that I source fruit from are only about oh five maximum five kilometers, or actually the Grenache is a little bit further, but like five to 10 kilometers from the ocean itself.
So there’s a maritime influence, which regulates the temperature and it sits here. It sits on the same parallel as Bordeaux, but in the Southern hemisphere. So Margaret river is now establishing itself as one of, sort of the best, all I, you know, I’m obviously biased, but the best wine regions in Australia easily. And it’s getting up there in the world, even though I find only sort of 50 years old. And I guess me personally, in the vineyards that I source fruit from. They’re all very – what I look for. So LAS stands for luck, art and science. And what I’m looking for is sort of a combination of those things in a vineyard and, and really a vineyard has to have the art to it where a very unique sort of spot and has a lot of character to it. And that’s very hard to put into sort of scientific terms. And then and then it also has to be very healthy and that kind of thing, but the real sort of thing that grabs me as a vineyard, that’s unique, they’re generally quite small. They’re only like one, one or two hectares in size and they’ve got character or something that makes them stand out from other vineyards.
It’s interesting. Well, how, how did all of this get started?
I was traveling -well I studied a masters in wine making and then I traveled to the United States to work actually had to travel to Mexico at first to work in Mexico. And then from there went on to the United States and sort of saw a lot of techniques. And I like to give a bit more context. So my family has been making wine in Margaret river since sort of the beginning. So my grandparents started Cullen wines. And then my father suddenly a winery called Pierro. So I grew up in one. but if anyone, you know, sort of listening or watching is grown up in their sort of family vineyards, oh, sorry. In, in their family business you’ll know that you never get the good jobs as you know, working for your family. You always got to start from scratch. So like if you’re working in a restaurant and you just you’re washing dishes or so in the winery, it’s very similar to that.
Your you’re just you get the crap jobs, you basically are cleaning, weeding. So I never sort of saw the romance of it. Slowly I worked my way up and got into got into an area where I did find it quite interesting, you know, there was, you know, the blending, the tasting, even the business side of it the distribution, you know, being able to fly to Singapore and talk to people about the wines and talk about place. And so with that, I studied wine making at university and then went on to America. And with LAS Vino, I sort of came back and I’d seen a lot of things in America. And, and also traveling around that. I, and I really wanted to apply them. I came back and sort of talked to my father up here and I was like, Hey, you’ve got all these crazy ideas. I want to do wild ferments. I’m going to experiment with Portuguese grapes. Did it. And he’s like, no way can you do that with Pierro.
It wasn’t on brand. And I mean, and then sort of my second question was, oh, well, can I buy some grapes? And he’s like, well, no, you know, like selling out of all of our wine, you know, like I didn’t have grapes to sell. And so that led, you know, the, the fortunate thing about growing up down here was knowing different people who had these beautiful little vineyards and and sort of, it led to this of discovery of like finding really cool little sites. And, and I guess from the outset growing up with wine, and at that time in 2013, it was, I didn’t want to create the same wines that everyone else was creating. Like, I didn’t want to add to the sea of Cabernet, Merlot or add to the sea of sauvignon, sauvignon blanc. I wanted to create wines that were sort of challenging concepts of wine in Margaret river that were a little bit different, but still delicious, not just different for different sake. Right. And that sort of, yeah. And that’s sort of how it sort of all came up.
Blog Special: What do you think you’ve learnt from your parents that you are grateful for coming into this industry.
Ive learnt everything from my dad, aunty, grandparents. They were all winemakers with decades of experience. It’s a wrestle between a Constant flux to rebel against your parents but at the same time, in the background learning through them almost. I’ve learnt a lot of lessons from my dad. With his 40 years of experience, I’ve asked him for advice about things like natural fermentations, what works and what doesn’t. [NIC IS Born into what some might deem as Margaret River wine producing royalty—his father Dr. Michael Peterkin established the modern Pierro Winery and his mother Shelley comes from the illustrious Cullen family of Cullen Wines’.
So, why Margaret river. Out of everywhere.
Well, I grew up down here. So I had, like, I had family and I had a lot of friends down here and I knew the region, but excluding that say if I didn’t have family and I didn’t grow up in Margaret river, I think I probably would have been drawn to this region because of surfing and I love surfing. And it’s also a very beautiful region. You know, there’s, it’s a coastal excellence, it’s just beautiful beaches. There’s fresh produce fresh fish And a lot of the produce you get, you know the actual farm that it comes from. And, you know, the people making it. So there’s this sort of connection between the land and also what you were eating and what you were doing. So it’s a great place to live. And now, you know, I’ve got a little family and it’s a great place to raise a family. When I was younger, when I was 20, I wanted to get the hell out of here. You know, like, you know, it was boring, but now being a little bit older, it has sort of everything that I love in life. So..
Yeah, I think away from the city, life is a bit nice. Isn’t it?
Maybe during COVID. But I think it just, I think depends on where you’re at in life and where I’m at in life, but I love it in regards to winemaking though, and vineyards in that respect. I mean, Margaret river has sort of proven itself to be one of the best places to grow grapes. I mean, in Australia, like it’s, it’s very consistent. Like there’s, besides this year, this vintage was really hard, but other vintages it’s been, you know, the coastal influence, it regulates the temperature and it regulates the weather patterns. So you’re not getting these extreme weather events and with things like climate change, making those extreme weather events to occur more often. Yeah. It almost is a little bit of a buffer to that. And so it just makes life a lot easier. You know, the fruit quality coming in is incredible as opposed to, I don’t want to throw any other regions in Australia under a bus say hunter valley, they get a lot more rain during the growing season. So it’s a lot harder to do the wine-making sort of stuff.
Coastal Margaret River
Well, do you see potentially, I mean, you never say no to climate change, right. Because you never know what’s going to happen, but do you think you guys are kind of it’s in the back of your mind that, you know, it could happen someday?
I, I mean, definitely. I mean, I have no doubt climate change is happening now. And as it regards to like an industry, like wine-making where you’re dependent on weather to grow produce, you know, it, it’s actually really important. And I think a lot of the industry is starting to take notice of that and going okay for us to survive. We really need to think about this and think about ourselves as an industry and how we’re going to approach that. And I think that’s why you also see that sort of move towards organics and less pesticides and herbicides and potentially damaging things to the environment in which we live.
Yeah. I’ve, I’ve heard that, you know in France, you know, especially that they are looking at, you know, different varietals in the future years.
Yeah, definitely. And I mean, it’s very, I guess the hardest thing with climate change is extreme weather events. Yeah. It’s if, you know, if you said, okay, it’s going to get colder or it’s going to get warmer in your region, you can adapt to that quite easily with the varieties you plant or how you manage your vineyard. But by saying, you’re going to be able to get more extreme weather events. It’s very hard to manage that because it might be a flood, it might be a drought, it might be, you know, a storm, it might be hail, it might be frost and all of those have a severe impact to what you’re doing in the vineyard.
Yeah. Well, coming back to you, like, do you think you’re a perfectionist when it comes to your wine making style? Cause like a few wine makers we spoke to? I don’t know. They seem to have some part of, you know, being a perfectionist though in their character.
I always think that really good wine makers at anally retentive, honestly let the, every very good winemaker I know is to some extent a perfectionist, you have to be, I think. I think you have, it’s something that I don’t want to be if you know what I mean. Like it’s, I would love to be able to not. Because I find myself microme. Yeah. And I find myself micromanaging stuff where, and I really don’t want that to be part of my character, but you know, even things like hand waxing bottles. I’ll be doing it and then someone will help me hand wax the bottles and then I’ll be watching them being like, no, you’ve got to turn it a little bit more to that and dip it a little bit deeper, you know? And it’s just like, oh, it Doesn’t even matter!
You’re that manager!
Exactly. And I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be, I do think- I think you don’t have to be a perfectionist. You have to care. You know, you have to care about the products that you make too. And I think what a lot of winemakers and especially ones that you would have interviewed, because I mean, you would have, I’m assuming you’re interviewing people that you enjoy their wines. Yeah. That’d be people where the wine is a reflection of who the wine maker is. And so they don’t want it to taste like crap because then it’s a reflection of the person. So you find yourself caring a lot about the final product. And I guess, you know, with say natural wines and that kind of, you know, movement in wine. For me, it’s not really natural or not natural. It’s really like the delineation of winemakers that care and wine makers that don’t, and you get products that are, you know, 10 or $20 bottles of wine that have no soul or personality or anything. They don’t reflect the vineyard. They don’t reflect the winemaker. They don’t reflect anything. It’s just trying to make a commodity to a certain price. And I guess every good, really good winemaker that I know that makes wines, that I want to drink is the opposite of that. They’re making ones that express the vineyard, express, you know, sometimes the wine making, but really express that they care about it. And yeah, that comes across it. The extent of that is perfectionism.
I think passion is the word for it. Isn’t it?
That’s a much better word, yes. To summarize passion’s a better one, but I don’t think I wouldn’t do any job if I wasn’t passionate about it. You know, you have to be passionate, otherwise today is just another drag. Oh, you know, it’s another day
LAS vineyard doesen’t own any of the vineyards, so you source the grapes from around the Margaret river region. So what sparked that?
Yeah. It generally starts with the vineyard. I’ll give you a good example. And this vineyard isn’t in Margaret river. It’s a little bit further north, about a hundred kilometers north kind of in between Margaret river and Perth. And I wasn’t really interested in making Grenache and you know, it wasn’t on my radar. And then one of my friends, who’s a winemaker said, oh, you know, there’s some grapes for sale at this vineyard. It’s a really interesting vineyard. You should go check it out. And so I went for a drive, up to this vineyard and it was like, nothing I’d ever seen, you know, like it was, it was all Bush vines. It had no irrigation. It had, they didn’t really manage it. It just kind of they let, they didn’t even really spray it. They spray twice a year.
Cause it’s so windy and hot there. And the grapes sit about this far off the ground, maybe like six inches off the ground. And as far as the vineyards go, I was thinking, well, wow, I’ve never seen anything like this in Western Australia. I’ve seen it a lot in Spain and places that are even in the Rhone, but never in Western Australia. So even if I stuff up the wine-making, it’s still going to make something that’s really interesting and unique because it’s come from a place that’s really interesting and unique. And it also sits at about 350 meters altitude. Okay. So I guess that’s how that vineyard came along. The pirate blend vineyard. I mean, that’s a different story, but I worked in Portugal when I was 17 out of school. I could get a winery over there and then went on to university, studying, I got allocated touriga National as my grape that I had to look after. And so I ended up making a Touriga there. And so all of these spots in life just randomly threw me little bones. And then when I came home, somebody said, oh, there’s this vineyard that has touriga nationality. Oh, there’s two vineyards in WA (Western Australia), but it’s the only vineyard in Margaret river that has it. And he’s, you know, the fruit’s really good. The vines are 40 years old. Are you interested? He’s looking for someone to sell. That’s like hands up. Yeah, definitely sign me up. And I guess that also came out from the thing that we were talking about before of not wanting to make generic, boring wines, making wines that are a little bit different and touriga is a variety that has the same body as Cabernet with silkier tannins and it’s, and it’s sort of like the same weight and it’s got really perfumed.
I was like, oh, that’d be stupid Not to. And our climate in here is sort of similar to Portugal. So I was like, this could work and it’s kind of stuck. And that’s how that sort of vineyard came along. The organic biodynamic Chenin and Cabernet vineyard- that just came about because they hired me as their consultant winemaker. And I saw that they had excess fruit and I was like, yeah, okay. I’m more than happy to take some of the excess fruit. And then in the first vintage, which is 2018 from that vineyard, the wine that came out of that, the vineyards itself is completely unmanaged. They don’t do anything. They just spray it six times a year. Cause you have to cause it’s quite humid in Margaret river. And then they let animals sort of roam around the vineyard. They have pigs and case cows and sheep and the vines just kind of sprawl everywhere.
And so I, when I first started with my winemaking, head-on the thought was, this is not going to work. You know, this is, this is done. This is camp-you know, it’s telling the Gaza, you’re going to have to change your vineyard. This is, it doesn’t look like the vines you’ve got behind you, for example, in your little thing, but then tasting this fruit and making the resulting wine. It was like nothing I’d ever made before. And so there was something about it, whether it’s biodynamics, whether it’s organics, whether it’s just the site or the animal influence, I’m not sure, but it was something about that vineyard. So yeah. That’s how that come about. So that’s three examples. Yeah.
Blog Special: Is it true, In years when fruits are not up to par, you don’t produce a vintage—there was no Chardonnay in 2014. And when you come into fruit surpluses that you think might make interesting wine, you have the flexibility to do one-offs, like a Cabernet Franc in 2013 and a Nebbiolo in 2015.
Well, you cant mange fruit yourself without a vineyard. But being a perfectionist myself. In good years you can take in more fruit . And in years which aren’t so great, you can alleviate that. It’s a plus point of L.A.S’s production. We wouldn’t wanna make bad wines. 2021 was a hard year for grape growing: you want it to be wet during winter, dry during summer and no rain. But for 2021, during growing season three were 3 downpours o f rain which that could very much lead rot, dew, botritis and it’s hard to get to good quality wine.
All the grapes are done through, hand picking, sorting grapes are all by hand so a tough year like this – we eliminated 10-15% of grapes during hand picking due to rot compared to 1% in good years . another 10% during sorting. You know what they say: If you want something done give to a busy person. Wine makers have to be on the ball this year. Attention to detail. Compared to a good year where its not too stressful
Well there’s a lot of bits and pieces that kind of it literally, I mean, it’s luck, isn’t it?
Yeah. I mean there’s no, there’s not a, there’s no method to find it. The video it’s really just, I reckon a great idea for an app is almost like Airbnb for vineyards and vineyards on one side and wine makers on the other side, if anyone wants to invent that in Singapore, I’ll use it. You can add that. It’s like Tinder, isn’t it. I made a Tinder for grapes.
Well, it’s really Interesting because like you hear about wine makers such as yourself going, you know, to different continents, you know, learning and experiencing, and then bringing that all back and you know, creating it’s refreshing to see what comes out of it.
Definitely. And I mean, I guess most ideas, not even in wine and they come from generally the merging of things that don’t often meet, you know, new ideas. So I think wine has a beautiful, beautiful thing about it where winemakers travel and then they, it’s such an interesting thing. Apparently it’s not the same with the cheese, for example, like wine making, it’s a very open profession, you know, winemakers are more than happy to share their techniques and share their craft with other winemakers. Whereas other professions are quite closed. And I think this sort of reasoning a little bit, you know, maybe it’s historic, but also winemakers never believe that you can emulate, you know, you can’t copy a wine, even if you know the exact same technique because you’d have to also have the exact same grapes. There’s just too many factors that go into wine, that to, to emulate it. So you could copy it, technique that, but that’s not going to make the same wine if you don’t have the same exact same grapes from the exact same vineyard. So it’s a very open, which I love and I love when people work for us and they talk to you about what they’ve experienced and you show them your ideas and you kind of bump heads and figure something out and try to create something completely new.
If you have one favorite. I hate to ask this question, but if you have one favorite to pick out of all your creations so far, what do you think it would be?
I know it’s, it’s, it’s hard to hear, but I think the one that I really like, and I don’t think it got to Singapore was- two years ago, we fermented the same one, which was a Pinot Noir rose using the native yeasts that we had extracted from native Australian flowers. And so we steep sort of a base of wine with a whole lot of the same flower waited for a natural ferment to start and then we put the same, basically we use three different, two different flowers and one as the natural ferment on the same wine. And it was a barrel of each and the wine was completely different. And that was just because of the yeast on the flower, on the actual native flower.
And so for me, I love that because I think it was the first of its kind in wine and it was the first of its kind in Australia and it was using luck, art and science. And it was something that people were really interested in because there’s a lot of yeast on flowers themselves. So yeah, it was I guess that sort of little project was really fun.
Would you do that again?
I dunno, like it was kind of dumb. Like I kind of I’ve I achieved what I set out to achieve. So it was an experiment and I don’t, I, there was a lot of work. That’s why I probably wouldn’t do it again.
Is it true that you kind of set out for L.A.S to be like a three-year plan? You didn’t think of it as long-term, but now you are in a fifth, fifth, sixth year, seventh – 2013?
2013 Was the first year that we produced.
Almost eight then. Yeah.
It’s, it’s crazy. You know, like I started with, you know, it wasn’t even, it wasn’t a business idea. It was more just like, I was just interested in making wine and I didn’t have an avenue in which to do it. And I wanted to make wine with grapes, like Touriga or Chenin Blanc. And so I started the project and I was like, well, you know, like I’m happy to do it. And then, you know, the crazy thing was after three or four years, I was like, oh wow. Like I’m actually giving myself an income. Like I never thought that was going to happen. You know? And now, you know, like. I’m doing it full time and I’ve got, you know, I paid by self and I’m like, oh wow, this is actually working. But I said, I didn’t set out in that way.
It was more just as an avenue. I was like, well, I think this is an interesting thing to discover and I’m sure other people are interested in it as opposed to just having another Semilion Sauvignon Blanc or another Cabernet Merlot. It was like, okay, well, I’m sure there’s other people out there that are interested in discovery in regards to varieties. And for me, I think, you know, LAS Vino ended up being great and it’s, you know, now all across the world and all across Australia, there’s a real traction where it’s now just selling out in sort of two months out for less for me. And I love it, you know, like it’s great. And it gives me an avenue of experimentation, but also like discovery. And I get a lot of fulfillment from it.
Mm well, other than world domination, where do you see LAS growing? I mean, in terms of, you know, any grape types that you’re thinking of.
I think, I think you touched on it before with perfectionism at the moment I do about a thousand dozen. And so it isn’t that much. And that’s about 30, that’s about 30 tons of fruit and about, about 60 barrels. So with those 60 barrels, I can do that myself. Every barrel I could, you know, taste and look at and I can, you know. More than that. And it starts getting, that’s kind of, and I’ve talked about it with friends in the wine industry that is that’s about the point where then you need to start employing people, and then you need to start, you need to kind of either go from 30 to a hundred tons because, you know, so I think as far as tonnage and show state and size it’ll stay the same. Okay. In regards to discovery, it’s always just looking for new things or new varieties. Like there’s a method that I’m interested in doing next year about soaking grapes, like white grapes in ocean water for 24 hours and through osmosis. You can extract water comes out of the grape sort of concentrating it. And then you may not need to use preservatives. And this method has been done in Sicily and there’s an Italian winemaker was telling me about it this year and so kind of interested in exploring that as an idea. I mean, you guys are surrounded by sea.
Yeah. And a, of people that come to Margaret river mentioned that they get a, I think I’ve got a sailor palate, so I don’t see it as much, but they get a saline character in a lot of the wines, even the Cabernet. So I’m interested in exploring that as a method, as far as varieties go. Maybe in the great Southern now, which is an in Margaret river- a little bit further south. The Riesling out of there is really incredible. And I’ve sort of just stumbled upon a little vineyard down there. So maybe like a Riesling a tank fermented. Beautiful. And that vineyard a little Organic vineyard. So, yeah, that’s exciting.
Just a couple more questions before we end the the podcast. So the wine scene here in Singapore it’s actually increasing so more, you know, Gen Y millennials, we’re actually trying new wines, but I think one of the, the point is that. We’re just trying to convince people to step out of their comfort zone. So, you know, step away from my Cabernet Sauvignon. Like you said earlier, you know, just new varietals. Do you have any tips or advice on, you know, kind of exploring/ breaking through those boundaries?
From what I’ve read. It’s a little bit like music and a little bit like food, like prior to the age of 40 people are very willing to try new things. And then after the age of 40, you kind of get set in your ways. This is what I like. This is what I’m drinking, or this is what I’m listening to. And I mean, I guess, I guess before you hit 40, just try as many as you can. That’s my (advice), I don’t know. It’s a weird thing. So if I ever go out drinking wines, I’ll always try the weirdest wine on the wine list. And it’s kind of fun, but if everyone asks me to pick the one and I’m kind of the worst person for it, because everybody’s like, oh, this is crap. You know, this is so what’s this like a skin contact wine from the Canary islands? Like, what the hell – I’m like, Hey, life’s short, you know, have you ever tried one from the Canary islands? Like I’m interested, you know, so I don’t have any advice. I’ve just said that, you know, life’s too short to drink shit wine and to drink the same thing every day.
BLOG Special: So what’s the idea behind F him chardonnay?
Its the truth. This was created before he got elected. We were watching his interview on anti immigration etc. He was talking and I was wondering where my wines come from. they were all diff countries – corks from Portugal, Tractors from Italy, we have gays helping us. We kept going with a diverse list of people and countries and race and ethnicities. Wines is the ultimate product of trade and immigration and it’s valuable. Drinking a bottle of wine is the ultimate expression.