WINES FOR THE BOOT
2010 Pinelli Family Reserve Verdelho, A$18
This is delicious: the Swan Valley at its uncomplicated best, inviting us to drink immediately and enjoy. Look for lively honeysuckle and floral aromas, bright, fresh, ripe tropical flavours that tang and zing before a crisp, zesty finish.
2010 Jarrah Ridge Classic White, A$13
Here is a blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier and verdelho made to highlight its fresh, vibrant fruit and light, bright frame. There’s also good viscosity and crisp, lively acidity to finish. It won gold medal at the Swan Valley Wine Show. Good value.
2006 Lilac Hill Verdelho, A$20
Only in the Swan Valley could you pick up a magnificent aged white with nine trophies (including Best Wine at this year’s local show) for $20. There’s powerful toastiness on the nose and creamy viscosity on the palate: it’s still quite tight and lean and in remarkably good condition, showing great depth of flavour and length.
2006 John Kosovich Bottle Aged Chenin Blanc, A$26
One of the Swan’s best wineries has long shown how well the region’s finest white grapes (chenin and verdelho) can age. There are the mellow toasty perfumes you’d expect of an aged chenin yet the palate is fresh, vibrant, youthful and intense, finishing dry and long. (The cellar door is currently under renovation.)
2008 Heafod Glen Reserve Chardonnay, A$55
Heafod Glen is a relatively new producer that has established a reputation for its estate-grown wines, especially its viognier and this gold medal-winning chardonnay. There are some nutty cedary notes, good intensity on the mid-palate, sensuous viscosity and a pleasant dry finish.
2009 Bella Ridge Bella Rosé, A$24
Alon and Jodi Arbel don’t have the exposure that a cellar door offers but make attractive and innovative wines that find a place in the top restaurant lists in Melbourne and Perth. This was onion-skin colour, is restrained and savoury with a hint of honeysuckle, subtle, delicate and juicy, with excellent mouthfeel and an ultra-dry finish.
2010 Moondah Brook Cabernet Rosé, A$15
This is a style that Houghton has perfected over the past 20 years, adapting it to suit the area’s warmth. Here’s another good reason to call in to the cellar door. This is dark crimson in colour, has gentle perfumes, intense ripe strawberry and redcurrant flavours, finishing fresh, clean and sweet.
2008 Faber Vineyard Reserve Shiraz, A$55
John Griffiths has single-handedly transformed the quality of Swan Valley shiraz through the example he has set with his family wines and through his work as a consultant and force for change. Lower yields have been a key, so this delicious shiraz has the richness, power, weight and concentration you’d expect; brooding aromatics, dense blueberry, chocolate and dark plum flavours. It could do with some further time in the bottle but is an excellent example of the region’s finest red variety.
2008 Upper Reach Reserve Shiraz, A$27
From one of the valley’s classiest producers, this is approachable earlier than the Faber. There are ripe, rich and concentrated brambly, dark plum characters with a savoury edge and restrained oak, succulent and silky smooth, finishing with balance and poise. Won gold at the Perth Royal Show.
2010 Sittella Muscat Alexandria, A$16
The muscat family of grapes does well in the Swan Valley. This silver-medal winner from the local show is light, fresh and sweet; clean and juicy with pure apricot, peach and rose petal flavours, with a delightfully crisp finish.
Lamont’s Navera, A$30
This delicious fortified wines takes as its name from a synonym of muscat (navara) and is a blend of brown muscat, pedro ximénez and frontignac, added annually to a solera that has an average age of six years. It’s less dense than some fortifieds (a bonus for some), the Lamont’s Navera is opulent and generously flavoured – malt, honey and butterscotch – is lush, velvety, fresh and pure. It is simply delicious.
Talijancich Julian James Pedro Ximénez Blend No 2, A$95
James Talijancich, a deft hand with fortifieds, has sourced this PX from the Roe family vineyard, which is in excess of 100 years old: the solera dates back to 1965. It’s deeply aromatic, opulent and mellow with raisiny, molasses, licorice flavours, splendid velvety texture that is lush and generous, finishing spine-tinglingly long and satisfying.
Olive Farm Wines Liqueur Shiraz, A$95
The fortified bracket may well be the highlight of your visit to the Swan’s most stunning cellar door, and this is my favourite: ripe, unctuous, sweet flavours of fruitcake and Christmas pudding, chocolate and prunes; silky smooth, lush and deep. Won gold at the local show.
Great wine drives: Swan Valley, Western Australia
Heading west to one of Australia’s best kept secrets is a wonderful way to expand your appreciation of this region’s marvellous wines. Just a well-arced wine spit away from Perth, the historic Swan Valley is buzzing with a growing plethora of cellar doors, restaurants and cafes. This leisurely three-day itinerary puts you in the heart of it all.
Depending on your flight path, you may soar over some of the fertile vineyards of the Swan Valley just before you touch down in the West. The region is close to Perth and pretty much surrounded by its ever-expanding suburb; just a 25-minute drive from the CBD. The Swan Valley shares with the vineyard areas surrounding Adelaide the difficulties of suburban encroachment, and as with its South Australian counterparts, is resisting effectively.
The Swan is Australia’s most compact wine region and can be circumnavigated in about an hour by driving down West Swan Road, back up Great Northern Highway, and along Reid Highway to your starting point. While it can be hot in summer, the influence of the nearby Indian Ocean keeps temperatures in check for the rest of the year. Spring is an ideal time to visit with the wildflowers in full bloom. It won’t be the physical beauty of the Swan Valley that is an abiding memory of your visit: in essence, it’s a flat alluvial plain at the eastern edge of the Darling Scarp. The Swan River, which winds its way circuitously through the landscape; the significant areas of natural bushland; and the vineyards all offer scenes of tranquil beauty. It has that lived-in feel of people going about their daily work in much the same way as the locals have done since it was first settled.
The vineyards of the Swan are as old as European settlement in the West. Just a year after the Swan River Colony was established by Captain James Stirling in 1829, botanist Thomas Waters planted vines at Olive Farm on the banks of the river not far from Guildford. Waters supervised the first crush in 1834 and built the state’s first wine cellar shortly afterwards. Olive Farm was bought by the Yurisich family in 1933 and was considered, until recently, Australia’s oldest winery in continuous use. The Guildford site on the banks of the Swan is now a function centre, and fourth-generation Anthony Yurisich makes Olive Farm wines from the family’s new winery and 16-hectare vineyard at Millendon in the Swan Valley. Their visually stunning cellar door is leading the region into a bold new era.
The two largest wineries in the Swan Valley were established in the mid-19th century. In 1840, WA’s first Surveyor-General, John Septimus Roe, was given a grant of 500 hectares and planted vines at Sandalford. It remained, at least partly, owned by the Roe family for more than 150 years, concentrating on the production of table grapes and currants until after World War II. Although the vineyard was planted in the late 1830s, Houghton’s first comm-ercial vintage did not take place until after Dr John Ferguson bought the property in 1859. It flourished under his son Charles (CW), who extended the area under vine, and it remained in the family until 1950.
There was major expansion of the Swan Valley following the arrival of soldier settlers and displaced Yugoslav migrants after World War I. Many of the latter came from areas along the Dalmatian coast, and took advantage of their experience of market gardening and viticulture. Most of the holdings they established were small family concerns and their vines produced fortified and table wines for personal or local consumption. These families remain at its core – as the heart beat of the Swan Valley.
Changes in the Swan Valley’s production have mirrored that of the wider Australian industry. Before the 1970s, 80 per cent of its produce was fortified and 20 per cent table wine. That situation has been reversed. While this was happening, the Swan Valley wine industry, which had been built on the bulk and flagon markets, found it difficult to complete with the prices offered by the large chains for similar wines from the irrigated areas of the east. James Halliday noted, “The emergence of growing numbers of serious wine drinkers helped many makers rethink their reliance on the ready cash flow formerly afforded by flagons.”
For the move away from fortified wines, much of the vineyard land in the Swan needed to be replanted with varieties more suited to table wine production. This, together with modern technological developments – the more widespread use of stainless steel, better refrigeration, the use of more expensive oak and increasingly high-tech machinery – have slowly lead to substantial improvements in quality in the past 20 years.
Following the opening up of vineyard areas in the south-west in the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret River (especially) showed that it was capable of producing wines that ranked with Australia’s finest. This, and the improvements to infrastructure that fuelled the rise of Margaret River as a tourist destination in the 1990s, meant that the focus of wine lovers and visitors was on the south-west.
Apart from those hunting bargains and lured by its proximity to Perth, not many paid much attention to the improved wines of the Swan Valley. Halliday had commented in 1982, “Few [wineries] have anything better than basic tasting facilities and one can drive all day up and down the valley on a Saturday without being able to buy so much as a packet of chips or an ice-cream [or petrol].” Nothing much changed until the mid-1990s.
The state’s largest winery, Houghton, attracted larger crowds than most thanks to its beautifully landscaped grounds, still the ideal spot for a picnic, and the dramatic improvement in the quality of its modestly priced wines – thanks, in particular, to improved temperature control. A new generation of wineries opened in the second half of the 1990s – most notably Faber Vineyard, Heafod Glen, Lilac Hill Estate, Sittella and Upper Reach – and these sought to be distinctive because of the quality of their wines. Some of them tried to entice customers by opening cafes and by operating stylish cellar doors.
There have been substantial developments in the past decade, most of them driven by the valley’s proximity to Perth: much of it aimed at catering for family groups – a chocolate factory, ice-cream cafe, a maze, mini-golf, a reptile park, and cuddly animal farm – and the mass market – including cafes and breweries. The following itinerary shows another side of the Swan Valley. Thirty years on, one suspects that James Halliday would approve of the changes.
There are two major decisions you’ll need to consider before planning a jaunt to the Swan Valley: what days of the week you should choose for your visit and where to stay. The weekends have an advantage in that everything is open, although that should be weighed with the fact that the crowds come out on the most popular days of the week. This itinerary has been planned so that you can follow it over the weekends or during the week – but not on Mondays.
There have been great improvements in tourism infrastructure in the Swan Valley in the past decade but its proximity to Perth has meant that there has been little investment in classy accommodation in the region. Many will prefer to be based in Perth at hotels such as Parmelia Hilton (14 Mill St, Perth, 08 9215 2000), InterContinental Perth Burswood (Burswood Entertainment Complex, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood, 08 9362 8888) or the boutique The Richardson Hotel & Spa (32 Richardson St, Perth, (08) 9217 8888).
If you fancy a brush with celebrity, stay at the Stocks Country Retreat (26 Boulonnais Dr, Brigadoon, 08 9296 1945), which has been operating as a B&B for eight years. Prior to that, it was the Tudor-style home of Shadows guitarist Hank B Marvin. The three suites have four-poster king-sized beds and double spas and there’s an attractive garden setting and a thermally heated swimming pool and tennis court for you to enjoy. To stay amid the vines, try Upper Reach Spa Cottage (77 Memorial Ave, Baskerville, 08 9296 0078). This comfortable two-bedroom 1907 weatherboard cottage at the entrance to Upper Reach has polished jarrah floorboards, a spa bath, and all the facilities for self-catering and the tranquillity to enjoy your Swan Valley stay.
There are some very good reasons to begin the itinerary at Taylor’s Art and Coffee House (510 Great Northern Hwy, Middle Swan, 08 9250 8838). Mike Taylor and his sister, chef Caroline Taylor, make great coffee – and you’ll probably need to return during your stay. The café opens every day at 7.30am for breakfast (it is closed Monday and Tuesday), and during the day serves coffee and cakes and lunch – delicious, casual, comfortable food. It’s their mother Jude Taylor’s studio and gallery, and there’s always plenty to see: starting with her bright lino-cut prints, fabrics, wallpaper and greeting cards. After a second coffee, it’s off to Mann Winery (105 Memorial Ave, Baskerville, 08 9296 4348) for some bubbly and a dose of local history or local colour. With his father, Houghton’s Jack Mann, Dorham Mann was one of six who were recently named as the initial icons of the Swan Valley. Dorham has made a sizeable contribution to the development of the wine industry in Western Australia and the Swan Valley for more than 40 years. His retirement project is tending the family vines and handcrafting bubbly in the family style with help from his daughter, Anthea. Here’s an opportunity to taste some refreshing sparkling wines made from cabernet sauvignon and cygne blanc. The latter, a new white variety naturally thrown from cabernet sauvignon, was discovered and propagated by the Manns. On the banks of the Swan there’s a small, purpose-built sparkling winemaking facility: the cellar door is on the upper section, at road level. The warmth of the welcome will be one of the abiding memories of your visit.
Winning the trophy for Best Exhibitor at the 2010 Swan Valley Show entitles Upper Reach (77 Memorial Ave, Baskerville, 08 9296 0078) to bragging rights. It’s taken Derek and Laura Pearse a little less than 15 years to establish themselves as one of the Swan Valley’s finest on their eight-hectare property adjacent to the upper reaches of the Swan River. Their best wines are the shiraz and verdelho although the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay are surprise packets. Winemaker Derek Pearse pushes the boundaries, seeking to find new varieties that suit the Swan and is doing well with tempranillo and petit verdot. The Upper Reach cellar door is one of the valley’s most enticing with stylish jarrah and offering all wines in Riedel stemware.
After the tasting, it’s a five-metre stroll over to Broads at Upper Reach run by Annalis and Anthony Broad. Both are talented chefs and the food is consistently fresh, seasonal, uncomplicated and delicious. There’s good coffee, too. The setting is picture-postcard perfect as the cafe looks out over the vineyard and the river.
Broads is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which case lunch is at your next port of call, Sittella (100 Barrett St, Herne Hill, 08 9296 2600). Here you can choose from the set menu or the more extensive a la carte selection and relax on the deck with views over a picturesque section of the valley. Recently established (1998) by Simon and Maaike Berns, Sittella has another vineyard in Margaret River and also sources fruit from Frankland River and Manjimup. The classy cellar door has been one to set the tone for the region. Of particular note for visitors are the Berns Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the verdelho.
After lunch, there’s just one appointment to keep. John Griffiths’ Faber Vineyard (233 Haddrill Rd, Baskerville, 08 9296 0619) is open on Sundays only from 11am to 4pm but John will be happy to host you if you ring for an appointment. He describes how they operate: “We sit down with every customer, pour wines, chat about Faber and our wines and anything else, use Riedel glassware, and even make a tea or coffee for those who would like one. There are different ways to operate a cellar door and we choose to provide a very high level of service and virtually invite wine lovers to enter the world of Faber. We describe our cellar door as a studio where wine lovers can relax, there is no hurry and they can appreciate our wines in fitting surroundings.” Faber wines are among the valley’s best. Most impressive are the Reserve Shiraz (which needs time), the Riche (deliciously approachable with the current 2009 coming from “the vintage of the century”), the Petit Verdot (which Griffiths is rightly championing) and the potent Swan verdelho.
If you have the energy, whizz out to master craftsman Antonio Battistessa’s Studio (12 Neuman Rd, Herne Hill, 08 9296 4121). Battistessa is an artist who uses forged iron as his medium.
You’ll probably need a quiet night. If you are staying in the valley, you might try the state’s longest-running roadside hamburger joint: Alfred’s Kitchen (cnr Meadow and James Streets, Guildford, 08 9377 1378). The wood fires are alight every night to show that Alfred’s is open for business: specialties are pea soup and a huge range of sumptuous burgers.
After breakfast, head for Yahava Koffee Works (4752 West Swan Rd, Swan Valley, (08) 9250 8599), which has the other great coffee in the valley. This is the Margaret River-based coffee roaster’s outlet set up to service Perth and the Swan. You can buy coffee beans or some coffee paraphernalia. In my experience, most wine lovers are coffee fanatics, too: so this is the place to start the day.
Then it’s just down the road to Heafod Glen (8691 West Swan Rd, Henley Brook, 08 9296 3444), which has a purpose-built cellar door with lots of natural light and, in an attractive garden setting, the large Chesters Restaurant, which is also run by the Head family. Heafod Glen (established 1999) specialises in wines from its four-hectare estate vineyard, and winemaker Liam Clarke has shown that he is a dab hand especially with viognier, verdelho and chardonnay.
Then it’s off to see a well-established family winery that’s undergoing a facelift both metaphorically and practically: Pinelli (30 Bennett St, Caversham, 08 9279 6818). You’ll notice the work-in-progress on the rammed-earth cafe that will transform the experience of visiting. The less tangible changes have been the lift in quality of the wines which is well illustrated by their show record in recent years. Best of all, their prices remain modest. After working for 20 years in the vineyards of Waldeck Wines (you must remember their classic bubbly Skip & Go Naked), Domenic Pinelli established his family vineyard nearby in 1980. He still works in the vineyards while the glory is stolen by his sons, Robert and Daniel, both of whom are qualified winemakers. Look for the Breanna Rosé, the verdelho, the aged tawny and the shiraz.
After visiting Pinelli, it’s a short trek to Sandalford (3210 West Swan Rd, Caversham, 08 9374 9374) for a tasting and lunch. Owned by the Prendiville family, Sandalford is making better wines from its vineyards in Margaret River and the Swan than at any other time in its 170-year history. Its importance to tourism can scarcely be understated – with contributions from cellar door, the restaurant, and major concerts by the likes of Michael Bublé, Sting and Robin Gibb. It’s a magnificent cellar door building with abundant natural light, stylish use of natural woods, and a fabulous array of stemware and gift ideas. All the Sandalford wines are on tasting. Because of the huge visitor numbers, Sandalford uses the XL5 tasting glasses. If you’d prefer to taste with larger stemware, ask if it would be possible to use Riedel glasses.
Executive chef Phil Thomas’s food is the most impressive of the Swan Valley’s winery restaurants. His lunch is full of surprises: he offers complex, carefully structured dishes that focus on the central ingredient yet both challenge and complement the Sandalford wines.
If you fancy checking out some of the local Aboriginal art, there’s no better place than the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery (10070 West Swan Rd, Henley Brook, 08 9296 0711). This gallery, gift shop and cultural centre is located in the former West Swan Primary School (established in 1896) and features paintings and artefacts such as boomerangs, clap sticks and didgeridoos.
To finish the day on a high note, it’s around to the West’s first cellar and winery (1830), Olive Farm Wines (920 Great Northern Highway, Millendon, 08 9296 4539), in its new incarnation as the most splendidly focused cellar door in the region. The fourth generation of Yurisich to be involved with Olive Farm has thrown up an enthusiastic winemaker, Anthony, and a clever architect, Michael, who designed the winery and cellar door. There’s a dramatic sense of space and natural light, clever use of Karratha-stone feature walls, polished-concrete floor and a jarrah top to the tasting bench. This is a lovely place to taste, enjoy the sophisticated Riedel stemware, and chat about the extensive range of Olive Farm Wines.
First stop is the family winery, Lamont’s (85 Bisdee Rd, Millendon, 08 9296 4485), which has been the valley’s most important destination for food and wine for most of the past 20 years. The cellar door, cafe and al fresco areas are open from Friday to Monday (10am to 5pm) as Fiona Lamont continues the tradition of providing fresh seasonal produce with a compact menu of small platters. Winemaker Digby Leddin works to ensure that Lamont’s stays in the upper bracket of Swan Valley producers. Like many of their fellow vignerons, Lamont’s sources wines from outside the region: an impressive riesling from Frankland River; a White Monster Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River; and a delicious Black Monster from Donnybrook malbec. My favourites include the verdelho, the shiraz and the fortifieds.
Talijancich, which is just down the road (26 Hyem Rd, Herne Hill, 08 9296 4289), is unquestionably the Swan Valley’s premier producer of fortifieds – with five gold and one silver out of six entries into this year’s local show. Over the past few years, James Talijancich has extended his range of fortifieds and made wines of sublime quality. A large cottage is being transformed into a smart new cellar door with polished-concrete floors, jarrah bar and plenty of natural light. At present, Talijancich uses Riedel glassware for table wines and brandy balloons for the fortifieds and XL5 on the busy weekends and for large groups.
The visit to Houghton (Dale Rd, Middle Swan, 08 9274 9540) is important because of the winery’s role in the region’s history; the most picturesque and large lawns and gardens in the Swan that attract a legion of picnickers most days; and the magnificent new cellar door and cafe. The stemware used is first class and service is knowledgeable and professional. Houghton is the state’s best winery, making outstanding wines at all price points, sourcing fruit from all parts of the state. As the itinerary suggests the region’s finest restaurant for this evening, we’re recommending a light lunch in the very good cafe at Houghton.
On the way to Jane Brook Estate Wines (229 Toodyay Rd, Middle Swan, 08 9274 1432) continue on up Toodyay Road as it climbs into the hills. The view from here gives you the most panoramic view of the Swan Valley. My secretary, Claire Codrington, says Jane Brook is the best place to go in the valley on the weekend “if you want to have fun” and, certainly, it has long been popular for its platter lunches. Jane Brook is the Atkinson family winery and has been in their hands since 1972. They have vineyards in the Swan and Margaret River and source some whites from the Perth Hills. They make three bubblies by the traditional method. Of the Swan Valley wines, my favourites are the Atkinson Family Reserve Shiraz and the fortifieds.
The Swan’s best art gallery is Gomboc Gallery Sculpture Park (50 James Rd, Middle Swan, 08 9274 3996) and a visit is de rigueur. There’s a special focus on sculpture and always plenty to see including the current exhibition, the regularly revised stock display and the sculpture park.
The itinerary is wrapped up with a visit to the region’s finest restaurant, Kelli and Kiren Mainwaring’s Dear Friends (100 Benara Rd, Caversham, 08 9279 2815 – rated number four in the state by the current Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide). Try the dégustation menu: seven innovative tastes to challenge, thrill and delight. There’s an outstanding wine list particularly strong on the Swan Valley.
TEXT PETER FORRESTAL PHOTOGRAPHY HOUGHTON
This article is from the December/January 2011 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine.