Ryan may have spent plenty of time away from home but he's a WA boy through and through. He grew up just down the road from Aravina, though in Western Australian terms, 'just down the road' translates to some 120 kilometres away. Since leaving, he's spent plenty of time exploring the Great Deep South and enjoyed stints in France, the US and South Australia. He's been back in Western Australia for 14 years now, with almost five of them spent heading up all things wine at Aravina Estate.
Reflecting on his time at Aravina, Ryan says, 'These five years have gone quickly but it's only now that you really start to see the fruits of your labour. You have to get your head around the whole aspect of the vineyards and come to understand all the quirks that come with growing season. You never stop tweaking – there's no set recipe and always something to refine.'
Wineries are a long-term project, for both winemakers and owners, and here at Aravina, Ryan reckons we're a third of the way through. This means there'll be some pretty exciting things happening in the next few years if he has anything to do with it. 'I used to work for a big winery that had an almost factory mentality,' he says. 'I'd walk in the door and make the wine then I'd do vintage and go home, so it's nice to be more ingrained in the property here and hopefully have a positive impact on what's happening.'
It's difficult to overstate the impact that Ryan has had in his five years at Aravina, but as usual, he puts everything down to our owners Steve and Hayley. 'They're always ahead of the curve and constantly pushing to offer the best grapes and most diverse range they can,' says Ryan. 'Aside from the viticulture commitment, they agreed to put in a winery that's perfect for making top-shelf wine and it was a really special experience for me being involved. Their commitment has never wavered and now they can walk into their own winery and see everything in action. The grapes never leave the property, so it's a great feeling for them and a great legacy to have.'
It's this commitment to increasing the pedigree of the vineyard and its offerings that remains a perpetual highlight for Ryan, as well as Steve and Hayley's willingness to plant some varietals that aren't so conventional for the region. 'We're not moving away from the icon wines of chardonnay and cabernet,' says Ryan, 'but we are offering wines that suit the climate, offer good drinkability and value, and aren't too intrusive on the punter.' These plantings include grenache, malbec, touriga nacional and arinto – a white Portuguese grape with plenty of zest and acidity.
All these grapes are grown on an estate that's as much a destination as it is an operational winery. 'It's like a little slice of heaven here, and that's what Steve's vision is for the property,' says Ryan. 'It doesn't matter how much money you have, or whether you're rich or poor or what demographic you're from. Religion, language, it doesn't matter, everyone that comes in here is treated the same way. We want to offer a place that can help create memories, whether it's through wine, food or gardens. It's the vibe we want, it's the vibe we've got, and I wouldn't want it any other way.'