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We decided that if we were going to be involved in the industry, we needed to make our own wine and to lessen the risks involved in that venture, it was critical that we made the best wine that we were able to. We knew that we didn't have the financial resources to compete in the mid range bracket of the market.
For personal satisfaction and for the possibility of eventually making the whole idea work, we decided, after consultation with a number of people, that we needed to focus on the absolute premium end of the market.
As James Halliday said then, and as is now well recognised, the varieties that thrive in Margaret River are the Bordeaux reds, being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and the various Chardonnay clones. Whilst there are a few notable exceptions to this, it seemed to us, that these were the varieties that had given Margaret River status, well beyond its size, on the world stage.
By this stage, we had become good friends with Keith and Clare Mugford, the proprietors of Moss Wood, which was clearly at the very top of the premium end of the market. After many discussions with Keith and Clare, and others, we formulated our plan based on choosing a location with the best soil types together with the appropriate climate for the planting of the Bordeaux cabernet varieties and chardonnay vines.
In 1997 we purchased a property on the slopes of the Wirring Valley, approximately 5 kilometres south of the Cowaramup township in the Margaret River region. This valley contained the gravelly soil structure we had been looking for and Keith was of the view, that the climate should be ideal for the ripening of the Bordeaux and Chardonnay varieties.
The 31 hectare (77 acres) property had been substantially cleared for dairy farming, but had retained some magnificent stands of Jarrah and Marri. The property had both sides of a gently sloping valley and a permanent spring fed creek running through the middle.
At this time, we were settling our strategic plans and Keith agreed that Moss Wood would formally consult on the project, their involvement being right through from soil preparation to wine making. We were of course thrilled with this development, but were then faced with our most difficult decision.
The greatest wines of Margaret River, in our opinion being the Moss Wood and Cullen reds and the Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay, all come from never irrigated vineyards. The theory being, as many will know, that roots forced to go deep to find the water table will pass through a more complex array of mineral and vegetative matter and thus obtain a more complex combination of flavours. In addition, at vintage, the non irrigated vines, being stressed by the lack of water, will pour their energy into their fruit rather than into the leaf and vine structure.
However, not irrigating in our climate is fraught with risk and when we eventually decided to take that course, Keith described our decision as "courageous".
Luck was with us at that stage and ground preparations having been completed, in 1998 we planted, by hand, 10,000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot cuttings, in the driving rain. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Petit Verdot cuttings came from Moss Wood, and the Malbec from Alkoomi.
As a result, the vines have struggled and have had to send their roots deep to survive. This resulted in certain unevenness in the vineyard but, we believe it has contributed to the excellent fruit quality that we have obtained.
Having committed to the courageous philosophy of no irrigation, we have also closely tried to emulate the Moss Wood model of extremely diligent vineyard management including hand pruning to ensure low yields, leaf plucking, shoot thinning and careful canopy management generally, minimal use of chemicals and hand picking to ensure that the fruit arrives at the winery in the best possible condition.
Two hectares of chardonnay vines were planted in 2001, and have produced their first crop in 2005. We have planted a combination of the traditional "mendoza" clone together with the clones chosen from the Burgundian trials of the 1980s. Our first chardonnay vintage is showing great prospects in the winery and is now maturing in French oak.