Stuart Pym of Flowstone:
"Why winemaking?... gravity…
I fell in to it."
Stuart Pym, the founder and sole manpower behind Flowstone, has enjoyed a long and illustrious wine career spanning some 30 years. We first came across Stuart’s wines when he founded Suckfizzle in 1996 and then Stella Bella in 1999. In 2013 he handed over the Stella Bella winemaking reins and moved to Flowstone in a permanent capacity and we’ve been tracking him and his wines down ever since. Stuart is a perfectionist and his attention to detail is quite extraordinary, resulting in perhaps the best wine(s) made in Margaret River today. Accolades have come in thick and fast including winning the prodigious James Halliday’s Best New Winery, 2015 and of course, receiving 97 points for his 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which is the highest score achieved for this varietal.
Our Exclusive Q&A with Stuart Pym
Your roots run deep down Margaret River soils. What is life in Western Australia like?
I have lived nearly all my life in Western Australia (grew up in Perth), except for 3-4 years in Melbourne, and been in Margaret River full time since 1991. WA, as it is known (and jokingly said to stand for “wait awhile”, because we are usually behind in things), is known for its fantastic sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and sparse landscape. The south west corner is the most verdant, and nature rich part, with stunning forests, beautiful coastal landscapes, and now wine, and the great social diversity this brings. Western Australians have a very “outdoor” approach to life, and we just get things done, because we have to, as the rest of Australia has forgotten where we are…we love beating them in sport. Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world!!
Margaret River celebrated half a century of winemaking since it was put on a world wine map in 1966. How did the region / industry changed over the years? Where do you think it’s heading?
The winemaking side of this beautiful part of the world has developed very quickly into one of Australia’s powerhouse regions, and there is no sign that we are slowing down. There is great diversity in the vineyard sites, both geologically and climatically, so we can create a wonderful array of wines. Most of the producers are small, so can develop a fantastic understanding of their site, and what it can produce. This then allows them to really work with that vineyard to get the absolute best out of it that they can. We are very pragmatic and realistic about what works in this region, and what doesn’t. There is also an exciting development of very small hands on producers – like Flowstone, where I am the only worker - and more esoteric styles of producers happening, so the wine offering is very diverse and engaging.
There is an interesting push for the development of acknowledged sub-regions within Margaret River. This does seem to be driven by one group, rather than the industry association.
Given the growing numbers of wineries in the Margaret River, is there a good sense of the community between the winemakers? Do you exchange views/experiences? Do you swap wines?
There is generally a good community spirit between the winemakers. The region is quite large, approximately 100kms x 30 kms, so there tends to be the northerners and the southerners…most producers are very happy to swap wines, although there are a few that don’t.
Your career in wine spans over 30 years. What inspired you to become a winemaker? Are there any other winemakers, past and present, who had a profound influence on you?
Why winemaking?...gravity…I fell in to it. My parents planted a small vineyard in Margaret River in the mid 70’s. In the early 80’s, after completing my phys ed degree, I was wandering around doing nothing, so came down to help. I also started my wine studies by correspondence in 1983. That was where it started…since then I have worked at Voyager Estate, Devil’s Lair, started Suckfizzle and Stella Bella with my partner, and worked with those brands, and now Flowstone. There is one winemaker that has had a significant effect on me – Janice McDonald – winemaker and my life partner.
With such an incredible career in winemaking, how does Flowstone differ from your previous projects (please expand on your past projects too)? Is Flowstone the pinnacle of your aspirations?
Flowstone is solely me. I make the wines I like, and I am the only worker. It is my self-indulgence…I am responsible for everything, from pruning, to winemaking, to sticking the labels on, to visiting people that sell my wine. There is a wonderful feeling of fulfilment when you harvest grapes from your vineyard on your property that you planted, make the wines in the shed (winery) on site, bottle the wines in that shed, and store the wines there. The first time the wines leave our property is when they are sold.
We hear that there is little or no demand for mature wines in Australia (especially whites) and therefore, no culture for aging wines. Your wines have stunning longevity. Do you feel you lead a lone fight?
I am not sure that is true, it is just that there is not a lot of older wine in the general market place. I suspect this may be business driven, as there is a lot of money tied up in wine, and it does need to be recouped at some stage…a business viewpoint would say the sooner the better. There is good activity in the auction market for older wines. There are also a small number of producers that make a point of selling older wines. Flowstone is one of them, as I feel it is better for the wine, and the consumer…they get to taste the wine as it should taste.
Julia Harding MW loved your 2011 Sauvignon Blanc at the Australia Trade Tasting this year. In Julia’s words, “the biggest surprise was the Flowstone 2011 Margaret River, made in a reductive style/smoky style and still so vibrant”. Can you comment on the age ability of your Sauvignons, as many consumers are conditioned to drink Sauvignon in its youth?
Julia’s comments were music to my ears. I have always loved the Sauvignon Blancs from Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, and the Flowstone wine is modelled more on those styles more than anything new world. I think most people’s perception of Sauvignon Blanc are driven by the bright fresh style from Marlborough. Sadly, the understanding that Sauvignon Blanc can be more than that seems to have been lost. I am championing that cause…
We hear that you have expanded the list of varieties you’re working with, which now include the unusual Savagnin variety. Do you also plant more Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon? Do you have a favourite grape to work with?
You are obviously referring to a wine I have called Moonmilk. The white is a blend of Savagnin, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. It is primarily Savagnin. I jokingly refer to it as the wine where I have taken all the varieties that are very difficult to sell, and blended then together, and then let them hang out with a tiny bit of Sauvignon Blanc. Savagnin is in Australia under false pretences. In the early 2000’s planting material was brought in to Australia from Spain thinking it was Albarinho. There was quite a lot of interest in this, and about 60 people planted it. In 2009 it was DNA tested, and proved to be a variety called Savagnin, that no-one had heard of, and is confusingly similar in name to Sauvignon Blanc. So, a bit of a total mess really. Savagnin does have a spiritual home on the east of France, in an area called the Jura, where it makes a very distinctive wine called Vin Jaune. The variety is also known as Savagnin Blanc, and Traminer (without the Gewurz)…
The Moonmilk wine is a bit of a fun blend of most of these varieties, and is in a lovely fresh, warm afternoon drinking style. I do have a red to partner it, made of Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier.
I have not planted any more Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, but I do now lease the vineyard where my Sauvignon Blanc comes from, which also has Chardonnay. So, Flowstone is totally self-sufficient for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I have planted a little bit of Touriga, so we are now self-sufficient with that as well.
My favourite variety to work with is Chardonnay, although Sauvignon Blanc is sneaking up on it.
We know that it’s a very busy time for you at the moment. How is the harvest going? Anything of particular note from the current vintage?
Unlike the rest of Australia, we have had a cool Summer, so vintage is late, and slow. We are currently in a bit of a break between the reds and whites. The end of the white harvest was a bit frantic, but the wines from the good vineyards look to be very good. There will be some ordinary wines from the lesser vineyards, but that does not concern us.
Reds will probably start to come in next week, and they look to be very good, especially if we continue to get the lovely warm and fine Autumnal weather we are currently getting. We don’t need any rain.
What do you drink after a long, hot day spent working in the vineyard?
If there is half a cause for celebration, Champagne, otherwise I probably lean to more textural Sauvignon Blancs like Flowstone, and progress to Chardonnay…..and reds from there…
Do you have any exciting plans or projects lined up in the background which you can share with us? Any interesting experiments?
Nothing really new planned, although I do have one stray barrel of wine in the cellar. I have four rows of Touriga on my vineyard, and the rocky end was picked quite late, and fermented separately. When I tasted it after vintage, I thought…”wow, that looks like Vintage Port!!”. I got the wine analysed, and it was 15.9% alcohol, and 16 g/l of sugar, so half way to being a Port. For a bit of fun, I bought some 20 year old brandy spirit, and fortified it to 20% alcohol. It is still sitting in a barrel now, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out, and if anyone wants to buy it. I told you Flowstone was a piece of self-indulgence…
Finally, would you like to pass any message to our world-wide customers?
I would like to thank them all for being passionate about wine, and keeping an open mind to all the wonderful wine styles of the world….and if it takes the Flowstone Sauvignon Blanc to remind them of what Sauvignon blanc can be, well that is my pleasure.