Whicher Ridge

On the same quest to find and taste wines from boutique wineries; I knew I had to go and visit Whicher Ridge. The winery is in just off the beaten track a little, which can be good and bad. Good simply because it means less people taste and buy these wines (so more for me) but bad because consumers who would love these wines just don’t venture this far east of Margaret River (20ks south of Busselton), onto the Whicher Ridge.

I first tasted the Whicher Ridge Chardonnay at Mrs Browns in North Fremantle and I was blown away by the delicate fruit yet coupled with refreshing acidty and soft subtle oak and the depth that followed. So after researching, I made sure my next visit to the south incorporated a visit here.

Cathy and Neil Howard started planting the vineyard in 2003. They now have 5 hectares at the property with plantings elsewhere plus source grapes from Frankland River. They then launched the brand in 2008. They both together have 45 years of making wine so experience is not short among them.

The winery produces 1000 cases of 12 every year. They grow Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier here as well as plantings of Malbec and Cabernet. But it’ll be a few more years yet until we start to see Malbec in bottle from Whicher Ridge. The Riesling and Shiraz is sourced from Frankland River. The winery sits at the top of the Whicher Ridge where the soils are gravelly and sandy loam. The soils at the winery are free draining and the vines are irrigated. It rains about 900-950 mm per year on the Whicher Ridge. In January they irrigate to keep the top soil layers moist which helps the flavours develop and ensures the vines aren’t stressed. At the winery the rows are planed north to south. They pick here at the same time as Margaret River which is further south. They usually use cultured yeast for the Chardonnay and Viognier. For the Riesling, it’s a neutral yeast. For the reds there is no wild fermentation.

Further south in Frankland River the soil is flinty, chalky and sandy soil with granite. Here there are cool nights and warm days which make ideal growing conditions for Riesling and Shiraz.

Tasting with the winemaker in Margaret can be very rare. Being so interested and studious about wine, I enjoy and get the most out of tastings when I meet with the winemaker as they can explain to me about the different stages of winemaker for each of their wines, different processes, what they did differently this vintage compared to the last or what is special about this batch for example. Not only do you have the opportunity to taste with the winemaker, at the cellar door, there’s a number of farmhouse products available to buy as well as olive oils and sauces. It really is a farm-house style cellar door.

Not only are their wines stunning and the wine sensory garden innovative and bursting full of more vegetation and plants than I have ever seen in such a small space, they have been named as one of ten Dark Horse Wineries by James Halliday not that you need an award to appreciate the wonderful wines on tasting . In the garden there’s the likes of lemon grass, mint, basic, myrtle – all different flavours you will detect in the wines. Smelling these and tasting the wine really helps you to relate to what’s in the glass.

Malolactic fermentation is done in the reds but not the whites although sometimes Chardonnay goes under malo. It’s not a process that is encouraged in whites. With no red gum blossom this year, they’ve lost a few grapes to the hungry birds.

Wines are sold at the cellar door, online, at specific restaurants and wine bars as well as Steve’s in Nedlands and the Freo Doctor.

We tried the below wines:

2012 Frankland River Riesling: The nose offered hints of lime and mineral notes with lovely aromas of pure fruit followed by lime cordial notes on the palate with lemon meringue pie (but not sweet flavours).

2013 Geographe Sauvignon Blanc: apricots and melon on the nose. It spends 12 months on yeast lees with 25-30% barrel fermented and some mixing of the yeast leaves. As Cathy explains, the creaminess tones down the acid. Lovely and fresh with a hint of complexity. Delicious.

2013 Margaret River Chardonnay: I can taste what it says on the label – ‘figs and grapefruit and peach’. 100% barrel age and by using tight grain barrels it means a slow release of oak into the wines. This is lovely and soft yet coupled with depth and complexity with brioche and citrus peel.

2013 Geographe Viognier: The nose is quite floral with hints of violets followed through on the palate with refreshing acidity and flavours that develop further in the mouth.

2011 Frankland River Shiraz: Berries, spice, peppercorn and hint of herbs comes through on the nose and then onto the palate.

2011 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon: hints of leather and pencil lead with notes of berries with lovely fresh fruit on the palate with a depth and richness to it coupled with black olives and notes of leather with refreshing acidity.

2009 Red Tail Sparkling Shiraz: Only available at the cellar door made in the ‘traditional method’ with notes of red berries as well as plum on the notes with soft fruit following through on the palate. There’s also 12% Viognier in the wine which comes from Frankland River with hints of blue berries and blackberries.

Wonderful tasting, thank you to Cathy and her time, really friendly and informative.