Nic Peterkin, 31 years young and recipient of the Gourmet Traveller Young Winemaker of the Year 2016, takes a while to ponder which of the four wines under his label L.A.S. Vino best personifies himself. The Australian laments, “It’s like picking a favourite child!” But after a brief rumination, he concludes that it is The Pirate Blend. And when you read Peterkin’s very own winemaker’s description of this enigmatic red wine blend, it is easy to see why.
“PIRATES WERE THE OUTLAWS, THE ONES WHO BROKE THE RULES, THE FIGHTERS, THE ONES WHO LUST AFTER LIFE WITH GUSTO.”
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’ renown—Peterkin didn’t always see himself becoming a winemaker.
“I tried to fight it my whole youth,” he says, recounting how the physical labour of working in the vineyards and the winery as a child was more of a chore and means to extra pocket money. But it also gave him the financial means to travel the world. After he finished high school, Peterkin went around Europe and ended up working in Portugal as a cellar rat in a big winery, labouring during the 6am to 6pm shift for a paltry €2 per hour. It was rough, but every night he and his fellow cellar rats were allowed to drink a bottle of Touriga Nacional, and that made it all better.
After more winery stints in the U.S. and Mexico, Peterkin went back to Australia brandishing a newfound interest in wine, having been exposed to new grape varieties and wine making techniques. Further armed with degrees in science and commerce from the University of Western Australia (UWA); a Masters in Oenology from the University of Adelaide with awards for academic achievement in both years; the AWRI Advanced Wine Assessment Course; and an MBA from UWA, Peterkin started L.A.S. Vino in 2013 “on a whim because I had this urge to create”.
With L.A.S. Vino, Peterkin aims to be “the best at being different”, making wines of uncommon grapes in styles not easily found in Margaret River by using Luck, Art, and Science—three vital components in making wine and what “L.A.S.” stands for. Through understanding the science and knowing the tools of wine making, and having access to a high grade facility at Pierro to experiment with the art of wine making, Peterkin is able to be different and make wines at a high quality. How about luck? “Luck is what you make out of it,” he says with a grin. More than just being different, Peterkin stresses, L.A.S. Vino is an avenue for him to make delicious wine in a way his own generation can relate to.
“THEY DRANK WITH A PASSION THAT WAS TRULY MAGNIFICENT. FOR PIRATES, LIQUOR WAS THE SAVIOUR; IT SOOTHED THE HEAT OF THE SUN AND MADE THE DARK NIGHTS BRIGHTER.”
L.A.S. Vino’s portfolio currently comprises four wines. The Albino PNO is a pretty pink rosé made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and is what Peterkin refers to as “strawberries and cream in wine-form”. Inspired by the amazing Chenin Blancs of South Africa and France, and wanting to make an Australian Chenin Blanc that is not just “sweet nothingness”, Peterkin sourced grapes from low-yielding thirty-year-old Chenin vines, naturally fermented them with a bit of Viognier to create the textural, full-bodied Chenin Blanc Dynamic Blend (CBDB). Meanwhile, the Jerusalem’s Grace Chardonnay brings together fruit from two opposing Chardonnay vineyards—one with red gravel and clay, the other with gravelly loam. Cold pressed, naturally fermented in French barriques and left to mature for 10 months, the wine is bottle unfiltered to give it structure, complexity and elegance.
Closest to Peterkin’s heart is The Pirate Blend. The grapes for The Pirate Blend are selected from 40-year old low yielding vines planted in gravelly loam soils that overlook Geographe Bay in the north of Margaret River. The wine comprises three Portuguese grape varieties: Touriga Nacional for structure, depth and flavour; Tinta Cao for aroma and finesse; and Sousao for colour and acidity. The unique Calvados bottle shape is a nod to the grapes being traditional varieties for port. Peterkin fell in love with Touriga Nacional, one of the most common grape varieties in Portugal, during his time there and felt that, given the similar climates between the warm European country and Australia, the grape should work just as well on his home soil: “There are a lot of people working with Touriga Nacional, but no one (in Margaret River) is using it in a red blend.” In a red ruby hue, L.A.S. Vino’s The Pirate Blend displays an intoxicating nose and palate of spices, dark berries and chocolate. Its silky tannins give way to a long, complex and intriguing finish.
Peterkin himself doesn’t own any vineyards and all the fruits for his wines are sourced from around the Margaret River region. He explains, “I don’t enjoy managing vineyards and I don’t have the land for it. L.A.S. Vino is about changing all the time and being dynamic. Getting a new vineyard each year is like a blank canvas; I get to learn and think on my feet.”
In years when fruits are not up to par, Peterkin simply doesn’t produce a vintage—there was no Chardonnay in 2014. And when he comes into fruit surpluses that he thinks might make interesting wine, he has the flexibility to do one-offs, like a Cabernet Franc in 2013 and a Nebbiolo in 2015. He’s even worked on a collaboration with a friend and winemaker in Barossa Valley to produce a Syrah in 2015.
“THIS BLEND IS AN ODE TO THOSE SALTY SEA DOGS WE LEFT BEHIND AND THOSE STILL SAILING.”
Peterkin admits that as such a small and young wine producer, he is riding on Margaret River’s reputation as a quality wine producing region. “The big benefit of making wine here, and on a larger scale Australia, is that standards are so high. Our wines match up to some of the best wines in the world because we are pushing each other so much, and we are creating a movement where a growing number of people are getting on board,” he notes, refusing to take sole credit for L.A.S. Vino’s success and accolades.
This movement he refers to is a new wave of wine makers and younger generation of wine drinkers who are not afraid to challenge the traditional wine norms in Australia. Peterkin muses, “I guess L.A.S. Vino is one of probably less than a dozen new-generation producers in Margaret River. I have a lot of respect for what everyone else does but what I try to do is varieties and blends that no one else is doing.”
He elaborates, “I never wanted L.A.S Vino to be about me; I wanted it to be a reflection of the people drinking it. I want people to have The Pirate Blend or the CBDB and say ‘This wine is interesting and it represents who I am.’ I’d like to make wine drinking more real and applicable for a whole generation of people who maybe would have never thought of drinking wine.”
“THOSE WILLING TO BREAK THE RULES AND LIVE A LIFE ACCORDING TO NOTHING BUT PASSION AND THE PURSUIT OF PERSONAL DESIRE.”
Peterkin lets in that L.A.S. Vino was originally meant to be a three-year project. It’s now been five years and he’s even laid down some long-term plans. On top of applying for a cellar door license, Peterkin is also looking to get his wines into new markets and countries. “The driving force for me as a person and for L.A.S. Vino is the art and joy of creation. As long as I get enjoyment from creating, I’ll keep going. As soon as it gets boring or the same, I’ll look for a new project,” he shares.
Alluding to the men of the seas he named The Pirate Blend after, Peterkin answers “World Domination” when asked what the future for L.A.S. Vino holds. On a more serious note, he says, “There are a lot of cool grape varieties that I’ve tried and would love to make wine from, like Mencia and Trousseau; there’s a lot of fruit I’d be interested in exploring outside of Margaret River, for example from the Great Southern. The plan for the next few years is to discover these new flavours and discover new methods that aren’t being used and try to create new flavours that haven’t been explored.”
L.A.S Vino (www.lasvino.com) wines are available at Bottles & Bottles: www.bottlesandbottles.com.sg