In Food + Drink

Why The Geographe Wine Region Should Be On Your Radar

Margaret River and the Swan Valley are powerhouses when it comes to viticulture and winemaking in Western Australia; but the growing cluster of wineries just 200km south of Perth is proving that success in the wine industry doesn’t just come from repute and production capacity.

Better known as the Geographe region, the area bounded by Harvey, Collie River Valley, Boyup Brook and Capel is home to the west’s youngest wine region, and one of the most exciting. Formally established in 1999, the Geographe wine region is some 32 years younger and 140 wineries smaller than Margaret river, but it is putting to market plenty of wine of the same world-class caliber.

The Perth Royal Show Wine Awards in August were an indication at just how good the produce coming out of the Geographe region is. In the ‘2017 vintage chardonnay’ category alone, 4 wines from the Ferguson Valley took out silver and bronze accolades. With some 2000 entrants from around Australia and just a mere 40 wineries in the entire of the Geographe region, the results of the awards speak for themselves.

Fresh pressed chardonnay juice Photo: Willow Bridge Estate

“We have to be really good at what we do because there are not many of us. Our product needs to be top shelf,” says Kim Horton, senior winemaker at Willow Bridge Estate in Ferguson Valley.

“If you look at the quality right at this moment coming out of this region, coupled with the experience of the wine makers, the dedication of the growers, the fantastic climate – I think if all eyes aren’t on us, they soon will be because the wines coming out of here are really world class.”

“The main focus of wineries within the region is really about picking some varietals that do well in the vineyard, and then concentrating on them and making sure that they are top quality. They may not be huge in volume, but they are certainly comparable in quality to a lot of the wines we see from elsewhere in Australia.”

While the warm, maritime climate of the Geographe region lends itself to the production of fuller-flavoured shiraz and chardonnay, the relatively undeveloped nature of the area has allowed viticulturists to explore farming different varietals. Phil Smith and his wife Mary – owners of St Aidan Wines in the Ferguson Valley – are just some of the vineyard owners who took the plunge in experimenting with planting grape varietals lesser seen in Australia.

“We are getting a bit of a niche in the more alternate wine styles in the Ferguson Valley – like tempranillo, vermentino and fiano – and some of the other Spanish and Italian varieties are coming out as being quite special too,” says Smith, who has just put his third tempranillo vintage to market.

“We have the capacity to really make some fabulous Spanish and Italian wines down here.”

Shiraz, cabernet, riesling, chardonnay and merlot are all already well accounted for in the wine making regions south of Perth, making these newer varietals attractive to both vineyards in Geographe who are looking for a point of difference and to visitors to the south west. In championing some of the newer varietals of wine, maintaining a boutique, owner-operator nature to the wineries, and having a ‘straight to the cellar door’ approach, the wineries in Geographe have carved out a heavily experience-based niche for themselves.

“Everybody is looking for something new and different; and the Ferguson Valley and Geographe region offers both of those. It is new because not that many people know about us, and it is different because it is a much different product to the more sophisticated Swan and Margaret River,” says Smith.

“Margaret River has got lots of big businesses that have had lots of income for marketing, and they have been around for a lot longer as well; so they have got it all together with really good product, and really good countryside. The biggest challenge for us is that we are not as well-known because it is all fairly small, boutique, family owned businesses out this way.”

But Horton sees the small, family owned nature of the wineries in the area to be an asset, specifically because of the stories they can tell.

“Customers want to know that Willowbridge it is a family owned estate. They want to go to Greendoor and listen to the owners talk about their love of GSM and fermenting in pots; they want that story and we can give it to them,” he says.

“You are not going to walk into Dan Murphy’s and see too many wines from the Geographe wine region because we are all about trying to maximize the potential of getting people out to the region and tasting the wines up here.”

According to Smith, “The threat of competition in Margaret River is also an asset.”

Despite being the little sister to the Margaret River wine region, the competition from further south doesn’t pose as much of a challenge to the developing market in the Geographe region as it does assist them.

“With the right marketing, we should be able to share the customers with Margaret River. It isn’t exactly a challenge, it is a benefit – well, more an opportunity,” he says; and Horton is of the same opinion.

“We are working hand in hand with Margaret River. We both have the same ideas and we both want the same end goal, so in that regard I think the more people that go to Margaret River increases the chances of them coming up to here,’ he said.

“Without Margaret River, perhaps people wouldn’t even come down south, so we still need the people to go down to the wineries. We see it as more of a symbiotic relationship rather than some sort of confrontation.”

Published 10 October, 2018