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Embracing isolation with Frankland Estate’s Hunter Smith

To celebrate the Frankland Estate Riesling 2015 being our October Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Hunter Smith to talk isolation, organics and a special Guinea fowl.

What was it like growing up in Frankland River – WA’s most isolated wine region?

Looking back, amazing! The concept of isolation was not there, we had total freedom after school (a thriving 60-student primary school) to go horse riding, rabbit trapping and yabbie catching, help out on the farm, kayak down the Frankland River, camp, fish and explore on the spectacular south coast and have big farm picnics where friends would join us at the farm and the folks would drink magnums of red well into the evening around a big fire.  

Your parents weren’t always in the grape-growing game – how did that come about?

Farming and the land are a big part of both my father’s and mother’s family histories in Australia. My father Barrie grew up on a vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland and his family moved to a farm in the Frankland River region back in the 50s, so I guess it was always in his blood. Fast forward a little and Judi and Barrie met in Perth and purchased a farm in Frankland River down the road a bit from my grandparents and started farming sheep and wheat. Dad was always making a barrel of wine a year and in the early 1980s, Judi and he went on a trip through France with Bill Hardy and let’s just say they got the bug to plant some vines. The first vines were planted in 1988 and, over time, sheep numbers have gone from 15,000 to pretty much just a handful now as the wine business has become our main focus.

Did you always imagine you’d end up working in the wine industry?

Standing in 5ºC pruning vines in the middle of a Frankland River winter would make any teenager look for greener pastures. I was adamant I would do anything but winemaking and grape growing. I spent 10 years after school in university and travelling and this made me realise how much I loved the industry and the region in which we farm our vines. A vintage with Eric and Bertold Salomon in Kremstal, Austria was probably the point in time when it all changed for me.

Given how pristine the Frankland River region is, and the fact that it’s virtually pollution free, is there a commitment among local growers to organic viticulture?

I think generally, viticulturists are looking to be as sustainable as possible and this region is very much that way inclined, we have a very complementary climate to help with this. While we remain the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Frankland River region, there is a big move in this direction.

One of the more unique members of your team is Gladys – what contribution does she make to the vineyard?

As a family, we don’t believe in hierarchy in the workplace, but Gladys is the matriarch of our amazing Guinea fowl flock. Every year, Barrie incubates eggs found by the vineyard workers and a breeding program sees a few hundred new birds added to the team. Under Gladys command, they help control pests such as weevils. It’s all the one percenters that help make a successful organic farming system.

What difference do you think your organic approach made to the 2015 Riesling?

I could bang on about organics for hours, but what I will say is, we have seen vine health improve remarkably through the attention to detail in every aspect of nutrition, soil biology and climatic conditions. As a result, we are seeing very exciting developments to fruit balance and we are finding natural acidity is retained nicely. We have also been able to increase ripening a fraction, giving this wine delicious generosity of flavour, while maintaining that delicate and a nervous framework of acidity that make Frankland Estate Rieslings a stand out.

In our 2017 calendar, your Riesling is matched with steamed snapper with Asian flavours – what’s your favourite meal to enjoy with it?

That sounds pretty good! Being just an hour’s drive to the Southern Ocean, I love sitting on the beach catching fresh whiting and the humble herring, these cooked over an open fire with a Riesling (with a couple of years’ age) is spectacular.  

What’s your favourite wine memory?

Gosh, too many great wine moments to pin it down to one, but a very memorable night was 10 years ago when our great late friend and wine importer to the USA John Larchet, with his great friend Ray Harris and a group of fellow Australian winemakers, spent an unbelievable evening enjoying some of Ray’s finest bottles in his New York apartment overlooking the NYC skyline. I remember thinking I would never see some of these wines again and I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was to be sitting on the other side of the world in a city so far removed from our Isolation Ridge vineyard in Frankland River, a special memory!

What’s your favourite…

Way to spend time off? With the family on the farm or at the beach.

Holiday destination? Bremer Bay (south coast WA) whales, fishing, spectacular white beaches and probably even more remote than Frankland River! It’s a must see for anyone that’s never been.

Wine and food match? I don’t get too caught up with that, if there’s food and wine, I’ll be there!

Sporting team? Wallabies (sometimes!)

Book? Something with a bit of Australian history – I always enjoy reading, nothing too dry!  I’m reading Peter FitzSimons’ Eureka right now, which is a good read.

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