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Winemaker Jo Perry

By Emilie Reynolds

JOSEPHINE Perry is the real deal. At just 36 years of age the Margaret River local has built a career which spans five countries, 10 regions and dozens of vintages. The award winner, dual business owner and organic wine advocate has been described as ‘so ahead of the curve’ with the release of her own natural wine label ‘Dormilona’. Although the Spanish word translates to ‘lazy bones’, Perry’s impressive career would lend one to believe she is anything but.

Her journey into winemaking has a heart-warming influence from a grandparent. At just 14 years of age, a young Perry had her working life set for success thanks to the keen interest of a Swan Hill brewer Oliver Hines, who also happened to be her grandfather. While Perry grappled with what she wanted to do when she grew up, her grandfather imparted some wise words of advice. “He sat me down one day and got me to write down the things I liked doing and told me he’d look into it. The next week I visited he told me he had worked it all out, and I should be a winemaker,” Perry recalled.
Her grandfather wasted no time in propelling Perry into her future career, organising some hands on experience in a nearby vineyard. “He put my name down with Cape Mentelle to help with vintage as part of my work experience when I was 14,” Perry said. “That was that. I never thought of doing anything else.”
Or perhaps she didn’t have time to think of anything else.

Since her first stint in the vineyard Perry has been hooked, working back-to-back vintages across the past 12 years, both at home in Margaret River and in some incredible locations abroad. Studying Oenology by correspondence through Charles Sturt University, Perry had the rare opportunity to “travel, study and do vintages” all at the same time.
“I’ve lost count of how many Margaret River vintages I’ve completed, but it feels like 1000,” Perry said.
Her long list of accomplishments include seven years in Spain, where Perry managed two wineries (Bodegas Vina Nora and Pazos del Rey) and consulted to vineyards in the Canary Islands. Team that with 10 vintages in France and a couple across America, New Zealand and New South Wales, and you would be hard pressed to find a young winemaker who could compete with those numbers.
“Most of the vintages have been back-to-back, northern versus southern hemisphere,” Perry said. “Put it simply, I don’t reckon I saw a spring for 12 years straight.”

Miraculously finding time between travelling the world for vintages, Perry, together with her husband Jim and on top of their commitments that go with two children, created two wine business – Perryscope and Dormilona. Through Perryscope, Perry shares her extensive knowledge and advice on winemaking, blending, marketing and vineyard development to the wine industry while also operating as a boutique winemaking facility.
“Perryscope allows growers with small unique parcels of fruit to create stunning handcrafted wines with flexibility while focusing on quality.”
Perry took her own advice in 2012, using her boutique winery to start up a natural wine label – Dormilona Wines. Dormilona – which is Spanish slang for ‘lazy bones’ was conceived by Perry in 2011, while she was travelling through Spain.
“You say it to someone when they have gone to bed early, or gotten up late,” Perry said. “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.”

Perry set up Dormilona with the intention of making small batch, natural wines from fruit she and Jim source from organic and biodynamically-managed vineyards across Western Australia.
“Jim is a viticulturist and he looks after many vineyards state-wide,” Perry said. “He’s my eyes out there and is able to find me the best parcels of fruit. We want something sustainable, which is also expressive of the vineyards where we get the fruit from.”
Allowing the fruit to direct the winemaking process is the key to natural wines, according to Perry. “There’s no point in adding anything when you’ve got this amazing fruit coming in,” she said. “It’s easier to see where the fruit wants to go when it’s organic and you’re not doing much to it.”
“To put it simply, the wines are pure and beautifully created with loads of love and attention, so no finings nor filtration and only minimal use of sulphur at bottling.”

Since Dormilona’s conception, Perry has been breaking boundaries in the popular natural wine movement and people are noticing. She was nominated for the 2013 Young Gun of Wine and walked away with the best new act award. Judges acknowledged her natural philosophy towards winemaking, describing it as “thinking outside the box”; “so ahead of the curve” and “the real deal”.  Perry said organic, biodynamic and natural wines have always been around but have taken off over the past five years which might be related to the ‘clean-living’ movement.
“I think it’s because people are more interested and educated on what is in their food and drink,” Perry said. “I feel natural wines are simplistically made to be the best expression of the site, the vintage and the variety so I reckon the movement will continue to grow in the future.”
For those looking to embark on a career in winemaking, Perry said her best advice would be to always remember the basics. “Use your senses; touch, feel, smell, see and taste,” she said. “It’s very important to feel the moisture in soil, hold a bunch of grapes, see the tops of ferments as well as taste and smell everything in-between.”
Practising what she preaches, Perry creates her Dormilona wines with very little influence from equipment. “It can be stressful,” she said. “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.”
When Perry’s not building her empire, the self-confessed gypsy takes full advantage of the iconic swell at Margaret River naming surfing as one of her favourite hobbies.
“I also love hanging out with my two kids at the beach and having a hit of tennis,” she said.
Admitting she rarely finds the time to indulge in those activities, Perry said her energy has recently been focused on the current vintage and producing tasty wines for people to enjoy. “We are all about the pursuit of creating amazing quality wines,” Perry said.

This article was first published in the April 2015 Grapegrower and Winemaker magazine. Not a subscriber? Not a subscriber? Visit www.winetitles.com.au/gwm/subscribe/ or email subs@winetitles.com.au to access the wine industry’s leading monthly information resource package.
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