South­ern star

Western Aus­tralia’s Great South­ern wine re­gion tends to fly un­der the radar, but its pro­duc­ers are in­creas­ingly de­mand­ing our at­ten­tion for their dis­tinc­tive, qual­ity wines.

Halliday - - Inside - By MAX BREAR­LEY

Take a tour of WA’s Great South­ern re­gion, which is home to stel­lar wines.

THE GREAT SOUTH­ERN has a fron­tier feel. It’s a vast re­gion that stretches from the rugged South­ern Ocean coast to the lower Wheat­belt across five sub­re­gions – Al­bany, Porongu­rup, Fran­k­land River, Den­mark and Mount Barker. From the found­ing winer­ies qui­etly go­ing about their busi­ness to a new wave of wine­mak­ers, this re­mote re­gion is gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as one of Aus­tralia’s most ex­cit­ing for cool-cli­mate wines.

Its mod­ern wine­mak­ing his­tory has a par­al­lel time­line to Mar­garet River, with vines planted in the late 1960s, but it has taken longer for the Great South­ern to hit the wider wine con­scious­ness. While Mar­garet River may cap­ture much of the lime­light, there’s been a groundswell of in­ter­est in this wine re­gion, which could well be Aus­tralia’s most iso­lated. Great South­ern is now on the lips of som­me­liers and wine lovers alike. And while ries­ling has played a big part in that, there’s much more to the re­gion.

At Gil­bert Wines, north of Mount Barker, this fam­ily winery is a pic­ture of small-scale pro­duc­tion, where brothers Clin­ton and Matthew Gil­bert have taken the reins from their par­ents who first planted vines in 1985. Clin­ton jokes that he’s at home at the cel­lar door, with brother Matthew out in the vine­yard – where we find him mov­ing sheep. They pro­duce the re­gional cor­ner­stones of ries­ling and shi­raz, but have also found suc­cess with caber­net; their 2015 vin­tage win­ning gold and a Best in Class at last year’s Na­tional Wine Show.

Amy Hamil­ton, the chef-owner of Al­bany’s Lib­erte – a bar and restau­rant within the historic London Ho­tel that’s rec­om­mended by ev­ery wine­maker I meet – says she’s a fan of lo­cal caber­net in par­tic­u­lar. Be­yond that, she’s al­ways on the hunt for good mer­lot, point­ing to Free­hand Wine in Den­mark as one of its top pro­duc­ers. “It’s got struc­ture and con­sis­tency,” she says of their take on it.

“We’re in young, dy­namic coun­try here,” says Jor­dan El­lis, viti­cul­tur­ist at Mount Barker’s Plan­ta­genet Wines. To­gether with his wine­mak­ing coun­ter­part Luke Eck­er­s­ley, the two are quick to spruik the re­gion and its wine­mak­ers large and small.

“With our prox­im­ity to the coast, we’re get­ting those cool­ing sea breezes dur­ing the day,” Jor­dan says. “Our av­er­age sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are in the mid-20s. We’re not get­ting those heat spikes, so there’s that slow ripen­ing process and plenty of phe­no­lic de­vel­op­ment, but we still get those cool nights that main­tain acid. That’s where we get that struc­ture and sup­ple­ness with our wines.” The duo agrees that while ries­ling and shi­raz are what the Great South­ern is best known for, other va­ri­eties are in fine form, es­pe­cially with an un­der­cur­rent of young la­bels and wine­mak­ers emerg­ing. Among the pro­duc­ers they point to are An­drew Hoadley of La Vi­o­letta, Andries Mostert of Brave New Wine, Matt East­well of Free­hand Wine and Ryan O’Meara of Ex­press Wine­mak­ers. “These guys are ex­tremely pas­sion­ate and it helps to bring at­ten­tion to the re­gion as well,” says Jor­dan.

“Our av­er­age sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are in the mid-20s. We’re not get­ting those heat spikes, so there’s that slow ripen­ing process and plenty of phe­no­lic de­vel­op­ment, but we still get those cool nights that main­tain acid.”

An­drew Hoadley left Castelli in Den­mark af­ter the 2014 vin­tage to throw him­self into his own La Vi­o­letta la­bel. At his home in Den­mark, An­drew is blend­ing, sam­ples be­fore him, clas­si­cal mu­sic smooth­ing the process. He be­lieves the strength of Great South­ern wines lies in their nat­u­ral acid­ity, which cre­ates “a more flow­ing, bal­anced and har­mo­nious palate”.

Over his 10 years in the re­gion, An­drew has seen a lot of change, par­tic­u­larly in wine­mak­ing philoso­phies. He says there’s been a move to find styles “that ex­press a site rather than try­ing to shoe­horn a site or that fruit into some style that doesn’t suit it.” An­drew’s own range is a good ex­am­ple of this ap­proach. His Ye-Ye Blanc – a blend of pre­dom­i­nantly ries­ling, gewurz­traminer and viog­nier – is mostly about the lin­ear and flo­ral Mount

Barker ries­ling. His Das Sakri­leg ries­ling, taken from more granitic sites in Porongu­rup and Den­mark, re­sults in more min­eral in­ten­sity. Among the bur­geon­ing la­bels in the re­gion is Brave New Wine, from Yoko Luscher-Mostert and hus­band Andries Mostert. They’ve fast built a fol­low­ing for their wines, which started as a side project for Andries, whose con­tacts across the re­gion have been vi­tal in sourc­ing good fruit. This in­cludes small parcels from the likes of Swin­ney’s in Fran­k­land River, in­volv­ing grenache from bush vines, and from Zarephath in the Porongu­rups. “These grow­ers are very tol­er­ant, con­sid­er­ing we’re of­ten ask­ing for tiny amounts, which are a pain,” Andries says. “But hav­ing those re­la­tion­ships with grow­ers means they’ll help us out.”

Aside from the qual­ity of their wines, part of Brave New Wine’s ap­peal has been in their strik­ing la­bels, with Yoko paint­ing each new one. They made 17 wines from the 2018 vin­tage, which is up from last year’s dozen. “That’s be­cause some­times we have to be cre­ative and think on our feet,” Andries says. “This year, yields were a lit­tle bit down, so we didn’t get some of the fruit we wanted

[so in­stead] we made [other wines such as] sauvi­gnon blanc and some SSB as well,” Andries says.

At his home in Den­mark, An­drew is blend­ing, sam­ples be­fore him, clas­si­cal mu­sic smooth­ing the process. He be­lieves the strength of Great South­ern wines lies in their nat­u­ral acid­ity, which cre­ates “a more flow­ing, bal­anced and har­mo­nious palate”. Aside from the qual­ity of their wines, part of Brave New Wine’s ap­peal has been in their strik­ing la­bels, with Yoko paint­ing each new one.

top: Sin­gle­file cel­lar door, Den­mark. above: Amy Hamil­ton, the chefowner of Al­bany’s Lib­erte. left: Jor­dan El­lis, viti­cul­tur­ist at Mount Barker’s Plan­ta­genet Wines with wine­mak­ing coun­ter­partLuke Eck­er­s­ley.

Yoko Luscher-Mostert.

An­drew Hoadley.

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