The 2006 West Australian Tour Diaries
Click here for Chapter Three
Chapter Four – Day 5 - Sunday in Margaret River
After having been woken up in the middle of the night and nearly dying of shock, not to mention suffering probable ear damage caused by Davo's horrendous snoring, even though he was thirty metres away in the lounge room; after covering my ears with a pillow and thinking of Mother England, I finally got back to sleep.
This morning, we decided to have a leisurely start to the day and instead of going for a big walk before breakfast, decided to have breakfast first. If having to put up with Davo snoring wasn't bad enough, having to watch him and Brian eat breakfast was even worse! The two “gourmands” scoffed down the left over pizza from Friday night’s dinner! Yuk!! Muesli with orange juice was suddenly looking very attractive.
We then piled into the car and “Davo Fangio” raced us down to the beach so we could have a leisurely stroll. Instead of going down to the boat ramp this time we headed up to the Point. Being Sunday, the beach looked very different to the way it had on Friday morning. The car park was chockers with old bangers. Surf was up, and it doesn't look like the surfies waste their money on cars. Old utes, even older tray-top Toyotas; geriatric VW Combis, and shaggin wagons of every possible description and level of decrepitude were stuffed with surfboards.
Many of the lads were clad in wet suits; naturally so they looked and were “cool,” the suits were hiked waist high and the arms of the suits hung down the side of their legs. When they picked up their boards and headed down to the water, they looked like “Jake the Fake with two extra legs.” Many were nonchalantly resting their bums on the bonnets of their cars talking to their birds. Some folk were sitting on the grass, in small groups, drinking coffee out of thermoses, to either wake-up, or warm-up as the case may be. One poor sod, truly the worse for wear after a heavy night on the turps, was slowly sipping on a stubby; let's hope he didn't go near the water. The set is social, and membership of the clan highly valued.
As well as the “in crowd” a few geriatric “non surfies” like us had invaded the car park. As we walked down the path towards the mouth of Margaret River, Davo regaled us with stories of surfing at this beach as a youngster.
Fairly soon after he had finally convinced his parents to buy him a new surf board, he was also able to con them into a weekend away in Margaret River so that he could perfect his skills. When they got to the beach, the surf was up, and it was really up! Davo took one look at it and was very grateful that he was wearing brown Speedos. There was no way he wanted to tackle that surf, but his mother insisted, stating that if he had made them come all that way, he was going to go surfing. Let's put it this way, after one wave Davo needed a new board!
It didn't take long to get from the beach to the mouth of the river. When we ran out of track, we followed the river bank as far as we could; unfortunately that was not very far. On the way back towards the mouth of the river, we walked on the sand and came across one dainty female sock and an interestingly shaped dugout and contoured area in the sand; now I wonder what went on there? They certainly weren't playing sand castles.
After our walk, Davo threatened to buy us coffee, but when we got to the place he had in mind it was closed for renovations, so we headed off to the Prevelly Café where we had bought our pizzas a few nights previously. It was so nice of Davo to buy us coffee, it's just a pity he didn't have his wallet with him and I had to pay. The espresso was quite enjoyable, and then we headed off in the general direction of our first appointment.
On Saturday after we left Sandalford, we wanted to nick into Fermoy Estate but when we got there at 4.30, the sign said they closed at 4 pm, and as we'd missed out, we decided to get there at 10 a.m. on Sunday, which would give us a half an hour there before our first appointment. When we arrived at about 9.45, the sign said open from 11 – 4 so we missed out again. No doubt this saga will continue. Brookland Valley was just around the corner, so we headed there next.
This is another one of those wineries with a very long driveway, which prompted one unnamed person in the car to say, “If we have to travel that far, knowing our luck, the wines will be crap.” We arrived at the winery at a little before 10 and one of the cellar door employees stuck their head out of the door, and in a decidedly unfriendly fashion informed us that they wouldn't be open until ten o'clock. It was anything but a welcoming reception.
By the time the winery opened at about 10:10 the attitude changed dramatically. The lady who serviced us was bright, bubbly, very helpful and pleasant; it was just an early-morning problem. Whilst we were waiting, new bottles of all the wines were opened and checked thoroughly; apparently this is done every day. Pity more wineries don't go to this trouble. What was even more gratifying was that they spotted a bottle that was suffering from a minor amount of cork taint, so they have been trained properly; great to see.
Brookland Valley 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot sells for $39.50 at cellar door. A dusty, varietal bouquet with sweet berry fruit and chocolate. Abundant, ultra-fine unobtrusive tannins combine with pure, deeply seated fruit to deliver an attractive mouth feel and impeccable balance. Loads of intense, ripe blackberry, cherry, and chocolate flavours finish with attractive crisp acid. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and well developed complexity, this is a well poised wine and is rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2009.
Brookland Valley "Gift Shop" ........................
Brookland Valley 2001 Estate Merlot sells for $35 at cellar door. An excellent balance is provided by the abundant, ripe, fine powdery tannins and pure distinct fruit; it's muscular-weight with a firm consistency and well developed complexity. Plum, black fruits, chocolate, and eucalyptus spectrum flavours finish with good length and linger nicely. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value; drink from 2008+.
Brookland Valley 1999 Estate Cabernet sells for $49.50 at cellar door. An attractive bouquet showing leafy notes and dusty cedar over ripe fruit; it’s a well-balanced and constructed wine with powdery tannins, fresh acid and pure fruit. Lovely, ripe blackcurrant, leafy aspects, plenty of cigar box and oak; the tannins build up quickly and fill the mouth; it finishes clean. Medium-weight with a well developed complexity this is a good wine that will still improve; drink from 2009. Rated as Highly Recommended with ** for value.
In this case, the length of the driveway is directly proportional to the quality of the wine; everything we tried was worthwhile. Whilst we were in the winery my shoe phone rang, and blow me down if it wasn't the Pie King, John Davis himself. He was checking up on me and insisted on having a long chat with Brian, no doubt wanting to know if he had consumed any good pies.
My last trip to Woodlands Wines was most enjoyable, their wines were good-quality, well priced and I liked what they were doing, so I was looking forward to seeing them again. Over the years, I have met a few members of the family, the father and the sister, but not Stuart Watson, the winemaker. As you probably realise, the winery is a family owned and run operation; but it's more than that, the family seems to eat, breath and sleep their winery. On this visit, as well as meeting Stuart, I also met one of his other brother Andrew.
Woodlands 2005 Merlot has just been bottled under Stelvin and will be released at a price of $20 individually or $15 in a mixed six-pack. It's possible that the wine was suffering from bottle shock. Its ripe, musky bouquet with intense violets was more attractive than its palate. The flavour profile was completely off-sweet and the fruit seemed a little thin and finished with a suggestion of green. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and harmonious complexity, the wine is rated as Acceptable with *** for value, but if the wine was suffering from bottle shock I would expect that rating to improve fairly quickly, so it is probably worth another look.
Woodlands 2004 Margaret is their reserve blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec which sells for $39 by the bottle or $30 by the six-pack; 468 cases have been produced and the wine was matured in 32% new oak. The wine has been released six months earlier than normal, so they have something to sell! Sealed under a Stelvin, the well turned-out bouquet was shut down. Attractive, smooth tannins frame the palate with an attractive mouth feel and complement the blackcurrant, blackberry and mint flavours which finish with noticeable, fresh acidity. Ample-weight with a solid, tight structure and agreeable complexity, make no mistake about it, this wine will improve but needs time to show its best, about 2012 ought to do it. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value (based on the six pack price.)
Woodlands 2003 Ivy Kathleen Cabernet Sauvignon should sell for $72 a bottle by the six-pack when it is released in December 2006. A well-made solid, firm wine that's well backed by plentiful, perfectly ripe dusty tannins, and deeply-seated pure fruit expressing varietally correct blackcurrant, cigar box and little to no green flavoured attributes. A clean, muscular-weight, sound wine; the tannins have excellent length and the acid is notable on the finish but this baby has loads of potential and needs ages to mature. Highly Recommended with ** for value, it's difficult to rate now as it is so closed and tight but the wine has loads of potential. Come back in 2012 for another look.
Woodlands 2004 (as yet unnamed) Cabernet Sauvignon should be released in December 2007. An attractive, floral bouquet delivers flavours of cassis, blackcurrant, mint and cigar box with no overt green characters. This wine is all about structure at the moment, and the structure is excellent with pure, deeply-seated fruit, clean acid and heaps of powdery tannins. Not quite as big as the 2003, it is impeccably poised and has more class. The complexity is already showing signs of positive development and the wine should be a blinder in time. Rated as Excellent with *** for value, bury it in the cellar for 10 years.
Stuart and brother Andrew .................
We tasted the finished wines first, and then moved into the winery for a long chat and many barrel samples.
Prior to 2002, the wines were made by Mark Lane but since that time they have been made in-house. Based on the finished wines I have consumed, the finished wines I have tried, as well as numerous barrel samples, the wines are getting better year on year. By their own admission, from 2001 to 2003, the vineyard was probably not as well-managed as it could have been because it was managed on a part-time basis. Many of these earlier wines were not as ripe as the more recent vintages; the difference has been achieved because since 2003 Stuart has been there full-time and spends vast amounts of time improving the vineyards.
According to Stuart, the varietal expression of each grape variety grown in their vineyard is now a true expression of their vineyard; it is not only a true representation, it is the best representation they have been able to achieve.
From the moment we walked in, there is one aspect of this winery that sets it apart from almost any other visited. If you could bottle enthusiasm, the Watson family would be producing wines that would score a hundred points on anybody's scale. The level of their enthusiasm and commitment seems to know no bounds.
Surprisingly, or in some ways I guess not so surprisingly, part of that enthusiasm relates to the “T” word (terroir.) The conversation went like this, “Terroir is a funny thing, because I don't think it applies to just a particular wine, or even a variety. It's multilayered, it's the site, it's how we interact with the vineyard; and it's expressing individual characters from the site. I would like to think that when you sniff a wine from Woodlands, you are sniffing a wine that no one else could make. It represents things that have gone on in the vineyard and it's in individual expression of Woodlands; it is an expression of us.”
According to Stuart, “Our wines sell out very quickly and the winery has a philosophy of doing our best, and not skimping on quality; even to the detriment of the bank balance. Life is not about money, but you do need enough to operate. For example, our eighty-dollar Cabernet has a two-dollar cork in it; there are only three or four other producers in Australia using this quality cork. Even the boxes for our top Cabernet cost three or four dollars a bottle and the labels cost two dollars. I know it's what's in the bottle that is important, but it is also important to have good presentation. The reason I have mentioned these costs is because it is to show that we are not afraid to spend money to try and produce the best wine possible.”
Finally, Stuart summed it up perfectly when he said, "It’s all karma, what goes around comes around; if we invest in our vineyard it will come back in our wines.” And brother Andrew was not short with a closing comment either. “The people that surround us and the people that have come into our life are passionate and have helped us improve the vineyard, they also represent the life of the vineyard, and that life and energy is going into our wine.”
As I mentioned earlier, if you could bottle massive amounts of enthusiasm it would make hundred point wines consistently, and if anyone can bottle passion and enthusiasm, it’s Woodlands.
Have a look at this newspaper article, its worthwhile and shows how things come full circle.
We had plenty of time to free-wheel as the next appointment was not until after lunch, so we headed back to Fermoy Estate on the off-chance that it may actually be open. I don’t remember if the cellar door and winery have been made out of rammed earth, or if it's cement-rendered, but the pink colour is certainly different, and in its own way, not at all bad looking.
When we walked into the cellar door, for a small operation, it was quite busy with a fair number of people tasting wine. The lady behind cellar door was babbling away fluently in what Brian thought to be Danish (one of their wines is advertised as having been chosen to be served at a function for Princess Mary of Denmark). Whilst we were waiting for a bit of space at the counter, we had a good look around the facility and there was a large quantity of back vintages available, some of which looked like they were priced reasonably. We eventually made our way to the counter and started trying the wines.
Fermoy Estate 2003 Merlot sells for $30 at cellar door. A floral, musk bouquet with a touch of lanolin; it's a simple, easy drinking wine with noticeable acidity and esters. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and simple complexity, the wine is rated as Barely Drinkable with * for value.
Fermoy Estate 2002 Shiraz sells for $22 at cellar door. A black bouquet with pooey undertones. Intense, ripe blackberry fruit finishes with reasonable persistence. Medium-weight with a supple consistency, solid structure and an agreeable complexity, it just doesn't do anything for me. Rated as Acceptable with ** for value.
Fermoy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (according to their website 2002 is the current release but I neglected to write it down,) sells for $26 at cellar door. The nose on this wine was rank, it was probably off, but it was so bad it was in the “DNPIM” (do not put in mouth) category and as the previous two wines have been so disappointing, we didn't waste our time asking for a fresh bottle. We just hightailed out of there.
Having found the place closed on two occasions when we wanted to taste the wine, I should have heeded the warning.
As this winery was my pick, I wasn't game to have another go and decided to let the boys pick the next couple. They got out the maps, Halliday's bible and the Touring the Plonk Regions of WA book and sat there cackling like two old mother hens whilst they worked on the advantages and disadvantages of a number of potential places; worse than an old ladies knitting circle it was!
They chose Willespie and why do you think they picked that particular winery? Have a look at the spelling of the last three letters of the name; if there is a pie involved, those guys will check it out. So what did I know about this winery? Nothing! What can I tell you about it now? For a start, the driveway is not 5 km long and they don't have a large clothing boutique. The cellar door building, looks like a cellar door building and is not trying to imitate the Taj Mahal or a grandiose edifice; it's all dark beam timber and exposed brick. To get to the tasting area, you walk up a flight of stairs into a room that looks and feels like a real cellar door. No flash electronically controlled spittoons and mood lighting in this joint. I like it.
We were met by a bright and bubbly, keen and enthusiastic young lady, who was the owner's daughter. According to Davo, she wasn't bad on the eyes either, but needing new eye-glasses, I wouldn't know anything about that, however she certainly was helpful. The winery has a fairly diverse range of wines with the most expensive being $35, so they are in the affordable category.
Willespie Dawson Gully Sparkling Pizzaz sells for $18.50 at cellar door. Well, blow me down a Sparkling Shiraz in Margaret River, whatever will they think of next; at this rate they may get good mobile phone coverage in 2025. This is not designed to be a serious wine, but it doesn't have a serious price tag. The bouquet shows blackberry with a touch of VA and oxidised characters; sweet on the uptake with an off-sweet mid-palate; the finish is clipped but the flavour profile is good. Well and truly drinkable, whilst it didn't do much for me, the others liked it enough to buy a bottle, which they scoffed down later that evening. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Willespie 1999 Merlot sells for $30 at cellar door. The way the blackberry dominates the flavour profile, I could have mistaken this for a Shiraz. Medium-weight, the unobtrusive smooth tannins build and provide a supple consistency and solid structure; the complexity is agreeable and whilst the wine is drinkable, it did absolutely nothing for me. Rated as Recommended with ** for value.
Willespie 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30 at cellar door. An inky-black nose and whilst it's not syrupy, it reeks of coffee and blackberry. The wine is well balanced with obvious fruit and unobtrusive but well judged, smooth tannins. Intense blackberry, tobacco leaf, mint and coffee, it finishes with good intensity. A well rounded wine with medium-body weight and whilst it's a good wine, it is not my style. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Willespie 1999 Shiraz sells for $35 at cellar door. A well-balanced wine with loads of drying, dusty tannins and fresh acid; it's just ample-weight with a firm consistency and well-developed complexity. Coffee, loads of oak, with strong spice/pepper, plum and liquorice; whilst it is very ripe it is within bounds. The best of the line up, it is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Besides being a fun winery to visit, it is also pleasing to see someone serving and selling wines that are seven or eight years old for reasonable prices, rather than wines that are a couple of years old and pricey.
Why the boys chose Hay Shed Hill as the next port of call I have no idea. The cellar door and winery buildings are stark; made out of snow-white painted weatherboard with a silver galvanised tin roof, it sounds like it could look ugly, but with the red dirt and all the green from the well-tended gardens in front of the winery and the vines as a backdrop, it is simple, clean, and aesthetically it works. The bell tower entrance breaks the monotony and adds character. The inside of the cellar door is bright and modern; it houses not only the wine tasting area, and what is becoming almost an obligatory clothing shop, this one takes it one step further having a small jewellery accessory area too. But wait, it doesn't end there; this one also sells motorcycles: well not really, it's a competition prize.
They sell two ranges of wine, the Pitchfork series, which is their entry-level offering, and their premium Hay Shed Hill range. We stuck to the premium wines, and whilst typing up these notes, I had a look at some of the comments/reviews on their web site promoting the Pitchfork series and let's just say I am glad I stuck to the premiums.
Hay Shed Hill 2004 Cabernet Merlot sells for $24 at cellar door. Perfumed blackcurrant and vanillin oak with earthy undertones leads to a sweet red berry uptake, with an off-sweet blackcurrant and violet spectrum mid-palate that finishes with a touch of tobacco leaf. Tightly-grained, silky tannins, unobtrusive acid and pure deeply-seated fruit combine to form a well-balanced, medium-weight wine with a supple consistency, a harmonious complexity and attractive mouth feel. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, it’s a very good wine that will improve and as it does, the rating should go up.
Hay Shed Hill 2004 Shiraz sells for $35 at cellar door. The bouquet showed a touch of volatility with spice and earthy coffee notes. The medium intensity fruit is not up to the dominant coffee oak flavours or the abundant oak tannins. Rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
A mixed result, the main thrust for the winery seems to be at the commercial end of the spectrum.
Since completing this chapter Australian Wine Holdings Ltd who owns this winery and a few others has announced its half-year results to 31 December 2005. The situation is not rosy; on turnover of almost $3.3 million, they lost almost $30K and whilst that not sound like much, the full story tells more. On issued capital of almost $27.5 million, due to accumulated losses, the total equity is only about $5.8 million. In the notes which form part of their financial statement its states, "The ability of the consolidated entity to continue as an going concern including the ability of the consolidated entity to pay its debts as and when they fall due is dependent upon the ongoing support of its shareholders and financiers, and specifically the successful completion of additional capital raising proposals in the immediate term." the directors believe there is no reason to doubt that these sources of funds will not become available. However, should losses continue and the capital raising not be successful, there exists significant uncertainty has the ability of the consolidated entity to continue as a going concern."
So to those that think things aren't going to get tough in Margaret River and they will be exempt from the grape surplus, here is just one little bit of proof that all is not rosy in the garden.
The next appointment was at two o'clock at Woody Nook Winery. I had heard good things about The Nookery, their café/restaurant and as we were not far away and it was lunchtime, we decided to give it a try. The driveway into Woody Nook is very different from most other driveways in the region; it's red dirt which is not that uncommon, but the standout feature is that you feel like you are driving into a forest; lots and lots of beautiful, big old trees; it gives the place a wonderful atmosphere. You don't feel like you're going into a denuded, ultramodern minimalist concrete and glass jungle, or another rammed earth building that has had its surroundings nuked by Agent Orange, and then at best, planted with a putting-green like lawn.
The car park was pretty full so we were unsure if we would be able to get in for lunch as we had not made a reservation. I made a management decision and sent Davo in to see if they had room for three starving lads. We were about to send a search party out to find him, when he returned with good news and bad news. The bad news was the outside eating area, which has a wonderful atmosphere, was fully booked; the good news was they had room inside. So we parked the bus and went to our table, which was right in the corner next to the cellar door. Probably the worst table in the house, but I have sat in far worse locations, so it was fine.
The serving staff brought over the menus but then it's up to you to go to the counter, and order and pay for the meal. It was my turn to pay, so I ordered the food at the open hatch which looks right into the kitchen. It made the average beehive look like an old age home. The food was being prepared with military precision and timing, but it certainly didn't look like army food, it looked bloody scrumptious and smelled even better.
I ordered grilled pink snapper with sweet potato wedges, and a tomato, capsicum and pine nut salsa ($24.) Guess what the boys ordered? You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out; it was more pies. On this occasion they were lamb pies with a Shiraz sauce and a crusted pastry hat. The accompanying green beans were al dente, and there were potato wedges too ($17.50.) Both of them were incredibly quiet when they were eating and hardly said a word, so the pies must have been good. Davo did have one complaint, after eating the first mouthful and going scarlet he said, “I think I should send this back because it's not hot enough; after that first swallow, it's only cooked my gullet medium rare.”
I visited Woody Nook three years ago and thought it was a much underrated winery, and that was very quietly doing good things in an understated manner, and I was really looking forward to seeing if I was just lucky last time or this place was a genuine find.
Firstly, a bit of background about the winery; it all started when the first vines were planted in 1982. There is currently approximately 17 acres of non-irrigated vines, but there is 60 acres of forest surrounding the winery; and that's what makes it such a special location. In 1999 the winery changed hands and was purchased by Peter and Jane Bailey. The Bailey’s spend much of their time in the US as Peter is the CEO of an “Alumina” corporation in Texas; or to put that in Australian English, he is the boss cocky of an aluminium company. It's quite handy living there, as Jane handles the importing of their wine into the US market.
When they bought the winery, Neil Gallagher stayed on as winemaker and became a shareholder in the business.
After lunch, we moved into the cellar door area to start the tasting. We were met by Judy Barry, the cellar door manager and as Jane Bailey was in the country, she joined as too. Although it was Sunday, there is no rest for the wicked and Neil was kind enough to come in and talk to us.
We had managed to clear a nice little spot at the counter but there was one smelly problem. There was a customer (cretin) sitting directly outside the cellar door smoking a (many four letter words) cigar and the wind was blowing the smoke right into the cellar door where we were trying to assess the wines. I have smelled cigar box characters in Cabernet, but this was bloody ridiculous. Assessing the wines under these circumstances was pointless, so either the cigar smoker went or we went. Not wishing to upset a customer, even if they do smoke stinking cigars, it was decided that we should move into the winery and do the tasting there. What a fine idea.
Fairly shortly after we started tasting the wines again, the subject of Brett came up and Neil, having a very dry sense of humour and being a bit of a wag, said, “We are so manic about Brett in this place, we won't even employ anyone with that name any more.”
The winery currently has two labels, the Kill Dog Creek label which is used for bought-in fruit and their own Estate label.
Prices quoted are recommended retail but there is a 10% discount for case purchases, or 15% off for cellar door club members. Value ratings are based on the case price.
Kill Dog Creek 2002 Cabernet Merlot sells for $19.95 at cellar door; it is a 75-25% blend. Driven by pure fruit, cherry, milk chocolate, blackcurrant, mint and aniseed flavours, it finishes with crisp acid. Medium-weight with a soft consistency and agreeable, harmonious complexity, it's a good pasta wine and okay for the price. Rated as Agreeable with *** for value.
Kill Dog Creek 2002 Cabernet Shiraz sells for $19.95 at cellar door. A fruit driven bouquet with varnished oak, milk chocolate, coffee and all sorts of other goodies; it's attractive. Ripe, velvety tannins provide a soft consistency and the plum, chocolate, cigar leaf and touch of herbaceous Cabernet characters, finishes clean and fresh. With a more than agreeable complexity this very drinkable wine, which will please any crowd, just glides down effortlessly. It could be dangerous. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Woody Nook 2002 Merlot sells for $28.95 and is only available from cellar door or online; only 142 cases have been produced. A dusty nose, it is earthy with brooding mulberries, and a shaved varnished oak character. It’s impeccably balanced with unobtrusive, silky tannins, fresh but unobtrusive acid and pure, persistent fruit which delivers plum, mulberry, chocolate and mint flavours that finish clean. Medium-weight with a supple consistency and harmonious complexity, this was one of the better Merlots tasted on the trip and it’s rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value.
I had it pegged to drink from 2008+ but the boys took a bottle home and after it had been opened for a number of hours, they found the wine lost a bit of complexity and became a bit simple, so I now am unsure if this drinking window is correct.
Woody Nook 2001 Shiraz sells for $27.95 at cellar door and is about to run out. The bouquet exhibits noticeable oak, earthy nuances and plum. An ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity, the tannins are smooth and the fruit distinct and obvious. Blackberry, char, coffee and liquorice flavours produce a very attractive wine but the 2002 vintage is better and more complex. Rated as Recommended with **** for value, the rating may improve as the wine matures.
The new releases waiting to go out .............................
Woody Nook 2002 Shiraz sells for $27.95 at cellar door. A fruit driven bouquet showing rich blackcurrant and ripe blackberry liqueur; there is minimal oak influence as only 16% of the wood used is new. A seriously good wine for the price; the silky tannins provide a supple consistency and splendid mouth feel whilst the pure, deeply-seated strong fruit delivers blackberry liqueur, plum, chocolate, and coffee (which has been derived from the fruit not the oak) flavours which fill the mouth and finish with excellent persistence. Muscular-weight with a well-developed harmonious complexity, the wine is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value and whilst it can be drunk now, it will improve, and can happily be consumed over the next seven years.
Woody Nook 2002 Gallagher's Choice Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $30.95. The bouquet of this wine screams varietal Cabernet Sauvignon with leafy notes, cigar box dusty characters and blackcurrant. Almost silky, ultra-tight tannins combine with unobtrusive acid and pure fruit to produce a perfectly balanced, ample-weight wine with a supple consistency and well-developed complexity. The flavour profile shows excellent varietal definition with blackcurrant, mint, cigar box, tobacco and green bean. (In jest, I said this is good enough to be from Coonawarra.) This is the way Margaret River Cabernet should be and the wine is rated as Highly Recommended with **** for value; drink from 2009+.
So what can we look forward to in the future from Woody Nook? Firstly, the 2003 vintage wines have been split 50-50 between Stelvin and cork, but the plan is to move to screw caps over time. Secondly, the winery has bought more land right near the current vineyard and over the next five years plans to double production (and is looking to plant some Italian and/or Spanish varieties). However, the increase in production will not be at the expense of the quality of the existing estate grown wines. That is why they have the Kill Dog Creek label; any lesser quality fruit will go into those wines. The old vineyards are dry grown, but the new vineyards have water which will enable irrigation to help get the vines established.
Woody Nook would have to be one of the standout experiences of this trip. The staff are extremely friendly; the winery is cute and located in a gorgeous setting, and aesthetically it is more than pleasing. The restaurant was full which is indicative of the quality of the food. Whilst the cellar door is extremely rustic, when we walked out of there, we all felt extremely satisfied in every respect, and you can't ask for more. The wines we tried, without exception, were all good and some of them represented standout value.
Picking Woody Nook was a winner and as I wanted to avoid another disaster like our visit to Fermoy, I magnanimously offered to let the two reprobates decide where we would go for the rest of the afternoon; if there were any disasters, it could be on their heads. They decided we should head south and check out a few of the wineries on the other side of the township.
The first winery chosen was Rosabrook Estate, which according to Davo has an interesting history. Apparently, shortly after Palandri started, there was a massive shortage of stainless steel tanks and as Rosabrook had some excellent equipment, Palandri purchased the company and took all the equipment, but they were not interested in the brand name, so it was re-established.
As we arrived at the winery, in his infinite wisdom Brian said, “This looks like it's been built by a kit home manufacturer.” After we'd been tasting wines for a while, when we got to the Slaughterhouse Cabernet we are informed that it was so named, as the building in which we were standing, which was originally built in 1930’s, had been a slaughterhouse. So much for kit home manufacturing!
Rosabrook 2003 Cabernet Merlot sells for $19 at cellar door. Slightly volatile/shaved oak characters with red berry fruit, menthol and dark berry notes were evident on the bouquet. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, open structure and an agreeable complexity; this is a very drinkable wine with juicy red and blue fruit flavours and coffee oak which finishes to chocolate and clean, crisp acid. Rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Rosabrook 2003 Shiraz sells for $24 at cellar door. The bouquet was very subtle and elegant showing black cherry which was replicated on the palate with the addition of chocolate and a slightly bitter green finish and sharp acid. Smooth tannins provided a supple mouth feel and the structure shows some elegance. Nevertheless, this is a soft, easy-drinking, crowd pleasing, grey suit wine that is rated as Agreeable with ** for value.
Rosabrook 2002 Slaughterhouse Block Reserve Cabernet sells for $35 at cellar door. A well-balanced and well-made wine; delivering blackcurrant, cigar box, tobacco, coffee and a clean acid finish going back into blackcurrant. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, a tight, solid structure and well-developed complexity, an attractive varietal Cabernet; it's rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value and should peak around 2008+.
Nothing earth-shattering here, but it was a safe result so I wondered how the next pick would turn out. While we were visiting Casas, which is on the same road as Rosabrook, John Casas had recommended that we visit Brown Hill Estate (which is also on the same road) and as Davo had tried their wines previously, he supported Brian's suggestion for a visit there.
Now what did I know about Brown Hill when we walked in the door? Exactly nothing! However, I now know that they have 60 acres of vineyards and all fruit used in the wines is non-irrigated and estate grown. When we walked into the winery, one thing was about as noticeable as John Casas’s dog’s you know what's; the amount of new, and relatively new oak. This winery works on the John Glaetzer philosophy of “no wood – no good.”
Our host was an interesting chappie; the salt of the earth, a man of very strong opinions who not afraid to express them; he certainly seemed like he had been working hard at enjoying “the fruits of the winery’s labours.” He and Davo swapped Kalgoorlie reminiscences, both had spent time there and the recent wines are named after Kalgoorlie “landmarks”.
Brown Hill 2004 Hannans Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $18 by the bottle or $16 by the case. Distinct, obvious fruit drives the wine and deliver loads of blackberry and liquorice flavours; it's an inky black job. Ample-weight with a supple consistency and an agreeable complexity it's very drinkable and good for the price. Rated as Recommended with **** for value (based on the case price.)
Brown Hill 2004 Chaffers Shiraz sells for $18 by the bottle or $16 by the case. Cedary oak dominates the dark fruit on the bouquet and the palate shows the same thing; there is not enough fruit. Sharp acid is also noticeable in this ample-weight wine with a simple complexity; it is rated as Acceptable with ** for value.
Brown Hill 2004 Finston Reserve Shiraz sells for $25 a bottle at cellar door. There is some good fruit at play here but you have to look hard under the abundant, drying tannins and be prepared to spit out the oak toothpicks in the process. Muscular-weight with a firm consistency, solid structure and simple complexity, the wine is rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Brown Hill 2004 Ivanhoe Reserve Cabernet sells for $25 at cellar door. The bouquet exhibits blackcurrant, loads of mushroom and cedar. A big, old fashioned red, the tannins are fierce and chewy. The deeply seated fruit seems good but is overshadowed by the oak at present; however it should have enough power to eventually win through. Blackcurrant, chocolate and coffee flavours are attractive but the wine needs a big sleep. Rated as Highly Recommended with *** for value, it needs the best part of the decade.
Brown Hill 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon is a back vintage and was opened to show us what the wines could become with a few years a bottle age. The bouquet certainly still shows plenty of oak, and so did the palate. Abundant tannins combine with sharp acid and obvious fruit to produce an ample-weight wine with a simple complexity and still needs many more years to show its best. Blackberry, coffee, chocolate and mint flavours finish with good persistence; rated as Agreeable.
When we walked out, Brian who is not exactly averse to oak said, “They will either become very bloody hard, or if the fruit surfaces, very bloody good.” I agree with Brian but the problem is I don't know which way some of them will go.
It was getting late in the afternoon but we still had time to do one more winery and Davo wanted to try Watershed. This is no family winery, it in investment proposition with one difference. According to their web site, “investors are invited to purchase 0.025 hectare lots which have already been planted, or will be planted with vines.” They also have to purchase “Land Shares” with each lot. If I read the information correctly, there is also a management fee payable. Exactly how it works I'm not sure, but it is certainly different from buying shares in the company like Fosters.
They have 78 ha of vineyards and a 201 mega litre dam to irrigate the 130,209 vines that were planted in 2001. There is an additional 39 ha of vineyards on the site; it's not exactly an insignificant operation.
No expense has been spared in the building of the cellar door facility; but the driveway is only medium length, and the clothing shop only has a moderate range.
Watershed 2004 Sangiovese sells for $26.95 at cellar door. A clean bouquet showing spice, cedary oak and red fruit characters leads to a palate showing cherries, spice/nutmeg, chocolate, coffee and aniseed but there is a reasonable level of oak influence noticeable. A strong grip is provided by the drying tannins in this well balanced, medium-weight solid wine that finishes with fresh acidity. Rated as Recommended with *** for value; as expected, it will be a good food wine.
...........................The Board Room
Watershed 2003 Shiraz sells for $26.95 at cellar door. A juicy fruit nose with nutmeg and cinnamon is replicated on the palate with juicy red and black fruit, pepper and liquorice flavours that finish with good persistence. Ample-weight with a supple consistency, the complexity is well developed and harmonious. A very-drinkable crowd pleasing wine that is driven by persistent, deeply-seated fruit and unobtrusive tannins; it’s rated as Recommended with *** for value.
Watershed 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot sells for $26.95 at cellar door. The bouquet shows a huge amount of dusty notes, good fruit and loads of leafy characters. Driven by pure fruit and smooth tannins, this medium-weight wine with a supple consistency is another easy drinking wine, but a true varietal Cabernet. Flavours of mint with ripe red berry fruit and a hint of tobacco finish cleanly; rated as Recommended with *** for value it's very drinkable.
When the wines from the 2002 vintage were released, the range consisted of two whites and two reds. Within two years, there are nine different wines, five whites and four reds; and there are still more 2004 releases to come. By the time the range is complete, there will be about a dozen different labels.
As much as I would prefer to support family-run wineries that have put their hearts and souls into their businesses because they have a passion for wine, there is no getting away from the fact that Watershed are making credible wines that are reasonable value. Whilst they are investment-run company doing it solely for the profit, you have to give them credit for their wines. Many wineries in the region have buildings that look spectacular, but that does not necessarily mean that they make good wine; Watershed’s cellar door is reasonably swish, and they are making good, fault-free, well crafted wine too.
Current production is approximately 75,000 cases and within five years they hope to be producing 175,000 cases; the growth plans are ambitious and the market is tough, but if they keep doing what they are doing, they may just achieve them.
That was the end of the day's formal wine tasting and as we headed back to the house, we discussed the day’s activities; Woody Nook was definitely the highlight of the day. When we got back to the house, the boys threw the Willespie Dawson Gully Sparkling Pizzaz into the fridge with the intention of drinking it as soon as it was cold enough, and not another nanosecond later. I tried to convince Davo that as Brian had sacrificed one of his Gralyn is the previous night; it was only fitting and proper that he sacrificed one of his tonight. After questioning my parentage, he politely declined in a manner that would make a marine drill sergeant blush.
As we had eaten a substantial and very satisfying lunch, the plan was to go into town and get some take-away from an upmarket specialty take-away shop that had been recommended to us. We piled into the car and drove into town only to find it closed on Sunday night. Brian had a “brainwave” and decided we should try the take-away curry place in the main street, but as we got there at 6.45 pm the place was closing. Brian then had a second brainwave (his brainwaves can be dangerous) and decided we should try the Thai restaurant in one of the local pubs, so we sent him in to check it out. He came out muttering something about Sunday-night buffet food, bain-marie”, food poisoning and other touching concerns, and we were left with the general impression that it was just possible that he didn't want to eat there.
The Sea Garden restaurant at Prevelly beach was looking better all the time, and that's where we headed. For a Sunday night, it was fairly full but tonight there were not as many children or dogs. Davo with kind enough to bring a Batista 1999 Shiraz and the first sniff indicated Band-Aids. The palate showed delightful fruit with spice, pepper and some minor Brett characters, including a metallic edge on the palate. Whilst the Brett was not offensive (Brian: it was too much for me), I wouldn't like to have tried it if it had been heat affected. The tannins were tightly-grained and fine but they seemed to be overly drying on the finish.
For a main course I had duck on mash which was brilliantly presented and whilst it was cooked to perfection, it did not have a huge amount of flavour. The sauce was good but it could have also had more flavour.
It looks like my bad luck with food is contagious and Davo caught it. When our main courses were delivered, that's my main course and Brian's main course; we thought that Davo's would be out shortly. After a few minutes, a very apologetic waitress informed us they had forgotten to cook Davo’s steak. Besides the fact it couldn't happen to a nicer or more deserving guy, I'm glad to see I'm not the only person that has this sort of problem. After I had dictated these comments, Davo pointed his steak knife at me and said, "You are about to undergo some unscheduled surgery, there will be no anaesthetic used; and no, it will not be claimable on Medicare.”
Davo being the suave, sophisticated and debonair sort of chap he is, said to the waitress, "Don't worry love, just pull its horns off, wipe its bum, pass it over a candle and stick it on a plate." And the way he eats his steak, that's not far from what he really wanted.
What an absolutely glorious place to have dinner; sitting outside in the cool night air enjoying the ocean breeze and view, eating good food, having a sip of wine, and best of all, watching Davo drool whilst he waited for his meal to arrive. However he did entertain us with some of his knowledge. Based on his extensive medical research, Davo has determined the favourite sexual position in Australia is the “doggie position.” He sits up and begs and she rolls over and plays dead.
We were having so much fun that we decided to have dessert; I ordered “death by chocolate”. Just as well the Department of Fair Trading didn't do a snap inspection as they may have been done for making false claims. There was a piece of chocolate cake, which wasn't hugely rich, more’s the pity; the richness came from the three inches of chocolate on the top of the cake. It would have been better balanced had there have been more chocolate through the cake.
Brian also had the chocolate cake and thought it was better than I did; but then his palate has been trashed by all that chilli that he eats, and his taste is being corrupted by all those pies. Davo had a pear and polenta cake that he thought was damn good.
When we got back to the house, the boys decided to get stuck into the Sparkling Shiraz and watch the final episode of Carnivale, but as it didn't do anything for me, I let them scoff it down. And so ended another most enjoyable day, with a few more to look forward to I fell asleep a contented man. Stay tuned for the next chapter, next week. And the big question is will the neighbours call the Environmental Protection Agency in the middle of the night, which will undoubtedly result in Davo being charged with noise pollution because of his snoring?
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