Flametree’s sub-regional focus

Cliff Royle

Flametree winemaker Cliff Royle (Photo: Flametree Wines)

Flametree’s ‘SRS’ or Sub-Regional Series became a hot potato two years ago when the use of the Wallcliffe name was disputed by Cape Mentelle (tastings). Flametree’s Sub-Regional Series includes a Karridale sauvignon blanc, a Wilyabrup cabernet sauvignon and a Wallcliffe chardonnay.

Cape Mentelle has long used the Wallcliffe name on its top-line sauvignon blanc semillon, and although the name has not been gazetted as a Margaret River sub-region, Cape Mentelle tried to stop other wineries using that name on labels. It sooled its lawyers onto Flametree but eventually desisted.

The New Zealand sauvignon blanc miracle has, to a degree, spoilt the market for Margaret River sauvignon blanc, SSB and SBS blends, but Flametree winemaker Cliff Royle believes the market may be recovering.

“I hope SBS is coming back; we are making them more interesting, with barrel fermentation, lees contact, giving them more textural interest,” he says.

While other wineries pursue the individual vineyard concept or the Reserve strategy, Flametree is more interested in showcasing the sub-regional differences in the Margaret River region.

“I don’t want to promote someone’s vineyard for them, and I don’t like the idea of Reserve – I don’t want to say this wine is better than that wine. Our Sub-Regional Series allows the flexibility to use different vineyards in different vintages.”

“There are six sub-regions, and Wallcliffe always had a strength in chardonnay. It makes a tighter, leaner, grapefruit and dried pear style. It suits the Flametree style – we are at the tighter, finer end of Margaret River chardonnay.”

The 2015 SRS Chardonnay is a low 12.6% alcohol, with lots of sulfides.

“I always admire the savouriness of good Burgundy,”

Says Royle. On the other hand, he doesn’t like to see too much sulfide.

“I always ask myself when I taste other people’s wines: ‘Are they doing it because they don’t have enough fruit?”

But give him a glass of Coche-Dury and he’d pretty much be in heaven.

The Flametree SRS Chardonnay relies mainly on three vineyards: Chalice Bridge, Rosa Park and Rockfield.

The use of puncheons instead of barriques is big at Flametree and especially suits its restrained style.

“Puncheons give you a bigger volume of wine to barrel surface area, so the wines are less oaky, but also they retains their freshness and their carbon dioxide.”

The regular Flametree Chardonnay ($25) sells well; indeed, Royle says he could sell it all in the UK alone.

“We can’t make enough of it,” he says. “There is no shortage of chardonnay grapes in Margaret River, but there is a shortage of good chardonnay.”

Incidentally, the 2015 SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay ($65) is a stunner.

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