Despite solid winemaking roots, Nic Peterkin was never going to rest on his family’s laurels. He created LAS Vino to forge his own path, and the results are testament to his drive and talent.
My first memory of Nic Peterkin harks back to the Wilyabrup Descent, a fiercely fought race between teams from the local wineries to transport an empty barrel down the Wilyabrup Brook. It was mischief and mayhem at its best. The presentations were being made from the first-floor balcony of the Pierro winery. I looked up six metres and saw a 10-year-old Nic Peterkin suspended precariously on the end of a twig-like branch totally absorbed in it all. Not much has changed in the 20 years since.
Peterkin’s parents have been involved in the wine industry from the pioneering days in Margaret River. His mother Shelley is a daughter of Di and Kevin Cullen. His father Mike was one of the few qualified winemakers working in the region in the 1970s and 80s, and founded Pierro. For young Nic, the everyday life of the winery was part of the backdrop against which his life was played out.
Peterkin has had an impressive academic career, 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; an MBA from UWA, which included terms studying at the London School of Economics and Barcelona’s ESADE. In 2014, he completed an intensive course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors – no doubt useful for his stint on the Cullen board.
For seven years, before he finished his studies at UWA, Peterkin worked at Pierro in cellar door sales, as a cellarhand, and in the vineyard. From 2009, he has worked at Pierro as a vintage winemaker and as operations manager in the vineyard. He has also taken on special projects to do with winery and marketing logistics and the development of the website.
Given his involvement in Pierro and the likelihood that he would eventually take over the iconic winery, why did Peterkin decide to start up LAS Vino in 2013? He explains that his friends from schooldays were builders and chippies who believed that you were judged on what you built, so he relished the challenge of building something from ground up. He was also aware that, in the best family businesses, the kids worked for a time away from the family.
LAS Vino gave him the opportunity to use some of the Pierro facilities while creating a separate entity in which he is responsible for producing, packaging and marketing, as well as the logistics and finances. (The LAS? “Luck Art Science”.)
His first consideration, he asserts, is quality. “The benchmark in Australia is so high that people won’t buy your wines unless they like the taste,” he states.
Secondly, he is looking for difference, “If I can’t answer the question ‘what makes this wine unique?’ then I won’t make it.”
Thirdly, he wants to make wines with minimal intervention (except maybe a little sulphur) because he feels this allows them to best express place and time. However, if it is a choice between this and quality, then quality comes first.
Peterkin insists that he won’t do anything just to be different. “It’s important to have a scientific understanding of any experimentation,” he says. Having the fruit source is also vital. He couldn’t find exceptional chardonnay in 2014 and so there was no chardonnay from that vintage.
In addition to a 2015 LAS Vino Chardonnay, there’s currently a 2015 Chenin Blanc Dynamic Blend, a 2015 Albino Pinot and a 2014 Portuguese Pirate Blend (of touriga nacional, tinta cão and sousão). These performed exceptionally well at the most recent Gourmet Traveller WINE panel tasting. Packaging is imaginative, combining eye-catching bottle designs with the use of Pro Cork and glass stoppers. Production is around 200 cases, and the wines are available in London, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne and Western Australia.
It’s Nic Peterkin’s drive, thoughtful winemaking, ability to blend a scientific approach with a sense of fun, determination to forge his own path, and the joy he takes in tackling the diverse chores that face a small winery which make him the ideal recipient of this year’s Young Winemaker Medal.