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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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Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
Australia's established Pinot Noir regions are continuing to develop and evolve remarkable examples of this varietal. But for the big future of Aussie Pinot, we may need to look west. I'll admit it - not everyone is a fan of  Pinot Noir . But that fact, in itself, is what makes Pinot so enigmatic - aficionados swoon, swillers scoff. And this suits Pinot (and its lovers) just fine because in this land of the tall poppy, it is not always favourable to be too popular. That said, Pinot is one of the most revered and collected wine styles in the world, with the top examples from its homeland in Burgundy selling for outrageous sums of money. It is generally quite delicate (some say light-bodied), and it takes a certain development of one's palate to truly appreciate its delightful nuances, perfumed aromas, textural elements and supple tannin profile. It appears that if you enjoy wine for long enough, eventually your palate will look for and appreciate the more subtle and complex style that quality Pinot can provide. A good point that illustrates this comes from winemaker Stephen George, who developed the revered Ashton Hills brand. "A lot of older gentlemen come into the cellar door and say they love Shiraz, but it doesn't love them anymore," he says. "So we are getting some of my generation moving over to Pinot Noir, and the young kids of today are also really embracing it." THE ALLURE OF PINOT (FOR THE WINEMAKER) Winemakers love a challenge, and there is no doubt that Pinot is a challenging grape to grow, and even more challenging to make. The Burgundians have certainly nailed it, but they have been practicing for thousands of years, and this is part of the key. The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there, but they have also shown the variety to be very site-specific - vines grown in adjacent vineyards, and even within vineyards, can produce very different results. Vine age too, is critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards, considered to be around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape, as it needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best. Australian winemakers have taken these lessons to heart - gradually developing ever cooler areas to grow Pinot, working out the best soil types, and carefully exploring the ideal sites within each vineyard to grow this fickle variety. They're also working out the best clones and the most appropriate vine spacing, and then managing the vine canopy to allow just the right amount of dappled sunlight to reach the ripening bunches. Our vines are getting older, reaching that critical phase of maturity, and yields are managed carefully to coax the maximum from each berry. Once in the winery, the grapes need careful handling due to their thin skins and low phenolic content, so physical pump-overs are kept to a minimum. These days more and more winemakers are including a percentage of stems in the ferment to enhance the aromatic and textural qualities of the finished wine, and oak usage is more skilfully matched to the style being produced. THE STATE OF PLAY OF PINOT Australian viticulturists and winemakers are getting better at producing top quality Pinot with every passing year. And that quality is truly on show in our most recent State of Play tasting. It's been five years since we last had an in-depth look at Pinot Noir in this country. And what a change we've seen in that time! The overall quality of Australian Pinot is certainly on the rise. But what is perhaps the biggest development in the last five years has been the emergence of a potential Pinot giant  in the west . As you will see in our reviews across the following pages, the established Pinot producing regions such as the  Yarra Valley ,  Tasmania  and  Adelaide Hills  are still well represented in our Top 20, but they are joined by newcomers, the cool-climate  Tumbarumba  region of NSW, and an impressively strong showing from the  Great Southern  and  Pemberton  areas of Western Australia. In fact, five wines in the Top 20 are from WA - an amazing statistic given that there were none five years ago. THE EMERGING PINOT GIANT - WA We have seen a marked increase in the number and quality of Pinots coming from the West in recent years, particularly from the vast  Great Southern  area encompassing the five distinct sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongorup, as well as a secluded pocket of the South West around Pemberton and Manjimup. So what has led to the emergence of WA as a Pinot powerhouse? According to second generation winemaker Rob Wignall, whose father Bill pioneered Pinot production in Albany, there have been a number of small improvements that make up the overall picture. He believes that climate change has been a significant and positive factor, moving the region's climate into more of a semi-Mediterranean situation with mild summer days and a reduction in rainfall throughout the growing season, leading to improvements in disease control and better canopy management. In addition, Rob feels that better oak selection and winemaking practices such as 'cold soaking' of the must prior to fermentation have led to improvements in the finished product. He is also a strong advocate for screw caps, believing that the delicate fruit characters of Pinot really shine under this closure, and that they also enhance the age-ability of the wines. Luke Eckersley, from regional icon Plantagenet Wines in Mt Barker, points to the variations in micro-climates and soil types across the Great Southern region as a factor. "Pinot Noir styles are varied with complex savoury styles from Denmark; elegant perfumed styles from Porongurup; rich fruit driven styles from Mount Barker; big robust styles from Albany; lighter primary fruit styles from Frankland River," he says. Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. Equally exciting are the emerging Pinot Noir regions such as those in WA, as well as Tumbarumba and Orange, that show that the future for Pinot in Australia is bright. So, if you find your Shiraz doesn't love you as much anymore, perhaps look to Pinot, and when doing so, glance west. THE WINE SELECTORS TASTING PANEL The wines in this State of Play were tasted over a dedicated period by the  Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , which is made up of perceptive personalities and palates of winemakers, international wine show judges and wine educators. With an amazing 140 years collective experience, they love wine and they know their stuff.
Wine
Discover our Top 12 Whites of 2017
In 2017, our Panel tasted and rated over 4,000 wines. The Best Wines of the Year is always a hotly contested list and this year was no exception. From tried and true favourites like Howard Park Margaret River Chardonnay, to fabulous alternative varietals such as Fiano from Chalk Hill’s McLaren Vale vineyard, plus Trophy-winning Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier, here (in no particular order) are the Top 12 Whites that really stood out from the crowd and wowed all of our Panellists. View our Top 12 red wines here.
In Dreams Chardonnay 2015, Yarra Valley In the glass: Pale lemon green.  On the nose: Apple, grapefruit, oatmeal and almond aromas.  On the palate: Fine and elegant and yet it has power and drive with a delicious core of white and yellow fruits. A savoury, almost salty layer adds complexity, velvety texture and racy acidity.  RRP $23 or $19.55 per bottle in any dozen.  Chalk Hill Fiano 2016, McLaren Vale In the glass: Bright straw.  On the nose: Opulent white fruit with honeydew, Tahitian lime and guava.  On the palate: Remarkably bright and focussed core of juicy white fruits with satiny, delicate texture and length from start to finish and crunchy, almost salty acidity running to a thrilling finish.  RRP $25 or $21.25 per bottle in any dozen. Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2015, Nagambie Lakes In the glass: Pale lemon green. On the nose: Stonefruit, florals, ginger.  On the palate: A light to medium weight and fine wine with loads of stonefruit and citrus zest underpinned by zesty acidity, mouth-coating texture and good length.  RRP $27.95 or $23.76 per bottle in any dozen.  Long Rail Gully Riesling 2016, Canberra District   In the glass: Bright pale yellow straw.  On the nose: Lime zest and fresh herb. On the palate: Delicate yet intense and flavoursome with strong citrussy varietals and notes of talc and mineral. Mouth-feel is supple and lightly creamy with vibrant acidity. A really classic Riesling with delicious purity. RRP $22 or $18.70 per bottle in any dozen.  Cape Barren Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Adelaide Hills   In the glass: Vibrant pale lemon.   On the nose: Lime juice, nettle, grapefruit, vanilla.  On the palate: Stylish and intense lime, passionfruit and cut grass varietals, tempered by a light nutty layer with minerally acid dryness on the finish.  RRP $19 or $16.15 per bottle in any dozen.  De Iuliis Special Release Grenache Rosé 2017, Hilltops In the glass: Very fine pink with green and copper flashes.  On the nose: Hints of pink flower and Turkish Delight.  On the palate: Elegant and savoury with juicy fruit and green olive-like astringency creating a dry finish.  RRP $28 or $23.80 per bottle in any dozen.
Howard Park Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River/Great Southern In the glass: Beautifully vibrant lemon with a green hue.  On the nose: Delicate lime juice, light stonefruit, grapefruit and cedary oak.  On the palate: Refined yet intense with juicy layers of stonefruit and citrus with creamy yet poised acidity. RRP $54 or $45.90 per bottle in any dozen. Tinklers Mount Bright Semillon 2017, Hunter Valley In the glass: Pale lemon green.  On the nose: Bright citrus, white melon, mineral and lanolin perfume.  On the palate: Driven by beautiful tingling acidity, it’s deliciously layered with an amazingly vibrant fruit core and quinine-like texture. RRP $22 or $18.70 per bottle in any dozen. Heggies Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2015, Eden Valley In the glass: Pale lemon, green hue.  On the nose: Fresh yellow fruit lift with spice and grilled nut complexity.  On the palate: Slightly spicy and strongly varietal with nectarine, green melon and marzipan, subtle background vanillin oak, fresh leesy depth and ginger spice.   RRP $30 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen Gatt High Eden Riesling 2011, Eden Valley In the glass: Pale lemon straw. On the nose: Still vibrant lemon and lime lift with very faint hints of kero development. On the palate: Still so youthful, pristine and precise with a multi-layered, savoury and vibrant core of fruit and just the start of secondary development.  RRP $40 or $25.50 per bottle in any dozen. Umamu Sparkling Chardonnay 2005, Margaret River In the glass: Youthful lemon straw.  On the nose: Buttered toast, preserved lemon and background smokey notes.    On the palate: Full-bodied, layered and rich yet still vibrant with a strong undercurrent of leesy depth under a butterscotch-like core of fruit.   RRP $63 or $53.55 per bottle in any dozen. Bunnamagoo Estate Kids Earth Fund Autumn Semillon 2013 (375ml), Mudgee In the glass: Medium to full gold. On the nose: Lifted toffee, butterscotch and crème brulee.  On the palate: Luscious and viscous, with sweet layers of candied fruit complemented by bright lemony acidity.  RRP $25 or $21.25 per bottle in any dozen. 
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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