– ‘Why have you called your wine something people won’t be able to pronounce?’
– ‘Because, if they want to know it and drink it, they will.’
“I like to be difficult,” says Josephine Perry from Dormilona (‘door-me-low-nah’) wines, in Western Australia, “and I get accused of that a lot. I’ve always strived to do something that’s different.”
It doesn’t get much more difficult to start up a wine label and try and make it successful. Even more so when you’re located in the northern part of Australia’s most remote winegrowing region, Margaret River. Things become a little easier for you, though, if you’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by a surge of incredibly talented and like-minded individuals who happen to share the same winegrowing philosophies you do – see Si Vintners, Blind Corner, Cloudburst, Cullen.
Dormilona – which is Spanish slang meaning, ‘lazy bones‘, was conceived by Jo Perry in 2011, while she was living in Spain, where she had been making wine for the past six years.
“You say it to someone when they have gone to bed early, or gotten up late,” says Jo, “It was my nickname in Spain because I liked to go to bed around 9pm, so I could get up early and surf. It’s become the name for my style of winemaking, which is no interference, and laid back. Plus, I reckon we should have started this many moons ago, hence being lazy at getting my own label out there.”
Prior to starting Dormilona, Jo worked vintages in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône, the US and South America, as well as New Zealand and Orange (the Geographical Indication, not the colour, the fruit, the fruit juice, or any of the other almost infinite derivatives of the English word orange… and definitely not the wine!). Jo studied an oenology degree via correspondence at Charles Sturt University, but it was traveling where she was exposed to the myriad of different ways and techniques of transforming solid grapes on the vine into a liquid bottle of wine.
“Being a trained Aussie winemaker, you’re told you can do this, do that, add this, add that, but by doing so you’re not making something which is expressive of the grape and the vineyard where it came from,” says Jo. “My travelling has taught me to take it all back and only do what’s necessary. I can go back to my training if things go wrong, but I prefer to just stand back and watch, and use my senses a lot more”.
Returning to Western Australia in 2012, Jo set up Dormilona with the intention of making small batch natural wines from fruit she is able to source from various organic and biodynamically managed vineyards throughout Margaret River. Her partner, Jim, is a viticulturist and he looks after a number of these vineyards, and acts as a scout for Jo so that she can source the best available fruit.
“I’m so lucky to have Jim,” says Jo, “he’s my eyes out there and he’s able to find me the best parcels of fruit… We want something that’s sustainable and that we can grow into, which is also very expressive of the vineyards where we get the fruit from.”
The fruit comes from a number of vineyard sites that Jim looks after, including Marriwood Park Estate, which is a Demeter (Australia) certified biodynamic vineyard. Ensuring that the fruit has been either organic or biodynamically grown is important to Jo.
“The fruit is so much more pure from organic vineyards,” says Jo, “it’s got character, it shines and it practically walks into the winery and starts fermenting.”
“Organic fruit has always got more soul than conventional fruit, it makes for more interesting wine, and that makes my job a lot easier,” says Jo.
Dormilona wines are grown from organic and biodynamic fruit, wild yeast ferments, no additions or use of new oak, and only a minimal amount of sulphur right before bottling. They are natural wines.
“I’ve learnt that if you force a style onto a grape it’s not going to work,” explains Jo, “you’ve got to let the vineyard shine through with what you’re doing.”
The Dormilona Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is an 80/20 co-fermented field blend of certified biodynamic fruit from Marriwood Park, which is exposed to a touch of skin contact to extract a little more texture, before being basket pressed into old French oak and left on lees (deliciously dead yeast cells), again, to emphasise texture on the palette. It is bottled with no fining or filtration and a minimum amount of sulphur.
“There’s no point adding anything when you’ve got this amazing fruit coming in,” says Jo, “and it’s easier to see where the fruit wants to go when it’s organic and you’re not doing much to it.”
“It can be stressful,” Jo continues, “I don’t have the laboratory equipment to check TA and PH levels, so I have to use my palate as my laboratory. If I think something is wrong, I can send it to the lab to get it checked, but I truly believe winemaking is all about your senses, rather than just the chemistry behind it.”
There’s a unique sense of community in Margaret River, amongst this new vanguard of Aussie winegrowers. Jo went to high school with Sarah from Si Vintners, and attended university with Ben from Blind Corner. They’ve decided to join forces, so that they can better tell their own unique stories within the wider Margaret River community. As a collective they’ve tentatively titled themselves, NWA – Natural Western Australia – which has nothing to do with Compton’s favourite sons, and everything to do with truly sustainable and minimal intervention winegrowing.
“We stick together, and look after each other,” says Jo, “and we’re quite social together, which is good fun… Ben actually pushed me to start Dormilona… he’s always got beer in the fridge, and is so supportive with what I’m trying to do.”