The idea for South by South West was born on the road. In the quest for knowledge beyond the familiar and that gleaned off the page, partners Liv Maiorana and Mijan Patterson embarked on an experience-gathering world wine trip in 2013, taking in vintages in California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, as well as in the South of France, Tuscany and Sicily. That trip crystallised a desire for their own label based in Margaret River that knit together the approaches they had seen to viticulture and winemaking, as well as the cultural connection with winegrowing. Today, they source fruit from across Western Australian vineyards, as well as managing sites, making uncluttered renditions of both classic and emerging varieties, including vintage and varietal blends and an ever-evolving orange wine project.
While on the road, the pair created the South by South West brand, and they also defined it philosophically: “We started SXSW in 2016,” says Maiorana. “What made us take this leap of faith was purely the fact that we wanted to make wines our way, with fruit we wanted to work with. As good as it has been – and still is – making wines for other labels, knowing we have full control from fruit to how it is sold is the ultimate.”
Maiorana has a degree in both organic chemistry and engineering, while Patterson is a graphic designer by trade. While Maiorana takes the lead in the winery and Patterson in the vineyard, both are deeply engaged across both spheres. As Patterson says: “I love the process from start to finish – walking the vineyards, crushing the grapes, tasting the ferments, blending the wine, and most of all seeing that wine get bottled into a finished product. As a graphic designer, I also find the creative aspects of winemaking and marketing intriguing and ever changing.”
“Being nimble is one of the perks of our model, so we are always open to pick up any great fruit we are presented with at the eleventh hour, and we aren’t afraid of blends – we embrace them!”
For a venture only founded in 2016, the pair have made an impressive collection of wines across a spray of varieties and sites, with the portfolio including skin-contact whites, field blends and a curious blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and tempranillo from two regions that was blended across three vintages.
SXSW also celebrates varietal wines from established varieties, along with those emerging, and that dip into less-common grapes looks to deepen further. Given Liv’s Italian heritage and previous vintages in Italy, we have always had a strong pull towards Italian varieties and styles and are steering the SXSW ship slowly in this direction a little more,” says Patterson.
And though SXSW has a large and ever-changing portfolio of wines, the volume of any given wine is decidedly compact. The intricacy of sourcing and micro-elaboration is testament to their desire to uncover the viticultural secrets of the southwest, and then bring them to bottle in as unforced and individual a way as possible, expressing grape and territory.
“It has been four vintages since we started converting the vineyard, and we are really starting to see an improvement in overall health of the vineyard and ecosystems, which has translated to increased quality of fruit.”
Over the last couple of years, the brand has been in a growth phase, with the pair securing more small parcels of fruit while also managing some sites themselves, with them now working with around 100 tonnes of fruit each vintage. “Most of our fruit is still coming from Margaret River where we are based, however we have started getting some great fruit allocations also from outside of Margaret River – Pemberton, Swan Valley and Geographe,” says Patterson. “This has enabled us to gain more experience and exposure to a varying range of varieties and growing conditions.”
While the pair are planning for further growth of their brand, South by South West will remain focused as a small-batch producer. “We will stay as hands on as we can be,” says Maiorana. “SXSW is and will always be all about producing honest wines. Authentic wines that respect the land, are sustainably farmed and made, minimally handled in the winery, honourable to vintage, and true to region. So, with this philosophy, we have to be careful to ensure that growth does not compromise this.”
Calling their approach “proactive organic farming”, the pair now manage two vineyards. “We are big believers in sustainability – from soil and water management through to vineyard specific ecosystems,” says Patterson. “We are focused on quality and fruit concentration on these vineyards, as well as increasing the sustainability and the health of our vineyard each vintage. We also prune to prioritise canopy management as one of the first barriers to prevent disease. It has been four vintages since we started converting the vineyard, and we are really starting to see an improvement in overall health of the vineyard and ecosystems, which has translated to increased quality of fruit.”
And those sustainable practices extend as far as possible to the fruit they buy. For the vineyards that they don’t manage, the pair work with the growers to take on whole blocks. “We can then request specific vineyard practices be implemented,” says Patterson, “such as no systemic application, minimal water use, if any, and improved soil management initiatives.”
The future for Patterson and Maiorana is bound to be an ever evolving one, with the size of their endeavour allowing for great flexibility. “With the versatility of being a small producer, we are able to adapt ‘the plan’ at short notice when something new or interesting presents itself,” says Maiorana. “Being nimble is one of the perks of our model, so we are always open to pick up any great fruit we are presented with at the eleventh hour, and we aren’t afraid of blends – we embrace them!”
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