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Frankland Estate

Hunter Smith
15 April 2020 | Hunter Smith

Frankland Estate Syrah Evolution


Frankland River as a region has established a great name for producing top shiraz for a number of years. Planted as early as the late 1960’s, shiraz has established itself as a benchmark variety in the region. Through the early 2000’s Frankland Estate set about redefining shiraz from the region. A number of changes were implemented with the aim of highlighting the uniqueness of this part of the world and putting our cool climate and elegant style on the international map.

Whilst to most Frankland Estate is known foremost for its world class Rieslings it was, in fact, in the early 1990’s the Isolation Ridge Vineyard Shiraz and the Olmo’s Reward that gave Frankland Estate its early success.

The subsequent global success of riper bigger styles of Australian shiraz (think Barossa shiraz) through the late 1990’s and early noughties saw the more restrained style of shiraz (aka “syrah”) that we make at Frankland Estate slide under the radar somewhat. Today this has changed dramatically and the more elegant restrained, yet equally deep flavoured style of syrah has rejuvenated the awareness of our red wines.

With growing recognition of the stylistic connotations between the two terms syrah and shiraz it was decided this year to proceed with calling our single site and single vineyard wines syrah from here forward.

“There is no difference, physically, between Syrah and Shiraz: they are the same grape.  It is all about style.” ….. Erin Larkin 

Attention to detail

When a family have been dedicated and focused to one site for 30 years with the combined family experience of 120 vintages, the level of refinement and evolution is bound to pay dividends. This kind of viticultural intimacy, required to make truly great wine, is the sort that can be seen in our team at Frankland Estate. Our daily routines in the vineyard and winery show great thoughtfulness and minute attention to detail. This level of fine tuning and knowledge only comes from living and breathing the vineyard life we live.

Organic viticulture pays dividends 

We strongly believe that the second generation of Frankland Estate, through Elizabeth, Brian and Hunter are certainly taking the wines to new heights. It also seems that calculated foresight in our family’s viticultural approach has catapulted the current release syrah to new levels. The super-premium quality we are now tasting in our syrah is due not only to organic viticulture, which began back in 2005 with certification in 2009 onwards, but also this forward thinking approach to the style of wines. Organic viticulture was one element which came out of a desire for healthier, happier and stronger vines. With this a lift in yields has eventuated (albeit very modest) resulting in some longer hang times, giving fruit the time needed to ripen well but slowly. Combined with the cooler aspect of the southern part of the Frankland River region, we are achieving fresher, crunchier and brighter wines.

Minimal intervention in the winery

In the winery there has also been some evolving calculated changes, brought aboutby improved grape quality through organic production and advancing vine age. In essence these hark back to the ongoing belief that great wines are made in the vineyard. The quality of fruit stipulates the intervention needed on the wine making front when talking wine making techniques, as the adage of “less is more” comes into full swing. Gentle fermentations to minimise tannin extraction have been an ongoing goal to increase textural delicacy, a trait seen in the very best examples of fine syrah. Smaller ferments, or rather  shallower ferments aid in gentle extraction at lower temperatures providing finer tannins. With better health and balance in the vineyard we have also seen more even and slower ripening. Hand harvesting of bunches that have seen full lignification, or “yellowing” of stems, provide the winemaking team with the ability to utilise whole bunch fermentation. This is done with small select parcels and the results are compelling, giving some parcels an added degree of freshness and crunchy fruit tones. This brightness and tannin structure (a faint stemmy “ash” characteristic) can then be beautifully interwoven into the remaining syrah wines; the blends resulting in far greater complexity.

New Syrah clones

New clones have increasingly become a topic of conversation amongst the vineyard and wine boffins. Frankland Estate has very much taken this up and included two new clones of syrah in our Isolation Ridge Vineyard. These clones provide some slightly different bunch characteristics not only in appearance but in taste and texture. Seen as a chance to trial some new material in the aim of providing greater complexity, the new syrah clones 174 and 470 are from the heart of the Rhône Valley and whilst exerting all the quintessential classic syrah characteristic they can vary in flavour very subtly and provide an extra dimension to our final syrah wines.

Innovations with oak

After a visit to the Rhône Valley in 2004 a decision was made to work with large format French oak barrels, the 300 litre hogshead barrels traded in for 500 litre Puncheons. However continual refinement of the way we use the French oak has also been important to allow the subtlety of ironstone terroir to be revealed. For the 2018 vintage a 3,500 litre French oak foudre was purchased and this has been truly exciting evolution as the wine can now rest on its lees providing an unmatched elegance and poise to the wine. With another foudre purchased for the 2019 harvest, drinkers of Isolation Ridge Syrah will see the results of some of these subtle and exciting changes.

Blending varieties in Syrah

On top of the new syrah clones we have also experimented with a range of grape varieties over the years, such as mourvédre, viognier and touriga nacional. Our ideas have come from our global travels and uncompromising dedication to drinking as many truly fine syrah wines as we possibly can from all over the world. It is a tough job - but someone has to do it. Mourvédre was considered for its ability to have complexity of savoury notes and incredible intensity of flavour without taking on a big demeanour. Mourvedre will provide an exciting point of complexity for us to consider in blending the final wine for Isolation Ridge Syrah and Frankland Estate Shiraz.  Viognier was planted again in the Isolation Ridge Vineyard in 1998 with the aim of building different dimensions into our syrah wines. Viognier provides texture and softness to syrah, a delicious moreishness and aromatic lift with the smallest of additions. After many trials it is common place for viognier to be added to select ferments of shiraz the day of harvest at about 5% which after blending with different ferments makes up around 2% of the final wines. Touriga nacional, has recently been planted in the Isolation Ridge Vineyard. The first vintage in 2018 was a truly exciting success and we have made a single varietal wine. We have also used it in the Frankland Estate Shiraz wine, in only a very small percentage and will continue to refine and use it more in our premium shiraz blends into the future.

What the future holds

We will continue to evolve the style of our shiraz, with a combination of new clones, new varietals, and the gentle evolution of wine making techniques. This will support the benefits of an increasing vine age and enhance our shiraz wines, providing a very exciting foundation for the future.

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