The spectacular Great Southern is brimming with world-class wines and exceptional produce; it’s a place where sharing a glass of riesling over freshly shucked local oysters is not uncommon. The pace is slower in this epicurean paradise, and the people are as welcoming as the region is bountiful.
The wines of the subregions – Porongurup, Mount Barker, Frankland River, Albany and Denmark – each have a distinct personality. In Porongurup, the rieslings are beautifully elegant with a defining minerality, while Mount Barker and Frankland River wines are fruit-driven, rich and powerful. The forest meets the ocean in Denmark and Albany, where tantalising expressions of chardonnay and pinot noir evoke a sense of place.
It is a leisurely four-hour drive from Perth until I arrive at the birthplace of this vast region, Mount Barker. Warm days, with lengthy sunny periods and cool nights, provide prolonged ripening conditions for varieties such as shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and riesling. This environment results in complex and full-bodied wines that exude generosity.
My first stop is Trevelen Farm (
trevelenfarm.com.au), a small vineyard located at the entrance to the Great Southern in the tiny township of Cranbrook. Dark storm clouds loom ominously over the 30-year-old vineyard that overlooks the picturesque Stirling Ranges.
Owner John Sprigg strides towards me with a welcoming grin and ushers me inside to the charming cellar door to avoid the impending rain. This is a man who shares a passion for aged rieslings, so it is with much pleasure that we taste our way through the 2016- 2021 vintages of the estate riesling, which live up to their enviable reputation. The vintages here consistently deliver, which Sprigg attributes to his family’s long-held connection with wine and the land – one that dates back five generations.
“Whether it’s a current or museum release, no one ever winces at my riesling,” Sprigg smiles. “They are bursting with excellent fruit concentration and weight, with a crisp acidity that makes them extremely approachable.”
Another 30 minutes or so south, and a magnificent tree-lined entrance opens onto an expansive vineyard and manicured lawns, where I’m told helicopters have landed for special guests over the years. This is West Cape Howe Wines (
westcapehowewines.com.au), one of the best-value wineries in the south. The tasting list here is extensive, starting with riesling, pinot grigio and its most popular wine, the semillon sauvignon blanc. There are three tiers of chardonnay to taste before I move on to the reds with a pinot noir, cabernet franc, shiraz, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon. It is so peaceful here and although I am on a tight schedule, sitting lakeside with a tasting platter and a glass of pinot noir proves irresistible.
Luckily my next stop is only a 10-minute drive away. Galafrey Wine’s (
galafreywines.com.au) dry grown vineyard in Mount Barker is run by second-generation winemaker Kim Tyrer. There are plantings of riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, cabernet franc, pinot noir and merlot, and it’s also the state’s only grower of müller-thurgau. There’s enough time to taste this variety, with its low acidity, and delicate floral aroma and juiciness that intrigues.
Make the last stop of the day Plantagenet Wines (
plantagenetwines.com). This pioneering winery is owned by Tom and Jo Wisdom, descendants of the original proprietors who transformed this old apple packing shed into a winery and vineyard back in 1968. Mike Garland has recently returned as chief winemaker, where he produces riesling, cabernet, shiraz, malbec and chardonnay from the property’s 50-year-old vines. The attractively dense Aquitaine Cabernet Sauvignon piques my curiosity, with its subtle tannins and firm, persistent finish. It’s worth picking up a bottle before heading west to Porongurup, ready for the next day. The Sleeping Lady Private Retreat, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views and a charming spot to lay your head, is only 20 minutes from Plantagenet Wines.
The Porongurups is an unspoiled granite mountain range where some of Australia’s most outstanding rieslings are grown, with their tight acidity, stoniness, minerality, and delicate floral aromas. Waking up early, I am the first to arrive at Castle Rock Estate (
castlerockestate.com.au) on this sunny morning. It’s only a couple of minutes from the Sleeping Lady Retreat, walkable if you feel so inclined. I breathe in the sweet surrendering scent of the forest, where large granite rocks stand as sentinels over this spectacular part of the world.
This pristine, elevated vineyard in Porongurup produces some of Australia’s greatest riesling under the masterful craftsmanship of Rob Diletti. From the first sip, individual stylistic nuances are apparent in each of its five rieslings. The winery has recently released its first grüner veltliner, which displays lovely citrus aromatics with an intense acid structure. This wine’s evolution will be closely monitored.
Heading an hour or so west takes me to the Frankland River. The river’s influence on this remote inland region is profound, with cool nights and warm, humid days that provide a slow-ripening period that extends into April. The wines here are complex, ripe and powerful and no better is that illustrated than at the picturesque Frankland Estate organic vineyard (
franklandestate.com.au). It’s run by siblings Elizabeth and Hunter Smith, who have been crafting some of the nation’s top rieslings. The striking cellar door overlooks this exquisite site and provides the perfect respite to indulge in this impressive wine collection.
I am particularly enamoured with the Isolation Ridge Riesling on this visit, which Hunter tells me is an evolution of the journey they have been on since the Smith and Cullam families first began producing riesling two decades ago. “We constantly push the flavour spectrum boundaries to impart more mouthfeel and a personality of place, which is our estate style,” he declares.
Nearby is the newly refurbished Alkoomi Wines (
alkoomiwines.com.au) cellar door, offering ample seating with sweeping vineyard views. As I admire the immaculately manicured 50-year-old vineyard and the impressive Enomatic wine fridge, owner Sandy Hallett joins me with winemaker Andrew Cherry. This is a man with an infectious passion for the region. “There is minimal intervention with our wines as I simply want to capture the essence of the vintage from our site so you can taste its Frankland provenance,” says Cherry. “Our wines are made to be approachable and shared amongst family and friends,” Hallett adds, while we enjoy bread, cheeses, estate grown olive oil and dukkha with its flagship Black Label Shiraz.
After these sustaining bites, it’s a quick 15-minute drive to Lange Estate (
langeestate.com.au). This newcomer to the Frankland River wine scene is set on the old stock route amidst olive groves and land that has been farmed by five generations. In 2017, Kim and Chelsea Lange launched the Lange Estate label to showcase its premium parcels of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and merlot. The shiraz and cabernet from its Fifth Generation collection are powerful and refined wines, exhibiting a tremendous fruit concentration. An exciting arrival for the region.
Swinney Wines (
swinney.com.au) is a special patch of earth and just 15 minutes from Lange Estate, it’s a logical next stop and great way to end the day. The land has been in the Swinney family’s hands for four generations, and siblings Matt and Janelle planted the region’s first bush vine grenache vineyard in the 1990s. With the wines expertly crafted by Rob Mann, this team is redefining grenache and syrah in a contemporary style that is both elegant and textural with distinct ferrous characters. “The bush vines provide a dappled, gentle light that ensures an even sunlight exposure,” Matt Swinney explains. “The site is also planted on ironstone gravel hilltops which gives our fruit an incredible intensity and depth of flavour.” There is no cellar door, but guided tastings can be made by appointment.
The next day, I venture further south to the coastal subregions of Denmark and Albany, around 1.5 hours south of Frankland River and bordering the Southern Ocean. The wines flourish in the cool, maritime conditions. Rain is plentiful, with daytime temperatures moderated by cooling sea breezes, and undulating valleys creating excellent growing conditions for chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
The roads become windier and the trees taller as I travel to Harewood Estate (
harewood.com.au) in Denmark. The wines are crafted by owner James Kellie, who is renowned for his restrained chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, rich cabernets, delicate pinots and complex shiraz. All the wines represent exceptional value, especially the highly aromatic 2020 Denmark Pinot Noir.
Half an hour’s drive away, Singlefile Wines’ (singlefilewines.com) stunning vineyard creates impressive chardonnays and pinot noirs. The Small Batch series changes with each vintage, and may include a fiano, grenache or fumé blanc, depending on which parcels of fruit stand out in the vineyard. Its cellar door offers sensory tasting wine experiences, as well as chocolate and wine pairing flights. Bring a picnic lunch or book a gourmet hamper from Wholly Local (whollylocal.com.au).
The last rays of sunlight glimmer on King George Sound in Albany as I leave this special place armed with an abundance of exceptional wine and fresh produce from the weekend farmers’ market. New friendships have been forged and memories made that will continue to lure me back to this intoxicating region.
Places to Stay
The Sleeping Lady Private Retreat, Porongurup, (thesleepinglady.com.au)
Alkoomi Chalets, Frankland River, (alkoomiwines.com.au)
Frankland River Retreat, Frankland River, (franklandriver.com.au)
The Beach House at Bayside, Albany, (thebeachhouseatbayside.com.au)
Places to Eat and Drink
Majuba Bistro, Albany, ( facebook.com/Majuba-Bistro-100935158148460)
Liberté, Albany, ( libertealbany.com.au)
Monty’s Leap, Albany, ( montysleap.com.au)
Pepper & Salt, Denmark, ( pepperandsalt.com.au)
The Lake House, Denmark, ( lakehousedenmark.com.au)
4 hours by car or 1 hour by plane from Perth
2021 Trevelen Farm Estate Riesling, A$25
Made from free-run juice, there is a bouquet of fragrant lemon and orange zest with a generous palate brimming of green apple, lime and lemon. A subtle lift of spice and a steely acid backbone will see this artfully refined wine evolve over the next 20 years.
2018 Plantagenet Aquitaine Cabernet Sauvignon, A$45
A wonderful expression of a Great Southern cabernet, with incredible balance, and an intense bouquet of cassis, plum and dried floral aromas. The palate of blackcurrant, mulberries, chocolate and hints of smoky oak extends with earthy undertones, finishing with fine tannins and an impressive length.
2020 Alkoomi Black Label Shiraz, A$28
Finely crafted from the oldest vines on the property and blended with a small portion of viognier. It is medium-bodied, with aromas of black cherry and white pepper. Layers of red fruits and blackberries on the palate merge with a white pepper spice that leads into a silky finish.
2021 West Cape Howe Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, A$17
A light, herbaceous wine displaying tropical fruit, cut grass and baked citrus aromas that lead into a palate of sweet, lemony flavours, green beans, and a fresh, clean acidity that makes for excellent drinking now.
2020 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling, A$45
An exceptionally complex and powerful riesling that has a lovely persistence and length. A perfume of white citrus florals and spice with ripe, citrusy flavours and lemon pith on the mid-palate that builds in layers, finishing with a lively acidity and minerality.
2019 Lange Estate Fifth Generation Cabernet Sauvignon, A$50
A full-bodied, well-balanced wine exhibiting superb chocolate box and blueberry flavours with subtle hints of mint and cloves. There is a generous mouthfeel and weight that blends harmoniously with soft tannins that lead into a persistent finish.
2021 Castle Rock Estate Porongurup Riesling, A$26
This wine is as pure as the pristine environment in which the fruit is grown. An incredibly structured wine that imparts a fresh bouquet of citrus blossom and lavender with an endearing palate of fresh, juicy lime, lemon zest and pear. It is a harmonious expression of succulent, rich fruits interwoven on a tightly wound, steely acid structure.
2020 Swinney Estate Grenache, A$42
This reignited my passion for grenache. Granite soils dominate its flavour profile, with an earthiness that already demonstrates poise for its age. Savoury with peppery nuances that intertwine with succulent plum and cherry. It exudes finesse and power, with a purity of fruit that is rare.
2018 Galafrey Dry Grown Cabernet Franc, A$28
A vibrant, medium-bodied wine with a powerful, spicy plum bouquet that leads into a fruit-driven palate of red berries and blueberries, with traces of liquorice and chocolate mint. The tannins are fleshy and ripe with good length and an elegant finish.
2021 Singlefile Wines Great Southern Chardonnay, A$30
A lightly oaked, contemporary style of chardonnay with lifted aromas of white peach, nectarine and citrus, and a restrained minerality. Focused stone fruit and zesty citrus flavours fuse with subtle mealy and toasty spice. It is well balanced with excellent natural acidity and length.
2020 Harewood Estate Denmark Pinot Noir, A$23
This is a very fragrant wine, with wafts of strawberries and black cherries that are complemented by a complex mid-palate of cherry, graphite, dried herbs and subtle earthy, mushroom undertones. Softly textured with gentle tannins and a dash of French oak at an arresting price.
2018 Forest Hill Estate Block 8 Chardonnay, A$45
A rich and textural medium- to full-bodied chardonnay with complex stone fruit, grapefruit and almond flavours which evolves in layers with fresh acidity and slight minerality on the persistent finish.