Having spent two months working as a cellar hand at Pierro, Sophie Thorpe shares a little of what makes this Margaret River producer so special.
Tucked away on a bend in Caves Road, it’s easy to miss Pierro. Rather like its winemaker, the winery is rustic, unassuming, with a total lack of pretension. There is no flash tasting room, no smart restaurant offering dégustation menus, no giftshop with Pierro-branded jams, hats and tea towels. Positioned in the heart of Wilyabrup, it is surrounded by names that are more familiar to English palates: Moss Wood’s Ribbon Vale vineyard is just to the south, with Cullen and Vasse Felix beyond that; across the road, ever so slightly to the north, is Woodlands. This is where many of Margaret River’s very best wines are made.
Mike Peterkin planted the first vines at Pierro in 1980. One of the region’s many winemaking doctors, he was one of the first to be qualified in oenology. Returning from his studies at Roseworthy, he was appointed winemaker at Cullen in 1978, transforming the estate’s reputation with Australia’s first Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend – a style for which Margaret River, in particular, is now famous (and which Mike continues to make with his sensational LTC). It was during his years at Cullen that he set upon his own project, making his first wine under the Pierro label with fruit from Moss Wood – a 1979 Cabernet.
If you only met Mike Peterkin briefly, it would be easy to think him cantankerous, gruff, perhaps. But then, you’ll notice there’s a mischievous twinkle in his eye – laughing at a private joke, one that you may never quite get. Quiet, modest yet undeniably talented, he is one of the most enigmatic people I’ve ever met. Unbelievably particular, it is Mike Peterkin’s attention to detail and insistence on doing things just so that has put Pierro on the fine wine map.
Little has changed at Pierro since Mike first started making the wines in the 1980s. The winemaking approach is supremely sensible – a balanced, scientific style that is detailed, measured. Having witnessed the faulty wines first produced in the region, a style now echoed by some of those within the natural wine movement, Pierro holds itself to an extraordinarily high standard. In two months’ work, I saw four barrels of wine poured literally down the drain, as they weren’t up to scratch, having low levels of VA (volatile acidity). The grapes are sorted meticulously (with sorting at bunch and berry level for the reds) and gently pressed. The wines are inoculated for fermentation, sulphured lightly and fined before bottling; this may not be the most fashionable way to make wine today, but it’s clear when tasting through Pierro’s range that it works.
And, above anything else, Mike Peterkin is not a man who gives in to fads or fashions. As the trend for reductive, struck-match-scented Chardonnays took Australia by storm, Pierro stayed true to its style. Its Chardonnay remains a voluptuous, rich, buttery beast that goes through 100 percent malolactic, aged in 50 percent new oak. Yet in amongst all that richness, there is a line of taut acidity, and a purity of fruit that makes it supremely drinkable and deliciously age-worthy. There is a reason that Langton’s classifies Pierro’s Chardonnay as “outstanding”.
Mike still works as a GP every Friday, committed to both wine and medicine, unable to give up his original calling. He’s also one of the few pioneering doctors who stuck it out – Drs Tom Cullity and Bill Pannell, of Vasse Felix and Moss Wood respectively, both sold up in 1984. His stubbornness, an absolute refusal to fail perhaps, kept him going. Thank goodness for that.