We met a lot of winemakers over the course of this Grape To Glass series, and one aspect of winemaking we really came to appreciate the informal and lo-fi approach found in a lot of new boutique winemakers, we found that nobody embodied this aesthetic and philosophy quite like LS Merchants. Started in 2013 and making their official debut in 2015, LS Merchants are a small, young wine label run by winemaker Dylan Arvidson and his partner, marketer and administrator, Taryn Hogan. They put out very small batches, often just a couple of barrels of any release, of wines which are fun, friendly and unpretentious.
Dylan and Taryn even set out to bring a little grounding to tasting notes, the poster for unapproachable wine: They brought along a bag filled with produce, spices and herbs, giving the crowd a tangible example of the aromas Dylan believed he found in their wines. Taryn told us that the first instalment of their aroma kit came during a local ‘battle of the winemakers’ competition in Margaret river where winemakers held side-by-side tastings and sold their wines by the glass at the bar. The couple had just made a rose and they handed out strawberry and cream lollies as a trump card.
LS Merchant’s branding is immediately striking. Their labels manage to be fairly minimal all the while showcasing local artists in a form of collaboration. The LS logo was drawn unprompted by Taryn one evening, and Dylan reports seeing it and immediately deciding that had to go on a bottle. The ‘Merchants’ in LS Merchants represents their faith in those around them, from their ability to source grapes from all manner of different growers, to their collaborative labelling.
Dylan and Taryn
Friendly, down to earth, and prone to giving their wines names like Red Drank and Da Bois, Dylan and Taryn were lovely and fascinating. When they arrived at Grape to Glass, they had spent the day jumping between bars and wine stores, and had been pleasantly surprised by such a unified positive response, and by having sold half of their entire stock of Malbec already that day.
Dylans winemaking journey began as a highschooler in Geelong when he met a winemaker and found himself impressed by the winemaker’s lifestyle. “I thought to myself, I like travel, I like wine.. I like goon”. His ambition was almost cut short however when he snuck his way into a sensory course at seventeen and tried fifteen wines, all of which tasted like lemon and little else. Dylan kept at it, however, travelling extensively throughout his winemaking career and ultimately settling in Margaret River, and exciting prospect not out of the country, but seemingly a world away from his roots back East.
Made in very small batches, often just a barrel or two, LS Merchant wines are boutique, interesting, and often sell out almost as soon as they are produced. We began our evening with the Da Bois. Dylan had made a successful Fumé Blanc in 2014, but when he returned in 2016 he found the Fumé label had gotten a little catchy. He began looking for another french word for his barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, and stumbled upon ‘Bois’, the french translation for wood. This fun little wine is incredibly light, easy summer drinking, as Dylan said “Take it to the park, take it to a nightclub, its Da Bois, it can go anywhere.”
We rounded off the whites with the Vermentino, a similarly smashable, spritsy and citrusy wine, with a little more weight and nuance. The wine had been bottled just two months beforehand, and we couldn’t get enough of the beautiful, crisp wine.
Moving onto the reds, we tried their Malbec, a surprisingly deep and chocolatey wine with liquorice notes. Finishing the official tastings with their 'Red Drank’ red blend, a wine Dylan had blended ‘almost entirely by instinct,’ and which ‘just sort of happened.’ The Touriga Nacional forward Red Drank had us craving Italian food to go with its refined, crunchy flavours.
Taryn and Dylan brought one last wine, their Mataro, an elegant and delicious wine, so delicious we found we’d finished ours almost before we’d written any notes.
Grape To Glass
This Grape To Glass took over the beautiful Young Love Mess Hall, a beautiful little space which floods with natural light during the day, then falls into a cosy warmth during the evening. We took over the entire space, and feasted on delicious cheeses and bites whilst making the most of the charming space with a bunch of lovely people. This beautiful evening was a great way to close out the first series of Grape To Glass. If you’ve come along, we’ve had a great time with you, and if you missed this round, we do hear word of a second series coming along soon.
When a trendy and polished cafe opened in Maylands, we saw the word ‘woodfired’ and were immediately curious. When we tried their immaculate sourdough rye we were sold, but nothing could have prepared us for our chance to see baker and owner Andrew Ritchie’s baking process which involves an enormous century old oven, binfulls of reclaimed jarrah, and absolutely no shortcuts.
The Woodfired Bakery
Around the year 1920, German baker Georg Rossbach had the oven built by the Australian company Metters Ltd. The oven is an enormous brick structure the size of a small bedroom, it is insulated with sand and closer resembles a brick shed than a contemporary oven. On the outside edge of the oven, metal reinforcing struts have bowed out from years of intense heat expanding the oven. For many years Georg Rossbach and his son baked bread while his wife and daughter became the first women in WA to deliver bread, riding a pushbike throughout Maylands and out as far as Balcatta.
The Rossbachs were interned on Rottnest island when the second world war broke out, and leased out the bakery. They returned after the war ended and sold the bakery not long afterward. The bakery was sold several times thereafter and it’s last owner, Ted Aldridge, retired and shut up the bakery in 1967.
Experienced in using similar ovens, and disappointed to see more and more wood fired bakeries shut up shop, in late 2010 Andrew Ritchie decided to look for a wood fired oven of his own. He figured a bakery wouldn’t show up too far from an old city centre, and so wouldn’t be far from the train line. Being from Darlington, he followed the Midland line, and after passing a few ovens which had been demolished or repurposed, he eventually stumbled on a cafe which were using their back room as a gallery space. In this gallery space was the oven Andrew had been looking for, and after striking up an agreement with the cafe owners and three months of restoration, Andrew completed his first bake in 2011.
Andrew spent some time baking for farmers markets and direct to wholesalers, he struck up a deal to sell his bread at the cafe which hosted his oven. But the end goal was always to sell out of his own place. This May, some 50 metres away from the bakery, the Woodfired Baker cafe opened.
The contemporary fit out of the cafe may be deceptive at first but the staff proudly detail the rustic process. The design of the shop was made possible by Andrew putting his trust into talented people, happening upon a craftsman and designer who both saw eye to eye with his ideals. The history of the bakery is detailed on the back wall of the bakery beside a large sepia tone picture of Andrew using the oven in it’s current state.
The biggest seller in the cafe is the bread, but amongst it is a series of beautiful pastries. There are no cronuts or fad foods in sight, but classic, well-considered foods done right. We’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t mention that the coffee, roasted by Pound roastery, was well prepared and delicious.
“Anything which is being added by commercial bakeries, is being added to speed things along,” said Andrew. His bread making process involves just four ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt and a wild yeast colony which Andrew has been cultivating since 1998. The process begins with Andrew and his team milling their own West Australian Rye, their traditional stone milling process leaves in many of the fibres and nutrients which are filtered out of commercial breads, resulting bread is not only lighter and more textural, but better for you.
In the early days of the bakery Andrew made everything himself and was “Running around like a yoyo”. Now putting out over 1,500 loaves a week, he’s been able to employ other bakers including Dimitri, his talented patisserie chef. Much like the breads, their desserts and pastries follow traditional methods with no shortcuts. You won’t find any cronuts or sickly sweet fad foods, just simple, rustic desserts done well.
In fact, when we asked about fad foods, Andrew’s rebuttal seemed to perfectly sum up everything we loved about the Woodfired Baker, and everything we look for in the producers we seek out: “You don’t need anything highfalutin or gimmicky, If you do things well, people are going to come back.”
Ministry of Clouds
Bernice and Julian are the winemaking duo behind the McLaren Vale label Ministry of Clouds. Having had "No relatives to leave us grapes we didn’t like,” they relish in the freedom to source grapes throughout their home in McLaren Vale, the Clare Valley, and as far as Tasmania.
Both self-professed control freaks, the name of their label comes from a motto and their own ‘life lesson'. Ministry represents the control they demand in their joint 30 years of winemaking and marketing experience. Control which is even more present when making wine under their own names. Clouds, which are ever evolving, represent the risk, their future, and freedom, and remind them that even under the most stringent conditions, grapes are always a bit of a gamble. The name Ministry of Clouds is their resolution to keep the certain and the uncertain in check with one and other, and "at the end of the day, to just have a glass of wine and relax.”
The Ministry of Clouds label came out in 2012 with six wines, a surprisingly large range owed to their decision to make a clean break and never have to divide their attention between working their own label and working for others.
Bernice and Julian
Friendly, camera shy, and hilarious. Bernice and Julian were the life of the party. Julian introduced their wines by saying that “Everything we show you tonight is funded by a mortgage on our house," and, "Our dog back at home hopes you love it.” We did.
Bernice told us that before working together, she and Julian had made “Quite fierce competitors,” in the wine industry. The two were frank about a lot of debate going on in the process of their winemaking together, all in order to ultimately come out with the sort of wines they are proud to sell and love to drink.
Something which both Bernice and Julian stressed was the relationship between wine and sense of place, they spoke about the soils, climate and elevation of the numerous vineyards from which they sourced their grapes, and found themselves fond of the tendency for old world winemakers to celebrate not who made their wines, but where the wines were made.
While their grapes come from different locations, their wines all show a similar desire and direction and each of the wines we tasted were acid-forward, light, complex and dry enough that each sip had us ready for the next. They stood in stark opposition to the number of blubbery, ‘shapeless' wines which can come to dominate Australian wine stores.
This Grape To Glass kicked off with their Riesling, a punchy, citrusy number which we couldn't get enough of. Julian told us that riesling was a very transparent grape which shows you where it’s been grown. Because of this they are sure to only pick as high quality fruit as they can get, and from vineyards they are very proud of. In this case this includes one very old and high grown Clare Valley vineyard they are particularly proud of, and from which they take the entire crop.
Moving onto their reds, we began with the Grenache, "Grenache delivers what Pinot promises" said Bernice, before adding "I have to be careful saying that in Victoria, because they do some amazing Pinots." We found the Grenache full of refined berry flavours, both was subtle and beautiful. We followed with their Tempranillo Grenache, a light, chuggable blend which we could see ourselves drinking all night. Bernice told us that they often work backwards from wines that they love, and this particular blend was born of a holiday in Europe and one particular night of drinking gin and red wine until the early morning.
We finished the night with their Shiraz. Unexpectedly refined and subtle, we were taken back to when fellow South Australian Winemaker David Bowley of the Adelaide Hills distinguished his wine as "Not your dad's shiraz," and indeed this too had none of the boisterousness which has come to define so many run-of-the-mill shiraz wines. A portion of the grapes which form this wine were grown in the couple's own recently acquired vineyard, the dry grown, low yield, high intensity vines are from their acquisition which they "Couldn't make it taste juicy and ripe even if we wanted to," are blended with Blewitt Springs Mataro grapes which sit in a deep sand and provide fragrance and lift.
Grape To Glass
We spent this Grape To Glass event in the laneway whiskey bar Helvetica. We've always loved the brilliant Scotch selections and the dim, moody lighting at Helvetica, and were delighted to be taking over the upstairs area for an intimate wine tasting. The staff were lovely to us, and the food delicious. We had nothing but good times.
This was the penultimate instalment of this round of Neighbourhood Event Co.'s Grape To Glass series. We finish off with LS Merchants at Young Love Mess Hall on September 21st. We hope to see you there!
See the rest of our coverage of Grape To Glass.