Fruits of the Forest
The produce of Western Australia’s Southern Forests is world renowned, the wines of the region are starting to follow suit.
It’s hard not to be intoxicated by the Southern Forests region, with its towering forests, cascading waterways, sprawling valleys dotted with vineyards and orchards quilted with blossoming fruit trees. This special place is a leisurely three-hour drive from Perth and winds through some of the most fertile land in the world – home to a tapestry of fresh produce. While this quintessentially Australian landscape was historically timber-milling and tobacco country, today it is Western Australia’s third largest wine region – and one of the nation’s richest agricultural districts.
Situated in the lower south west corner of WA, the Southern Forests has over 80,000 hectares of prime agricultural land and includes the Manjimup, Pemberton and Great Southern Geographical Indications (GIs). With its high altitude, cool climate and rich, loamy karri soils, the region is suited to the production of Burgundy-style wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay simply thriving in this lush environment. More recently, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Verdelho, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc have also emerged as important varieties.
And with Margaret River as its neighbour, it is not surprising that this district is forging a solid reputation for its premium cool climate wines to match its world-class produce.
The Southern Forests’ reputation as a top culinary tourism destination has grown exponentially since the introduction of the Genuinely Southern Forests campaign and now the vignerons want their wines to share that international platform. As a result, the Manjimup and Pemberton wine associations are in the process of amalgamating to create a unified brand to further promote their wines to the world. If approved, it will be known as the Wine Industry of the Southern Forests.
“This move will allow us to operate more efficiently in association with the Southern Forests Food Council (SFFC) and effectively benefit all of the membership with the administration and distribution of funds from the recently established Agricultural Produce Commission,” says Mark Aitken of Woodgate Estate.
“For WA to be acknowledged as one of the premier wine growing regions in the world, it needs a critical mass of strong regional brands each with a unique identity in the same way the rest of the great wine regions of the world now operate.”
According to Vic Peos from Peos Estate, this move will allow Southern Forests winemakers to achieve this recognition and continue evolving their styles in the international domain.
“We aim to grow the value of agriculture and give educational opportunities to future generations so they can live, work and have a quality lifestyle within the area. This will also create vibrancy and jobs within the community,” he says.
While the Peos family have been in the region for 80 years, it wasn’t until 1996 that Vic and his three brothers created Peos Estate as a legacy to their late father and grandfather who cultivated grapes in Macedonia a century ago before migrating to Manjimup in the 1950s.
Over the years, the Peos family has farmed dairy cattle, potatoes, cauliflowers and beans so it was no great leap for their farming pedigree to be put to use to cultivate wine grapes.
“Manjimup is one of the coolest regions in WA which allows for distinctive fruit flavours to be enhanced and the sustained ripening period gives some varieties the ability to age and slowly mature.
“Our single vineyard Shiraz is a perfect example of this with its medium-bodied, savoury and complex flavours which are powerful, yet elegant. It is also a great match with food to give you a wonderful culinary experience,” explains Vic.
To say these vignerons are spoilt for choice when it comes to food matching selections to pair with their wines is a huge understatement. It is a melting pot of flavours here with these privileged winemakers having a bountiful choice of seafood, dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables at their fingertips to enhance the gastronomic journey.
Silkwood Wines is one such establishment that has opened a restaurant at its cellar door, showcasing its range of wines and locally harvested produce. All it takes is one afternoon of sitting on the deck overlooking the lake whilst enjoying a glass of their vibrantly fresh Sauvignon Blanc and a tasting plate to become immersed in this region.
At Chestnut Grove, winemaker David Dowden is undertaking wild ferments with his Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to create an extra layer of complexity, texture and finesse in his wine stable. And not content with wine production alone, the winery is now making a verjuice from its deliciously fruity Verdelho, as well as an extra virgin olive oil.
Whilst most produce will flourish in this fertile land, Monica Radomiljac from Pemberley of Pemberton, says living in ‘karri country’ can be challenging.
“The soil here is too good and too rich. In order to prevent the vines from growing as huge as their famous neighbours, the karri trees, we have to stress the plants using techniques such as minimal or no irrigation and hard pruning,” says Monica.
“This results in grapes that are vibrant with flavours and alive with freshness when they are harvested for crushing from February to April each year.”
Living in Harmony
This symbiotic relationship between the soils and vines extends to something devilishly smelly that also grows here and has gourmands around the world salivating for its pungent, earthy flavours. I am referring to the elusive black Perigord truffle that originated in France and has now, somewhat surprisingly, found a new home in Manjimup. So firmly are their spores entrenched in these soils that the Truffle and Wine Co. is now the largest producer of black truffles in the world.
The marriage of food and wine is such an intrinsic part of any culinary journey and it is at this trufferie where you can experience a truffle and wine degustation lunch with a range of wines that have been specifically created to enhance your truffle experience.
“The fresh produce is a result of committed farming families who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries,” says the Truffle & Wine Co.’s Amber Atkinson.
“A prime example is the new Bravo apple. Research, development and thinking outside the square led to the introduction of truffles to Manjimup. Wine production is no different and wineries from this region continue to gain momentum, which is reflected by wine show accolades across the country.”
As I leave the truffles in my wake, I pass many roadside stalls and open farm gates. There are native finger limes, apples, chestnuts, berries, stone fruit, avocados, cherries, brassica beef, dairy, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, to name but a few. You can even throw a fishing line in the river for trout and, at certain times of the year, you can snare freshwater marron, endemic to this wonderful region, from one of its many watercourses.
“We aim to celebrate the people, place and produce by creating exceptional culinary experiences,” says Southern Forests Food Council GM, Jayme Hatcher.
“This pristine part of the world still remains relatively undiscovered with its complementary offering of produce and wines, which makes this region a genuine foodie’s dream.”