10 Minutes with Houghtons Winemaker Courtney Treacher

By Fergal Gleeson

1. It’s fascinating to compare Jack Mann from Frankland River and Gladstones from Margaret River, the iconic Cabernets in the Houghton range. How do these different vineyards and regions effect what’s in the glass?

I agree it is fascinating, John Gladstone whom the Gladstones wine is named after identified Margaret River as being similar in climate to Bordeaux. Gladstones is a single vineyard wine sourced from the Batley vineyard in the heart of WIlyabrup. It is a unique site that has deep and fertile soils with a lush canopy and quite large bunches, different to anything else we see around the Margaret River region. Being surrounded by the ocean, the region has quite a Mediterranean climate. 

Jack Mann, named after the late Jack Mann, a well known figure in Western Australian winemaking, on the other hand, is sourced predominantly from the Frankland River region. Further south than Margaret River, this region produces quite different wines. Frankland River is broader scale with blue open skies and a different soil profile, degraded granitic soils with a lower nutritional value. The biggest variant between the two is the day/night temperatures, in Frankland River, there are warmer days and cooler nights. 

Both are fantastic winemaking regions, which offer something quite unique to one another. The Gladstones Cabernet is a very typical expression of Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon it is characterised by a distinctly regional bay leaf and cassis aromatic, the palate has quite an open structure with fine firm tannins. The Jack Mann on the other hand has quite a dark fruited profile, the aromatics are complexed with black olive and the palate is coiled, precise and focussed, it is a wine with a very long future.  

2. How does the winemaking differ between the two wines?

Our philosophy at Houghton is hands-on in the vineyard and during fruit selection, hands off in the winery. We prefer to let things happen fairly naturally and try not to interfere with the fruit. 

The 2019 vintage in both Frankland and Margaret River was characterised by persistent cool conditions leading into a later than average commencement to harvest. With low yielding crops, the intensity of flavour was evident but balanced by fine, firm tannins. The Margaret River region did experience a rain event early in the season which has manifest in an ethereal structure in the Gladstone Cabernet Sauvignon.

The main difference between the two wines (aside from region and climate) would be that the Jack Mann is a subtle blend of both Cabernet and Malbec (7% Malbec). The addition of Malbec really completes the final blend adding a plush fruitiness to really round out the flavours and balance the Cabernet. 

3. CW Ferguson is a Cabernet Malbec blend. How much Malbec is typically used and what does this bring to the wine?

C.W. Ferguson is such a fantastic expression of the Frankland River with dense and powerful fruit supported by firm and fine tannins. We often refer to C.W. Ferguson as the ‘baby Jack Mann’, as it’s quite similar fruit resourcing. The C.W. Ferguson is just a little more early drinking and a little bit more approachable. 

In terms of specific breakdown, the C.W. Ferguson can vary in its Malbec percentage from roughly 10-20%. The Malbec is used first to balance the Jack Mann and then the balance is available for the C.W. Ferguson. The Cabernet is broken down into quite small parcels, all fruit is hand picked and hand sorted. It then goes through open fermentation with wild yeast, is basket pressed and then put down to oak for roughly 18 months for maturation. 

4. You’ve recently been appointed senior winemaker at Houghton how will your own wine making style impact future releases?

Houghton is unique and rich in its heritage, having had only 13 Senior Winemakers at the helm before me. I joined Houghton in 2004 as a cellar hand and never left. It’s an honour to continue the Houghton philosophy and style of winemaking, which is to do most of the work in the vineyard and focus on quality fruit selection. It is then for the winemakers to carefully nurture the wines through their maturation, blending and fining through to bottle. 

I have no grand plans for change, but there may be some minor finessing around oak selection, for example. We aim to provide a pure version of the fruit and vintage each year with minimal winemaking intervention. We may finesse around the edges but only to continue increasing the quality of wines produced at Houghton. 

5. Houghton sources wine from across West Australia but has recently moved production and the cellar door from the Swan Valley to Margaret River. Will there be more of a focus on Margaret River fruit in future?

Previously, the Houghton wines were always made at both facilities. The aim was for the fruit to be delivered to the same winery that it would be bottled. 

For example, White Classic, Verdelho, oaked Chardonnay and premium Frankland River reds were made at the Houghton Swan Valley winery, with Margaret River Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, commercial reds and premium Margaret River reds made at the Houghton winery in Nannup.

Now, all of the wines are fermented and completed at the Houghton winery in Nannup. The resulting wines are produced with the same consistency of style, whether it be the beloved Houghton White Classic or a beautifully complex icon wine such as a Gladstones Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The Houghton brand has had a long association with the Margaret River region. Our group own the picturesque Brookland Valley vineyard where the Houghton and Brookland Valley cellar door now resides. Houghton will maintain our focus on the region from our new Houghton Premium Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon through to the iconic Gladstones. Houghton will always remain a champion of West Australian wine from across the rich tapestry of WA’s wine growing regions.

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More at http://www.houghton-wines.com.au

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