Heading to Margaret River for the 1997 Vintage didn’t result in the kind of disruptive influence of Vintage 1996 at Yarra Yering. All told I spent about 9 months in WA, Vintage at Driftwood Estate and a few month’s with Earl Happ, helping to establish his new vineyards down in Karridale, 40km’s south of Margaret River. Magaret River is an absolutely stunning part of the world, Karri Forests, Wild Flowers, Caves, some of the best beaches in the world … oh, and some grapes.
There are five main industries in Margaret River, the Wine Industry, Tourism, Growing Dope, Surfing and, YEP, MORE SURFING. Most people in the region manage to combine at least two of the industries. Choosing the Margaret River Main Break as the location to first try my hand at surfing, with a 6ft swell, probably wasn’t the wisest decision … hey everyone’s young once!
Margaret River Main Break Waves are Heaving
Life threatening experiences didn’t stop there. On first jumping in the work ute at Driftwood I was met with a loaded shot gun resting in the passenger footwell, safety off, barrel pointed at my head …. hmmmmmm. They say things come in 3’s. I could say the 3rd was one of many close encounters with large versions of Skippy driving at 100km/hr, but, it wasn’t. The 3rd was, spending a night drinking with a few Gypsy Jokers who’d rocked up on their Harley’s in Busso (Bussleton) with what seemed like 10,000 of their mates. Hey, I’m still here!
I gotta say the “Classic Dry White” made from Chenin Blanc, Verdelho and Chardonnay Pressing, sweetened up with grape juice concentrate at $20 a bottle wasn’t exactly the Aussie version of a tasty Vouvray. At the other end there was exceptional fruit, very different to the Yarra Valley fruit I’d previously experienced.
Driftwood’s Greek owner took kitsch to new levels decking out the winery’s restaurant with some “unique” furnishings, adding his own little mock Ancient Greek Amphitheatre for good measure. It was a bit of strange vintage, the Winemaker, Maria Melsom was heavily pregnant and hospitalised with pre-eclampsia before things really kicked off. To everyones relief, both mum and baby made it safely through. The opportunity to glean winemaking insights was fairly limited with a strict vintage plan laid out, the Assistant Winemaker wasn’t prepared to deviate in the best interests of making Filthy Good Vino, end results … not so good.
Seeing the vineyards of another region, a continent away from my prior experiences did help to consolidate the fact that, yes, every region was different and applying recipies, just simply doesn’t work when it comes to grapes and wine.
Moving on from Driftwood to work at Happ’s shifted the equation. If you want to make Filthy Good Vino, you’ve gotta spend time in vineyards. Understand the vineyard and you’ve got a chance. In some ways Earl Happ had similar traits to Dr Bailley Carrodus from Yarra Yering, bucking the trends, taking his own approach to growing grapes and making vino. Earl planted an amazing array of varieties, using his unique coat hanger trellis system.
Happs Vineyard Coat Hanger Trellis
The variety library ranged from Furmint, native to Hungary, used to make that very unique dessert wine Tokaji (which I can almost pronounce correctly after 20 years of trying) to Tannat, originally from the Madiran in France, with a name that matches the texture of the wine … yep it is a tannic, mouth puckering beast. In some ways I wish I’d been around to see how these varieties fruit and perform. In many ways Australia is still finding its feet, trying to get access to the worlds unique grape varieties to see which best suit the slopes of our current and potential wine regions. Guys like Earl Happ can only be commended for their efforts in this arena. Imagine the vinous pleasures we’d never experience if the likes of Phillip Jones at Bass Phillip stuck with Cabernet instead of replanting to Pinot Noir!
The Happ experience was kinda peaceful, perhaps mindful. No TV, sharing readings of Manning Clarke, sleeping on a mattress in the shed on a couple of wooden pallets (with the redbacks). Waking up as the sun rose, knocking off to a walk through the Karri Forest, a swim in the crystal clear dam, filled by a natural spring, filtered through the local sandy soil, a Game of Cods, Earl’s version of Boule A.K.A Pétanque using a set made from Mill Balls typically used in the mining industry to help crush ore.
Next stop … back home to the Yarra Valley and Yering Station.