Site selection crucial for Frankland Estate

(L-R) Barrie Smith, Judi Cullam, Hunter Smith, Winemaker Brian Kent & Elizabeth Smith. (Photo: Frankland Estate)

“Dad had just shy of 2,000 acres on which to plant a vineyard,” says Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate. “The selection of the right site was crucial, and he dug a lot of holes before deciding. The ironstone ridge – of hard little ironstone pebbles – was believed to be desirable.”

And that is where he planted the Frankland Estate vineyard, which now covers 34 hectares of what was a sheep and cattle farm in the remote south-west of Western Australia.

Frankland Estate has emerged as one of the great vineyards of Australia.

Once you’ve planted vines and erected trellisies, it’s too late to change your mind, and Barrie Smith’s decision to plant where he did was as well planned as it was fortuitous. Frankland Estate has emerged as one of the great vineyards of Australia. It’s most famous for riesling but shiraz, chardonnay and a cabernet family blend called Olmo’s Reward are also superb.

Frankland Estate is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a series of events around Australia. It is 30 years since Barrie Smith and his wife Judi Cullam planted their first vines.

Their son, Hunter Smith, credits the subsequent naming of the vineyard as Isolation Ridge to their marketing consultant at the time, Guy Grant.

It’s a no-brainer as the vineyard is one of the most remote in Australia.

Judi had been a radiologist and Barrie a real estate agent at the time they decided to buy land and farm it. Later, trips to the wine regions of France and Germany, including a memorable one to Bordeaux with South Australian winemaker Bill Hardy, saw them fall in love with wine.

Now, wine has taken over their lives.

What is so good about this site?

“Cold nights and cold southerly winds” balance the warm sunny days and “the diurnal temperature variation sets the tone, and captures the natural acidity,” says Hunter.

“A lot of riesling-makers around the world say ‘If you’ve got acidity, you can do anything’.”

And Frankland Estate grapes have plenty of acidity.

The entire vineyard is certified organic, which also helps: “Since we’ve been organic, the acidity hangs on better.”

The Smiths also lease the 3-hectare Poison Hill vineyard which produces one of their single-site rieslings. Hunter believes all of their wines share a ‘house style’, and I’d agree with him. Part of that style is due to fully ripe grapes, which result from a relatively long hang-time. The climate allows this without loss of natural acidity.

The quality of these wines was amply demonstrated by a tasting hosted by Hunter. Isolation Ridge rieslings were poured, from 2017 back through 2016, 2015, then a jump to 2006, 2002 and 1991. All were still drinking superbly, the 1991 despite it being sealed with a cork. Made from first-crop grapes, the ’91 was deep, bright golden colour with a bouquet of lightly browned toast, very complex, the palate rich and deep and quite refined in texture.

The 2002 was the star, curiously from a vintage that made great rieslings throughout Australia. Still only light to mid-yellow in colour, it was fresh and tight, crisp and delicate, with terrific intensity and refinement. A great wine which still has years ahead of it.

I thought the 2015 was also outstanding, while the current release 2017 lacks nothing in comparison and could well prove to be another top wine in time.

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