The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Launch­ing your very own la­bel af­ter a long ca­reer in the wine game is a lit­tle like jump­ing out of a plane with­out a parachute. Gone are the mar­ket­ing and sales teams to help sell pre­cious prod­uct, as are the win­ery team to get those mun­dane but es­sen­tial tasks done, and the safety of a reg­u­lar pay­day is noth­ing more than a dis­tant mem­ory.

But it also al­lows the am­bi­tious wine­maker to fi­nally do it her way – pick the finest fruit she can find and give it all the ten­der lov­ing care it needs in the win­ery. For Cath Oates, of Mar­garet River win­ery Oates Ends, the jour­ney be­gan in 2000, and has only now be­gun to bear fruit.

Much like many of Mar­garet River’s best wine­mak­ers, Cath is a lo­cal, born and bred. Raised on farms in the area with cat­tle the pri­mary source of in­come, Cath has spent plenty of time mak­ing wine for other peo­ple. She cut her teeth churn­ing out wines across the Tas­man in Marl­bor­ough and Cen­tral Otago. Then a re­cent gig bought her back to the West with Mount Barker’s stal­wart win­ery, Plan­ta­genet Wines, as chief wine­maker. But her heart was al­ways primed for a re­turn to her par­ents’ Mar­garet River farm, con­ve­niently lo­cated in the renowned sub­dis­trict of Wilyabrup.

The first mi­cro­scopic vin­tages of Oates Ends from her par­ents’ prop­erty were crafted in 2000, but just for fam­ily and friends. At the time the fruit from these vine­yards was, and still is, bought by one of Mar­garet River’s finest names for in­clu­sion in one of the re­gion’s top caber­net sauvi­gnons. But as the me­chan­i­cal pick­ers shook fruit from these rows some bunches were in­evitably missed, par­tic­u­larly at the row-ends, and that is where the orig­i­nal fruit for Oates Ends was sourced. These were of­f­cuts that, while eas­ily missed when fruit was picked at pace and by the tonne, could in the hands of the right wine­maker form the ba­sis for some de­li­cious wines.

In 2007 the fam­ily farm was di­vided and viti­cul­tur­ist brother Russ took over the vine­yard and fruit for a num­ber of vin­tages was put aside for Cath’s blend. This is a vine­yard and plot of land that, while not or­ganic or bio­dy­nam­i­cally man­aged, is han­dled with kid gloves and with eco­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity to the fore. Chick­ens wan­der through the rows, and sheep rather than ma­chin­ery are used to pluck leaves and open up the canopy. Ma­nure and com­post are also used to feed vines wher­ever pos­si­ble.

Come the 2014 vin­tage, Cath was ready to take off the first crop for a com­mer­cial re­lease of Oates Ends, as she did again in 2015 and 2016. Fruit now was picked not from the of­f­cuts of past vin­tages but from whole rows that had been quar­an­tined for this lit­tle project. And lit­tle it is: for the 2014 and 2016 vin­tages – Cath could not get away for har­vest in 2015 – each berry was picked by the wine­maker. With only 40 bar­rels in the win­ery, which could eas­ily get lost in a larger op­er­a­tion, this is wine­mak­ing at its most in­ti­mate where al­most ev­ery part of the wine­mak­ing process, from prun­ing vines in the vine­yard to rack­ing bar­rels late at night, has been com­pleted by the pro­pri­etor. Per­haps in time Cath will get an as­sis­tant, but the Oates End wines will al­ways be raised from the sin­gle es­tate orig­i­nally owned by her par­ents.

At the mo­ment, and for a hand­ful more years, the Oates Ends wines will be limited to the rows she can have set aside from her brother Russ’s vine­yard. But not for long, as plant­ing on the other half of the orig­i­nal prop­erty is about to be­gin with clas­sics such as caber­net sauvi­gnon and chardon­nay joined by less tra­di­tional va­ri­eties such as mal­bec. This is very much’s Cath’s way, as seen in her first re­leases. Clas­sic Mar­garet River is on show but with a twist – wild yeast and bar­rel fer­mented semil­lon sauvi­gnon blanc blends, struc­tural caber­net sauvi­gnon and even a savoury tem­pranillo show­ing plenty of va­ri­etal char­ac­ter.

Yet de­spite hav­ing years of ex­pe­ri­ence and a valu­able vine­yard to draw upon Oates is still wary of what she may have got her­self into. “It’s in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing mak­ing your very own wines. But I’ve put my life sav­ings into Oates Ends and I’m pet­ri­fied; ter­ri­fied re­ally. Plenty of good peo­ple have given it a go and not suc­ceeded.” A long ap­pren­tice­ship has cer­tainly given this wine­maker in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence that, when com­bined with su­perb vine­yard re­sources and some out­stand­ing first com­mer­cial re­leases, should mean that Oates Ends is one of the winer­ies that goes the dis­tance.

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