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.
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.