Its potential was spotted a decade before that of more famous neighbour Margaret River. But only now is this wine region – Australia’s largest – being appreciated for its diversity of varieties, climates and soils, as well as its focus on single-vineyard wines. Sarah Ahmed takes a trip to the wild west
Great Southern: Six producers to watch
The Das Sakrileg (‘Sacrilege’) Riesling sums up the maverick behind this garagiste label with no vineyards or winery. Winemaker Andrew Hoadley subverts Australia’s technocratic tradition of highly protective winemaking. Textural, spicy, mineral, sappily fruited wines reveal clever use of skin contact, oxidative handling, wild ferment and solids. Shiraz especially sings. Vineyard sourcing for his eclectic, idiosyncratic range is impeccable.
Burch Family Wines
Western Australia’s largest family-owned and operated wine producer. A huge, very polished range (more than 80 wines) includes popular brand MadFish and upmarket, 90% estate grown, terroir-driven labels Howard Park and Marchand & Burch. The partnership with Burgundy’s Pascal Marchand produces among the region’s best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
Inspired by visits to France, including two vintages working at Bordeaux’s Château Senejac, sheep farmers Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam established Frankland Estate in 1988. A site-specific approach swiftly put their single-vineyard Rieslings on the map. Organic and biodynamic viticulture and minimal intervention in the winery have further amplified terroir expression and freshness for the estate which puts the finesse into Frankland River. Mediumbodied, perfumed reds (especially the Shiraz- and Cabernet Franc-dominated Olmo’s Reward) are finely honed.
Since going his own way in 2005 following stints for Hardys and Houghton, Cherubino has been instrumental in raising Great Southern’s profile. Screaming provenance, Cherubino’s accomplished, very extensive five-tier range abounds with sub-regional and single-vineyard wines. Though focused on classic regional strengths (Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignons and Porongurup Rieslings especially), the Laissez Faire Fiano nods to Cherubino’s Italian heritage.
Though sizeable (60,000 cases including the second Omrah label), Great Southern’s first winery (1974) started out in a humble apple-packing shed. Deploying Mount Barker’s oldest vineyards to great effect (Bouverie, 1968 and Wyjup, 1971), it has an enviable track record for ageworthy Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. Recently returned to Western Australia via New Zealand, Cath Oates’ lighter touch with oak enhances the range’s cool-climate credentials, as does the all-new Juxtapose range which includes an off-dry, textural Riesling.
Snake & Herring
Established in 2010, rising stars Tony Davis (Snake) and Redmond Sweeney (Herring) take ‘a very scalpel approach to the vineyards and sourcing small parcels – a few rows even – for small volume wines’, says Davis. Good-value, sub-regionally differentiated expressions of the same grape have great drinkability. From the state’s latest-picked grapes, The Distance Higher Ground Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrates that, in the right spot, Porongurup can make finely-honed Larry Cherubino Cabernet Sauvignon.