Whicher Ridge worth seeking out
Winemaker Cathy Howard’s vineyard missed the jackpot by two kilometres. She and her viticulturist husband Neil own the Whicher Ridge vineyard, which is 2km east of the Gladstones Line, which defines the eastern boundary of the Margaret River wine region.Both Cathy and Neil have vast experience with other wineries and vineyards, from which their own wines now benefit.
The wines are labelled Geographe, which is the region adjoining Margaret River to its north and east. Taste them, and their kinship to Margaret River is immediately evident. Indeed, the vineyard is on land that is much better wine country than some of the land in Margaret River, such as Jindong – the low-lying flat land in eastern Margaret River.
As the name suggests, Whicher Ridge is on elevated ground – the Whicher Range of hills. As Cathy Howard says, it is 200m higher than Margaret River’s famed Wilyabrup subregion, and the grapes ripen one to two weeks later (an indication that it’s cooler). “We’re on similar gravelly soil as Wilyabrup,” she says.
Whicher Ridge wines have done very well in my tastings for a number of years, but the Howards don’t have distribution in the eastern states as yet. They are open to visitors by appointment, and Cathy’s aromatic garden is an extra reason to make the trip. It is a garden in two parts: vegetables and fruits in one part; aromatic plants in the other, and visitors are invited to sniff and make connections between the smells of the flowers and the wines. (See my earlier story from 2016).
Being outside the Margaret River region, some distance from its main tourist areas and down a dirt road, Whicher Ridge doesn’t share in the Margaret River visitor circuit but is worth the detour. The wines are superb and Cathy Howard has a great feel for whites, her sauvignon blanc and viognier especially touched with some exotic complexities which set them apart.
Both she and Neil have vast experience with other wineries and vineyards, from which their own wines now benefit. Cathy worked 16 years at Orlando and St Hallett in the Barossa before moving to Margaret River to work at Watershed Wines. Neil worked in the Pyrenees at Taltarni, Blue Pyrenees Estate and Mount Avoca before moving to the West, where he managed Sandalford’s Margaret River vineyard.
Their own vines produce 40 to 45 tonnes of grapes a year, mainly sauvignon blanc, some of which they sell as grapes to other wineries, and they supplement their own fruit by buying in chardonnay, shiraz and malbec from the Great Southern and Margaret River.
Of their 50-hectare farm, five hectares are under vines.
They recently added a 2016 sparkling chardonnay blanc de blancs, named Whitetail, which had 18 months on lees. It’s a stylish wine, with cashew, honey and custard aromas; refined and complex.
An important sideline for Cathy is making wine for the direct selling club, Naked Wines.
Whicher Ridge may be off the beaten track, but it’s worth a visit on your next trip to this part of the world. It’s certainly on my list.