Wine Sensory Gardens
The Ultimate Wine Tasting Experience
Picture yourself wandering through a garden where fruit trees and herbs flourish alongside flowers and seasonal vegetables, each specifically chosen and planted strategically to tell a story. That’s exactly the idea behind wine sensory gardens – immersive natural spaces where plants and flowers tell the story of varieties of wine.
Wine tasting is an incredibly sensory experience. From swirling a wine in a glass and taking in its colour to considering its aromas, flavours, and even its texture, we use our senses to understand a wine’s distinctive characters. Is it floral or fruity, spicy or earthy? What is its texture like, how do the flavours complement each other, and what foods does it pair with?
But what if the tasting experience could be enhanced even further to help us understand more about the wines we love? Two Australian wineries are doing exactly that, with onsite sensory gardens giving visitors the ultimate wine tasting experience. Not only can you imagine the flavours and aromas from the garden in a glass, you experience them.
COMMON AROMAS AND FLAVOURS IN WINE FROM THE GARDEN
Riesling – limes, green apples, jasmine
Sauvignon Blanc – grapefruit, gooseberry, passionfruit (even cut grass!)
Chardonnay – peaches, grapefruit, apples, melons
Pinot G – lemons, pairs, melons
Shiraz – blackberries, plums (even the earth itself!)
Cabernet Sauvignon – blackcurrants, plums, mint
Malbec – plums, blueberries
Pinot Noir – cranberries, cherries, raspberries, the leaf litter around!
Australia’s Wine Sensory Gardens
Whicher Ridge and Holm Oak, fittingly located in the pristine settings of Western Australia’s Margaret River and Tasmania’s Tamar Valley respectively, have incorporated wine sensory gardens into their cellar door experiences.
If you’re new to the whole concept of wine tasting, or perhaps just keen to learn more about the varieties you enjoy, a sensory garden is a highly immersive and fun way to do it.
Whicher Ridge’s winemaker, Cathy Howard, is also a keen gardener and started her wine sensory garden with the view to offer a distinctive experience that would help tell the story of the styles of wine they made at the winery.
Now well-established, the garden is a beautiful space for visitors to take a self-guided tour or join a highly recommended Pick and Sip guided experience.
Designed in a figure eight infinity pattern, their wine sensory garden features two large circular beds, additional gardens around the perimeter and curved pathways throughout.
“Curves make people wander,” says Howard, “Now that the trees have grown up, you can’t see what’s over the other side or down the end, so you actually have to walk and look. That’s the thinking behind the curves – it’s a discovery process.”
Six varietals are represented in the garden: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Shiraz, Cabernet, and a small section with Malbec. Each variety is identified with signage and has two different sections – a ‘Descriptor’ Bed, planted with flowers, fruit trees and herbs that describe the flavours and aromas that wine variety displays, and an adjacent ‘Affinity’ bed, which contains edible plants that have an affinity with, or pair with, that particular wine.
“We’re finding we’re planting more herbs these days as they can be used easily to describe flavours, especially in your cooking,” explains Howard.
“It’s all about flavours and textures, how the flavours you put in your dishes can pair with and enhance wine. If you have a feel for what flavours are in the wine already, then you can repeat that in your sauces, dressings and salads.”
“Food and wine pairing doesn’t have to be terribly complicated at all, that’s the message I’m trying to get across. It's all about increasing your enjoyment out of it.”
In Tasmania’s Tamar Valley, Bec and Tim Duffy have introduced a sensory garden at their Holm Oak winery. Like Cathy Howard, winemaker Bec was inspired to plant the garden after learning about Californian wine sensory gardens.
“I’d heard about the garden at Kendall Jackson in the US (in Sonoma Valley wine country), and we were looking for a cellar door experience that was unique, related to wine and didn’t require a high level of staffing to make it work,” says Duffy. “Tim also likes growing things and I like making things, so that’s where the idea was sparked.”
Designed in an open plan, orchard-style, Holm Oak’s sensory garden is predominantly arranged by variety with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Arneis, Cabernet, Shiraz and Moscato all featuring. The Duffy’s have also added a ‘texture’ garden and an insect garden.
Guests are welcome to take a self-guided wander, or for a much greater level of detail can book in for garden tours and tastings from mid-November to late February.
“On the tour we visit each section of the garden and forage for different fruits and leaves, eating a few things along the way,” explains Duffy. “We then sit down and do a tasting of six wines and use the things that we’ve picked from the garden to demonstrate the different aromatics and textures in the wine.”
MORE THAN JUST A WANDER IN THE GARDEN
A sensory garden enables wine enthusiasts to make the connection between the plantings they’re experiencing in the garden and the wines they taste in the cellar door.
“It makes people understand that there’s a reason behind what they’re smelling in their glass and why it smells, tastes and feels the way that it does,” says Duffy. “We discuss how different growing conditions and winemaking techniques can impact aroma compounds in a wine – it gives them a deeper understanding of wine in a fun and unintimidating way.”
Join a ‘Pick and Sip’ tour at Whicher Ridge and you’ll immerse yourself in their sensory garden, picking and smelling plants as you learn about influences like climate, soil types and what a winemaker does in the winemaking process. Not only enjoyable, it’s educational too.
“I encourage people to ask questions,” says Cathy Howard. “It’s funny to get asked, reasonably often, things like ‘when do you put the peaches in the wine?’ Some consumers assume that the flavours they’re reading on the back of a label are being added to the wine, it’s interesting.”
Howard explains that it’s also an opportunity to break out of your comfort zone. “It’s a great way to introduce people to varieties they might not be familiar with, like Viognier for example. They then walk away far more confident in trying it in the future.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
With the future in mind, both winemakers have plans to continue running and evolving their tours after being well-received by visitors.
In Tasmania, Bec Duffy now has a year of garden tours under her belt and has a good platform to build on. She also plans to expand the self-guided tours with additional printed information for guests.
Across in southwest WA, Cathy Howard’s sensory garden is evolving over time as the wines that consumers enjoy evolve. A previous Riesling bed is being adjusted to tie-in with their current varietals and she’s considering adding extra plants and signs in the red garden to reflect Whicher Ridge’s newly planted Montepulciano. The garden is celebrated on the beautifully designed labels of their Odyssey Garden range, and she’s also exploring the idea of packaged seeds, something visitors can take home with them after the experience.
Unique and highly immersive, the sensory gardens at Holm Oak and Whicher Ridge are designed to enhance your wine tasting experience. The fact that they are situated in some of Australia’s most stunning locales, it’s a wonderful bonus. It’s a win-win!