The Swan Valley Region and its Wines
The Valley has character, it can not help but have character when you know the people who have shaped the valleys past and continue today to shape its future.
The Swan Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions. It has a strong tradition of fortified winemaking, with the star attractions being its liqueur style wines using Muscat, Verdelho, and Pedro Ximenes. These wines bear a lot of resemblance to the wonderful Muscat’s and Tokays of Rutherglen. We still have quite a few very old vineyards in the Swan – many with these traditional varieties plus Shiraz and Grenache as well.
The climate is shaped by the hot dry summer – it is one of the warmest grape growing regions in Australia. Despite this many vineyards are unirrigated, especially the older ones. There is little disease as a result of the lack of humidity, and most vineyards would qualify as organic if herbicides weren’t used to control weeds. There are three main soil types. On the western side of the Swan River is swampy sandy country. Along the river are deep alluvial loams – the most productive soils. To the east, between the river flats and the Darling Range are the tough laterite soils – gravelly clay loams over coffee rock.
The warm climate also allows us to make a special style of sparkling wine – picked early our fruit has only moderate acidity compared to traditional cold area sparkling fruit – and hence we make lovely crisp wines that don’t require the traditional liqueuring to balance them. The resulting wines are bone dry and have a remarkable lightness and freshness.
Surprisingly the Swan Valley has a strong record of producing whites that are simple, fresh and crisp as young wines and then age for a remarkable period of time – up to 20 years – gaining intense toasty flavours. The most widely grown varieties are Verdelho and Chenin Blanc.
The reds can be equally long-lived. We recently tried some Swan Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from 1970 and 1974 that were still showing delicious fresh sweet fruit flavours. The most amazing feature of our red wines is their incredible softness and drinkability at an early age. They are generally picked quite ripe accounting for the sweet fruit, and have lower tannins than wines from other regions. Both Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon have been successful. Legendary Swan Valley winemaker Jack Mann described cabernet as the only grape ‘they would allow in heaven’. But many winemakers in the Valley believe Shiraz is king. The ripe flavours of Shiraz – plum and prune, chocolate, liquorice, and spice – with the typical Shiraz richness, softness and length, married with toasty sweet oak, allow us to craft the wines we like.
All winemaking regions present their own challenges. The Swan Valley does not match what some experts would call a ‘perfect viticulture site’ but it does offer the winemaker the chance to make distinctive, flavoursome, and superbly drinkable wines.
The Swan Valley is one of the only wine regions within a 30 minute drive of a major capital city anywhere in the world. The valleys history is rich with Aboriginal and European heritage, this family heritage is still very much a part of the Swan Valley lifestyle today. The Swan Valley is the states oldest wine producer, one of three town settled by Captain James Stirling in 1820 is part of the original Swan River Colony. The 32 kilometre scenic drive encompasses more than 150 places to eat and drink including relaxed winery cafes, busy breweries, fine dining and in the summer months many road side stalls selling just picked fresh local produce. The region is also home to world class art galleries and various family friendly activities including a wildlife park and cycle trails.
The Wines of the Swan Valley
Vines and Wine have long been a part of the Swan Valley the styles of wine produced in the Swan Valley is vast. Very few other wine regions would be able to say that they are able to produce a range of wines from sparkling through to fortified styles in the one region.
The climate in the Swan Valley is warm with long dry summers that allow the fruit to reach it maximum ripeness. It is this long dry ripening period that gives Swan Valley wines their full, robust and multi dimensional flavour spectrum.
The soils in the Swan valley range from rich loam to light and sandy it is this diverse “terroir” that allows many different varieties of grape vines to be grown.
Some of the most popular styles produced in the valley are
Verdelho originated in Portugal where it was mainly used for the production of fortified wines. In Australia the variety is mainly used to make dry white table wines, it is a variety that thrives in the climate of the Swan Valley. Verdelho is a crisp,full flavoured wine style perfect with or without food ideal to serve with tapas, freshly shucked oysters and perfect with most Asian cuisines.
Chenin Blanc’s origins can be traced back to the central regions of the Loire Valley in France. It can be used to make Sparkling wine, dry wine and dessert style wine.
It is grown extensively in the Swan Valley and often forms the basis of wines called “Classic”. The vines produce abundant crops and thrive in the warm summers and produces wine of immense flavour. The crisp dry, minerally style of chenin works well with grilled pork maybe with an apple of pear accompaniment and simply prepared fresh seafood. The sweeter style of Chenin is suited to Asian style foods, soft cheeses and desserts that are fruit based.
Chardonnay is thought to have originated in the Burgundy region of France; it is grown with great success in the light soils of the Swan Valley. Chardonnay is a very versatile grape variety and can be used for a multitude of wine style. Chardonnay is one of the base wines in sparkling wine production, it can be made as and oaked or unoaked table wine. Chardonnay is the perfect partner for a creamy pasta carbonara garlic prawns or a crisp Caesar salad.
Semillon first arrived in Australia in the early 1800’s it is thought early settlers to our shores purchased grape cuttings of Semillon from South Africa while on their journey to Australia. Semillon was grown extensively in South Africa where the climatic conditions are much the same in some regions as Australia. Semillon is mainly made into a dry style white table wine but can also with the influence of Botrytis make a very rich, luscious dessert wine. Semillon is ideal with fresh Swan Valley Asparagus and summer salads.
Sauvignon Blanc’s origins are from the Bordeaux region of France and are grown very successfully in most regions of Australia. Swan Valley Sauvignon Blanc is described as crisp, citric and refreshing and is best enjoy young while this fresh characterises can be enjoyed to the full. Sauvignon Blanc is well suited to goat’s cheese, sushi and most fresh seafood.
Synonymous with the Champagne region in France, sparkling wines have long been the favoured drink to celebrate any occasion. In Australia Champagne is referred to as Sparkling Wines. The majority of sparkling wine produced is white but made from a base of red wine grapes usually Pinot Noir which is blended with Chardonnay and / or Pinot meuniere. The traditional method referred to as Methode Champenoise is time consuming and expensive, but very much worth the extra effort. To the base wine a mixture of sugar and yeast known as Liqueur de Tirage is blended is then put into individual bottles and sealed. The fermentation process in the bottle then produces carbon dioxide which dissolves into the wine and creates the millions of fine bubbles. The wine is then allowed to mature in the bottle which is stored in the invert position which allows the sediment to gather in the neck of the bottle. When the wine has sufficiently matured the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap removed and the sediment or lees is removed from the bottle neck. Final adjustments to the wine are made and then the cork and wire cage are put into place. Excellent examples sparkling wine made in the traditional method are available at many Swan Valley cellar doors. Served sparkling wines chilled with good friends and family for maximum enjoyment.
A dark skinned grape grown throughout the world and used to make full-bodied full flavoured red wines. Shiraz is the most widely planted grape variety in Australia and currently accounts for 40% of the total red grape crush. Shiraz can be made into a range of styles and the character of the wine varies from region to region depending on the soil type and climatic conditions in which it is grown. With its soft ripe tannins it can be made into a wine suitable for immediate consumption or aged in a combination of new and old oak to create complexity and depth. In the Swan Valley we are fortunate enough to still have some blocks of old Shiraz vines that produce a minimum yield of very high quality and complex wine. Food matches include Coq au vin, grilled red meats and dry cheddar cheeses.
One of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. The fruit is slow to ripen so the long warm summer in the Swan Valley is perfect. The bouquet displays a fragrant mix of dark cherries, liquorice and earthy spices. Soft tannins and a medium body make the wine approachable and the perfect match for BBQ meats and seafood, soft cheese and poultry
One of the varieties grown in Bordeaux and also in vast amounts in Argentina, the variety enjoys a warm ripening period which perfectly suits the Swan Valley region. Soft in tannins and low in acidity, deep purple in colour with a nose of liquorice, mocha and dark cherry. Food pairings include Charcuterie, Char grilled meats, Osso Bucco and vegetarian lasagne
Cabernet Sauvignon’s origins came about by a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in the 17th century in Southwest France. Today is it one of the most widely recognised grape varieties in the world. The taste and nose of Cabernet Sauvignon is predominately that of black currants and pepper and vines grown in cooler climates also display hints of mint or eucalyptus. Perfect partners for this wine variety are roast lamb, pasta in a rich tomato based sauce and aged cheddar and soft rind cheeses.
Made as both a single varietal and used as a blend with other red wine varieties, Petit Verdot is gaining a very strong following in the Swan Valley. Dense in colour, highly aromatic with aromas of blueberries and violets, herbaceous and spice flavours on the palate. Best matched with rich foods including hearty casseroles, roast dinners, game and strong cheddar cheese
A Spanish grape variety that is firmly established in Western Australia. Dark cherry, all spice and mulberries are just some of the descriptions on the nose and palate. Medium to full bodied Tempranillo is an outstanding food wine. Tapas, BBQ’s, pork spare ribs and roasted eggplant with a rich tomato sauce.
Merlot is used as a varietal wine style and also used extensively in blending particularly with Cabernet Sauvignon to complete the full flavour spectrum and to give balance. The variety originated in Bordeaux in France and is now the third most popular red grape variety grown in Australia. Flavours of plum, red currant, game, earth and leather can all be found, ageing in soft French oak adds further complexity to this very popular medium bodied wine. Roasted Mediterranean vegetables drizzled with olive oil and served with goat’s cheese would be perfect or the earthy flavours of duck or a good pate would also work well with this wine.
Once tremendously popular fortified wines fell away from favour for many years, but recent awareness of their versatility and luscious flavours has seen a huge return to popularity. Fortified wines are often described as “Liquid Sunshine” as the fruit is left on the vines in the hot summer sun for much longer than normal. These results in berries that are semi dried and the grape sugars and flavours are intensified in the small amount of juice that is obtained when they are pressed. The term Fortification means the addition of a small amount of brandy spirit to the partly fermented wine; this is then left to mature usual in oak barrels. The finished wine is very rich and complex with a sweet and mouth filling flavour. Fortified wine styles include Tokays, Muscat’s and port styles. Enjoy them with desserts, blue cheese and dark chocolate
Pedro or PX to his friends, this grape variety is thought to have origininated in the Canary Islands and made its way into Europe around 1560. A white grape variety historically used to make fortified and dessert wines it thrives in the rich soils and warm growing conditions of the Swan Valley. It is also often used for blending and to make botrytis dessert wine styles. The perfect winter warmer with lemon tart, dark Chocolate or poached pears.
The Seasons in the Vineyard and Winery
Winter in the Swan Valley
Vines must be pruned during this time, ready for optimum spring growth. Most of the Swan Valley is hand-pruned by skilled vignerons or by skilled vineyard workers.
Spring… How Green is the Valley
The vineyard is in budburst and the Swan Valley is a picture of verdant spring growth. This is a time when vignerons are constantly tending their vines, training the young canes in the way that they should go. Spring is also the time when the white varieties of the previous Swan Valley harvest is released at cellar doors – it is like the French Beaujolais time of year for young wines.
Summer in the Valley – Vintage Begins!
In Summer, all the hard work of the year is realised. Harvesting the carefully grown fruit is usually done by hand. The exact timing of each session of fruit picking is carefully calculated, according to the temperatures of early summer and the beame (or sugar level) in the fruit. For premium conditions, grape picking begins at dawn and ends early on hot summer days in the Swan Valley.
Autumn – Maturing the Wines and Late Picking
The young wine from the summer harvest is by now maturing in the winery cellars while many Swan Valley winemakers are still hard at work in producing the late harvested fruit for the Swan Valley’s famous fortified wines. The end of another long hard vintage, and a time to celebrate.