Q&A with Darren Haunold from Wills Domain
You have a truly remarkable wine lineage –with over 600 years of winemaking running through your veins. Was a love of wines innate to you, or was it a build up to the passion required as a viticulturist?
Wine came as a sideline to the love of viticulture. There is something alluring about working in the outdoors for me. The sounds of the birds, wind and the elements that makes you really feel alive. However, there must be something that lies beneath this, something deeper. The connection difficult to explain, but combines the love of hospitality, food, wine and the good times that an establishment like our Winery Restaurant can provide. It celebrates what we achieve in the vineyard and kitchen which allows others to in turn celebrate their achievements, milestones and other moments worth enjoying to the fullest. I think it’s my European heritage that embraces family gatherings, food wine and good times.
Your family has been making wines from the year 1383 –can you give us a snapshot of your rich history and how your family came to the Margaret River?
Our family name has been connected to Austrian / German winemaking for many hundreds of years. This pedigree was only rediscovered after we began looking deeper into our history while looking for names for the newly acquired property in Yallingup. While my grandmother was alive, she was able to translate a previously unknown historical text which began to shed light on our long history in wine. Until this time, we had no idea as the lineage was broken since the late 1800’s. It wasn’t until I moved away from the Family business of Remote Minesite Catering that we began to rediscover our heritage in wine. It was in 1999 when I discovered my love for vineyards that I began considering a future in wine. The family purchased the first vineyard in 2000 and Yallingup Estate in 2005 expanding it operation to the current land holding of “estate plantings”.
Tell us about the Gunyulgup Valley- what makes this area so perfect for winemaking?
The Gunyulgup Valley is a very unique area within the Margaret River Region. The ridgelines and rolling hills are dominated by the highly sort after Willyabrup loams, forests of Jarrah and Marri trees which largely identify these soils and cover the landscape and provide above ground insight to identify the ancient soils which support some of Margaret Rivers most sort after vineyards and Real Estate. The steep, sun drenched slopes of the Gunyulgup valley provide ample north and western facing slopes for the vines to express their most admirable attributes and as we grow vines on their own roots we arguably have some of the purest, true expressions of grape varieties in the world given our isolated region does not have phylloxera. The steep rolling hills also allow for exceptional air drainage allowing for few (if any) frost events while encouraging air movement assisting in the prevention of disease in the vineyards. Our proximity to the ocean also moderates our conditions reducing the peaks between temperatures providing ideal conditions for the vines to focus on flavour development by cooling afternoon breezes in the heat of summer… so apart from its obvious natural aesthetic beauty it’s also fine grape growing country!
In your career –what has been the wine that has left the longest impression on you?
From an experience perspective I travelled to Bordeaux and had an incredible experience at Chateaux SmithHaut Lafitte where I was able to see the processing of the 2018 en premieurs and toured their winery and the greater Bordeaux region seeing and tasting some exception finished wines and wine in progress. The entire industry is really inspiring to see and learn about, a bucket list wine journey for anybody interested in wine. But I would have to say I have always loved Cullen’s wines as I think they champion the wine industry, not just in their approach to winemaking but in sustainable, organic / biodynamic and carbon negative philosophy. I particularly loved the 2007 Kevin John Chardonnay and the 2012 Diana Madeline Cab Sauvignon, simply awesome representations of these varieties. As a wine business Wills Domain remains on our journey towards the dizzying realms of sustainable, carbon negative production and holds not only these wines but also their approach with equal respect.
When did you fall in love with wine? Immediate or a slow burn?
I really enjoy the creative approach, that every wine is different and requires individual attention. The challenge of the vineyard activity, annual conditions and harvest decisions culminate in an end product that you’ve got one shot at making amazing is a massive challenge and requires a team of people, working together to achieve greatness. It’s a challenge I really want to be a part of so it’s not just wine I love, it’s the challenge of bring all of this together and nailing it that I love.
Do you remember that moment? What happened?
It wasn’t a single moment; my passion continues to build even after 20 years of hard slog I still love the challenge of the Wine and Restaurant industry. We keep going from strength to strength and being recognised at a national level further enforced our desires to be recognised among the best hospitality and wine providers in the country.
If you had to pick a favourite Wills Domain wine, past or present, what would it be?
Our 2003 Semillon still impresses me! Such minerality, flintiness, line, length and freshness under stelvin cap - a truly amazing expression of Semillon from Margaret River. As far as our reds are concerned “The 2008 Bitza” a pre cursor to our Paladin Hill Matrix program was a clear standout, showing this amazing purity and powerful fruit, balanced perfectly with tannin and a perfect alcohol to nurture a long finish. This wine was the first time we introduced a Bordeaux like approach of blending Cabernet varieties with great success.
You have a multi award- winning and hatted restaurant on site at your winery; what is your first passion –food or wine?
My first passion is hospitality, showing people a good time is what I love to do. This embraces aspects of both great food and wine but importantly environment so all of these things combine to create the very unique Wills Domain experience – unrivalled in WA Hospitality.
What is your ultimate food and wine match?
I’m a big BBQ’ing fan so Long roasted Striploins with a lovely big glass of Cabernet is close to heaven as I need to get for now.
Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? We hope wine was involved!
I was recently able to travel to the Como Maalifushi where I had by far, the best Holiday I have ever enjoyed. Some beautiful times with my kids, snorkeling swimming in the pristine, warm, crystal clear waters of the Maldives are truly something holiday dreams are made of.