By Fergal Gleeson
Geographe is home to a diverse group of winemakers. A characteristic of the region is that most wineries are family owned and there’s a good chance you’ll meet the founders when you visit the cellar door.
Heading from north to south I’ve spoken to five winemakers about their stories concluding with Smallwater and Oakway Wines.
Owner of Smallwater Wines John Small jokes that he never thought he would own a winery! He wanted to farm marron (a large freshwater crayfish) but needed another source of income.
The adjoining property sold grapes to Cape Mentelle so he thought he would plant grapes himself and things have grown from there.
After selling his grapes to Cape Mentelle himself for a number of years he started Smallwater Wines which is now billed as the most awarded boutique winery in Geographe.
Marron, sourced from the dam on the property, is the signature dish at the estate restaurant where it’s served three ways in a pie, croquette and a cocktail. John rates marron as having a superior flavour to crayfish because it has softer texture.
The restaurant is popular with visitors from Bunbury and Perth who enjoy the laid back, rustic setting and the panoramic water views. His bestselling wines are Rob’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel of which he has the oldest commercial plantings in the region.
“I notice the public are becoming more knowledgeable and adventurous when it comes to trying alternative varieties,” says John. “Geographe, because of it’s northerly location, is the most reliable of the West Australian regions in ripening fruit.”
Oakway Estate Wines
Ria and Wayne Hammond bought their property in Geographe 27 years ago. They lived in Perth and wanted to bring up their young children in the country. They bought the property because it had an apple and stone fruit orchard on it.
They started with Cabernet and Shiraz. Like many pioneering winemakers in Geographe they didn’t have a background in the industry. They learnt by researching how to do things and then trying them out.
Their Chardonnay is their most awarded wine and their Sauvignon Blanc Semillon has been previously been awarded one of the top 4 blends in Australia by the Wine and Viticulture Journal.
Since then they have progressed more towards alternative varietals such as Vermentino, Nero d’Avola, Malbec and Muscat.
“I can understand why consumers are confused when they see so many unfamiliar varieties at the bottle shop. But I’ve seen when they try a sample at our Cellar Door they are very confident to buy alternatives.”
Oakway Wines also offer a variety of craft beers on site which are brewed by Wayne and his son. They are named Ned’s Brew after the family dog. Ned’s handsome face also appears on the label.
“People want an experience when they visit a wine region not just to try a few wines. Our café has lovely views. People sit down with a pizza or a platter and a bottle of wine for hours.”
“Sit down and watch the world go by!” Ria jokes, “But nothing goes by! Except the Capel River!”
From Found Magazine