At a time when the Barossa was very much still set in its ways, with high ripeness, glossy oak and power the order of the day, Pete Schell was quietly but firmly rattling the dominant paradigm with his Spinifex wines. And this was long before some of today’s most recognisable iconoclasts had even thought about…
Dylan Arvidson LS Merchants
LS Merchants was started by Dylan Arvidson as more of a hobby than genuine side project, mainly to feed his creativity and give his mates something different to drink. Today, Arvidson is full throttle with LS Merchants, making 20-odd wines across five ranges (plus a couple of beer and wine hybrid co-labs), and all made with light-handed winemaking and a spirit fuelled by unconventional thinking.
Kiwi by birth, a Geelong-ite by upbringing, Dylan Arvidson was lured across the Nullarbor for a winemaking job in 2009. Deciding that the lack of surfing opportunities in Orange, the other offer on the table, was too much of a downside, Arvidson took on an assistant winemaking role under Mark Messenger at Juniper Estate, in Margaret River. Six years there saw the gentle evolution of his own project, which started as a bit of fun making wine for friends, then cohered into LS Merchants and a volume of work that required full-time attention.
Arvidson tumbled into a winemaking degree fresh from high school, more as a way of avoiding a desk job than pursuing a youthful passion for wine. That degree was started at Deakin, and it wasn’t finished until six years later while at Juniper Estate. In short time, he has completed vintages in Geelong, Tasmania, New Zealand, Canada, Bordeaux and Tuscany, as well as travelling extensively with wine in the crosshairs: Spain, Portugal, the USA.
Messenger gave the young Arvidson a shot at Juniper Estate after a conversation that didn’t cover a lot of professional territory. “He gave me a job after we chatted on the phone once, less about my experience and more about Geelong’s 2007 and 2009 premierships,” Arvidson says. Messenger become somewhat of a mentor, encouraging experimentation with his own wines, as well as helping him eventually secure the Head Winemaking position at Cape Grace Wines, in Cowaramup. That was in 2015, the same year that LS Merchants was officially born. He was only 26.
The LS brand was originally Les Sauvages, but that name was already taken, and a cease and desist letter saw that name pared back to the initials, with the derivation retrofitted to mean Liquid Surprise. Arvidson is somewhat happier with the conclusion, and not just because the message is a better fit. “I no longer get called Les Savage or Les Sausages!” he says.
“While working at Juniper I had some exposure to alternate varieties as well as exceptional sub-regional examples of the ‘classic’ Margaret River varieties, chardonnay, cabernet, petit verdot et al. I wanted to capture the essence of these varieties and sub-regions or sites and explore the flavors that they would produce with very minimal interference,” Arvidson reflects.
From humble beginnings, LS Merchants now makes a dizzying catalogue of wines from a panoply of varieties and sites, but the crush is still only about 70 tonnes, with each make ranging from the modest to the micro. Working out of their leased winery on Metricup Road in Wilyabrup, LS uses fruit from two organic-in-conversion vineyards that they lease, but the majority comes from a catalogue of growers across Western Australia.
“We like to find like-minded growers, growers with the same ethos as us, no unnecessary inputs and lots of love, growers that are passionate about what they grow/produce. We couldn’t do it without them and their support. We name all growers on our labels and website, transparency is the only way,” he says.