Wine of the Year
2017 DUKE’S VINEYARD MAGPIE HILL RESERVE RIESLING, Great Southern, Western Australia
As far as swansongs go, Duke and Hilde Ranson have pretty much nailed it. Having “retired into” their Great Southern site in 1999, the couple decided six months ago that the 2018 vintage would be their last. Little did they know their 2017 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling would win Wine of the Year, let alone be the first white wine to score 99 points in the Halliday Wine Companion.
Despite the excitement, they’re going ahead with the sale of the vineyard they planted from scratch, which Duke still tends to daily. “I dearly love what I do – my vineyard man Justin says I’m the only bastard he knows who really likes pruning – but it’s time to move on,” Duke says. “I’ve just had my 79th birthday, and Hilde and I have been married 54 years, but we’ve never built a house together, so we’ve bought a lovely block in Albany.” Duke had been an agriculture teacher in Perth before turning to clothes manufacturing with artist wife Hilde, and then retirement came – briefly. “I lasted about two days and said, ‘I can’t do this!’” he recalls. So they went on a winery tour around the country, eventually stopping at a small producer in Porongurup where they drank great riesling and fell in love with the view. “Within three months we owned the block one kilometre away.”
The couple works closely with winemaker Rob Diletti – a former Halliday Winemaker of the Year – to create the wines from their site, comprising riesling, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. “Rob is one of the most organised winemakers I know, with the best winemaking palate, and his ability to get balance in wines is quite incredible,” Duke says. He believes their riesling always strikes a balance between acid and fruit, and has long sold out each year, but 2017 was something else. “The year was almost perfect. We probably had the best canopy we’ve ever had and we picked at exactly the right time.”
Duke’s suspicions about the quality of the 2017 Magpie Hill Reserve were confirmed when he handed a glass of it to Hilde, who has always judged whether their wines are up to scratch. “She smiled and said, ‘I could drink this’. That’s when I knew we had something special.” Duke says. He believes their 2018 Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling is “just as good” and for the first time, the 2018 vintage will introduce a cabernet shiraz blend.
Duke admits he’ll miss their special site, but knows it’s time to go. “I just hope I can find somebody who’s got a passion for what I do,” he says. “In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of fish to catch in Albany.”