For anyone to plant a vineyard and make some wine takes a huge leap of faith.
In 1988, the idea to grow riesling could have been seen as completely reckless. Judi Cullam and Barrie Smith had fallen in love with riesling. They had developed a deep appreciation of the Roche Family riesling wines and the dry, textured styles of the Clare Valley, which soon extended to a desire to seek out the best of German rieslings.
But in the 1980s, Australians had only one perception of riesling; that it was sweet and cheap and often came in a cask.
“Any white wine at the time could be called riesling,” Judi exclaimed.
“We could see that riesling was suffering from a decline in prestige.”
Judi and Barrie grabbed hold of this idea to make exquisite wines from the remote Great Southern but not without understanding the hard work it would take to make it work.
Barrie maintained the essential operations of their broad-acre farm and the vineyard while Judi took their wines on the road to educate all she met about the appeal and virtues of Australian grown, dry, textural riesling.
At an event in Sydney on 20 September 2018, Gourmet Traveller Wine recognised the contribution Judi has made over the course of thirty years to elevate the status of riesling in Australia, awarding her the Len Evans Award for Leadership. Peter Forrestal captured the significance of Judi’s contribution in the following story published in Gourmet Traveller Wine in Sept/Oct 2018.
Judi Cullam wins the Gourmet Traveller Wine Len Evans Leadership Award
By Peter Forrestal.
Published in Gourmet Traveller Wine September / October 2018
A love affair with riesling combined with hard work and innovative educational events has seen Judi Cullam of Frankland Estate raise the profile of this noble grape variety in Australia.
Judi Cullam has lived most of her life ‘in the middle of nowhere’ at Rocky Gully in the Great Southern. She and her husband, Barrie Smith, were primarily sheep’s wool growers when they established Frankland Estate in 1988, which saw them take on viticulture and winemaking.
Drive, determination and charisma, these are the leadership qualities that make Cullam a deserved winner of the Len Evans Award.
They underpin her love affair with riesling, which has had a profound impact on the way Australians see this noble grape variety. Perhaps it was the isolation that made it an imperative but few marketers have developed and maintained close contact with so many wine writers and sommeliers as Cullam has done in her time in the industry.
She was the force behind the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting, a biennial celebration of riesling (now Riesling Downunder) held since 2001.
Its origins were a 1997 Intercontinental Hotel riesling tasting organised by Wolfgang Grimm and featuring German producers including Ernie Loosen (Dr Loosen), Bernhard Breuer (Georg Breuer) and Fritz Hasselbach (Gunderloch).
She left that tasting convinced that if you want to make and market a grape variety, you need to know about it and believe in its power to captivate.
She and Barrie visited Germany and Austria to maintain their contacts and learn more about riesling. They used Berlin-based Stuart Pigott's book as a guide.
When Cullam decided that they should host an international riesling tasting she invited Pigott to chair the event.
Pigott, who is attracted to quirky, read her letter on recycled paper, checked the location of Frankland Estate in deepest Rocky Gully, and decided that this was something that he wanted to get involved in.
Pigott and the German winemakers who had been at the Intercontinental tasting encouraged a posse of
riesling producers from Germany and Austria to make the journey to Australia.
Although the logistics and financial cost of running such an event was a huge drain on the fledging Frankland Estate, there was never a question that they would not persevere.
The generosity of Frankland Estate in making sure that so many sommeliers and wine writers got to taste the diverse range of rieslings on display at the first (and subsequent) International Riesling Tastings has had a huge impact on spreading the appreciation of this variety in Australia.
Another of the promotional activities that Cullam took responsibility for in the late 1990s was the Olmo’s Reward Parts Tastings.
These primarily targeted sommeliers and showed the components – cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot and petit verdot – alongside the finished blend.
In 1999, Frankland Estate launched the first of six Riesling Scholarships which took the winners on a study tour of riesling in Europe.
The inaugural winner, Patrick Walsh, subsequently launched his distribution company, Cellarhand, which has dramatically increased the availability of Europe's finest rieslings in Australia. He describes the scholarship as a “life-changing opportunity” which “made him determined to share those great wines with Australian diners”.
Frankland Estate was an innovator when there were far fewer educational events for sommeliers so it is unsurprising that Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling appears to have a pre- eminent place on almost all fine wine lists in the land.
An issue facing family wineries in Australia, now and always, is the question of generational change. Cullam and Barrie Smith have tackled handing over to their children, Hunter and Elizabeth (and her winemaking husband, Brian Kent) in an exemplary manner.
They handed over control of the winery and vineyard when their children had the maturity, energy and drive to make it their life’s work, despite being happy to continue. Mutual respect and timing were key.
For someone who loves the isolation of Rocky Gully, Cullam has relished the opportunity to go on a wider stage leading others towards an appreciation and affection for an undervalued grape variety.
"An elegantly structured and poised wine showing an increased amount of cabernet franc. It is a strongly Right Bank-influenced wine, showing a taut, controlled palate. Lifted notes of red berry and savoury earthy notes, with a little rich mocha character. Characteristic gravelly tannins support an extended finish. Has some ageing potential." 95 pts, Ray Jordan - The West Australian, May 2018
"Youthful, deep red/purple colour, with a bright, briary and slightly peaty, iodine-like bouquet. It's full-bodied and firm, tight and concentrated, with abundant firm, drying tannins. Long finish. Already quite complex but it will reward long cellaring and deliver much more to the patient drinker. A big, solidly built but elegant cabernet. Very impressive." 95 pts, Huon Hooke - The Real Review, May 2018
"This excellent shiraz continues to be refined in the pursuit of a distinctly individual elegance and stylishness. This really gets it right, with a beautiful fleshy texture, gentle aromatics of plummy red fruits, with a light hint of cedar. Has a fine chalky tannin structure woven in to the smooth slightly medium-bodied palate. There's a slightly spicy minerality on the finish which completes an excellent wine." 94 pts, Ray Jordan, Top 100 Reds, July 2018
"Single vineyard shiraz from the Frankland River region. It's both solid and elegant. It sounds like a contradiction in terms but it somehow pulls it off. It's a meaty, graphite-infused red with peppercorn and black cherry flavours swooshing through. There's a clip of smoky oak too. Not a hair out of place. Quite lovely." 92+ pts, Campbell Mattinson - The Wine Front, May 2018
"Very deep red colour with purple tints. The bouquet is big and robust, with abundant spices, a hint of vegetal character, too, and a big, ripe, full-throttle palate. Soft tannins. A good 'each-way' wine: cellar or drink young." 92 pts, Huon Hooke - The Real Review, May 2018
Awarded Silver - 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards
"Riesling from the Isolation Ridge Vineyard. It commands respect. Essence of riesling. Floral and generally pretty but brilliant with fruit intensity. Lime blossom, honeysuckle, slate and then a gorgeous burst of gunsmoke-infused citrus. Ultra dry. Top class." 94 pts, Campbell Mattinson - The Wine Front, May 2018
"This excellent expression of riesling used a small amount of barrel fermentation to bring texture into the wine. Has a spicy floral aroma, with hints of minerals and light kaffir lime. The palate is very long, with a precise focus to the finish. This was an excellent year for riesling and it will happily cellar for another 15 years." 93 pts, Ray Jordan - The West Australian, May 2018
Awarded Silver - 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards
"Light to mid-yellow colour, with a lemon pith, crushed lime leaf aroma. The wine is very intense and quite rich on the palate, with a little grip and a faint broadness. It's a good foil for the Isolation Ridge wine. The palance is near enough to dry. Very good potential. " 95 pts, Huon Hooke - The Real Review, May 2018
"One of the most distinctive rieslings, which gets its character from this individual vineyard. Strong aromas of lemon-scented sorbet. The palate has a crunchy wet slatey feel, with a linear extension of lime and spices. This one doesn't get any barrel fermentation, which tends to heighten those primary lemon-zest influences." 92 pts, Ray Jordan - The West Australian, May 2018
"Light yellow colour, bright and fresh, the aroma very fresh and intense with lifted aromatics, which are more akin to a German than an Australian riesling. The wine is bright and fresh, crisp and intense, with a subtly off-dry balance. It's like a halbtrocken. Very fine, restrained, fresh and tense on the palate, with great potential. A superb wine, but it will be even better if cellared a few years." 96 pts, Huon Hooke - The Real Review
"Riesling from the Isolation Ridge Vineyard. Made in an off-dry style. Fermented in large oak. It's delicious for starters. It's intense with lime and orange oil-like flavour and it boasts an excellent start, a good middle and a terrific finish. It begs you to come back for more but it drives long through the finish too; it's quality all the way. Sweet-edged but thrilling. Quite beautiful." 93 pts, Campbell Mattinson - The Wine Front, May 2018
Awarded Gold - 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards
Huon Hooke and The Real Review is one of Australia's leading wine writers. On 4th July 2018, Huon featured Frankland Estate in his weekly spotlight. Read the full article below:
“Dad had just shy of 2,000 acres on which to plant a vineyard,” says Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate. “The selection of the right site was crucial, and he dug a lot of holes before deciding. The ironstone ridge – of hard little ironstone pebbles – was believed to be desirable.”
And that is where he planted the Frankland Estate vineyard, which now covers 34 hectares of what was a sheep and cattle farm in the remote south-west of Western Australia.
Once you’ve planted vines and erected trellisies, it’s too late to change your mind, and Barrie Smith’s decision to plant where he did was as well planned as it was fortuitous. Frankland Estate has emerged as one of the great vineyards of Australia. It’s most famous for riesling but shiraz, chardonnay and a cabernet family blend called Olmo’s Reward are also superb.
Frankland Estate is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with a series of events around Australia. It is 30 years since Barrie Smith and his wife Judi Cullam planted their first vines.
Their son, Hunter Smith, credits the subsequent naming of the vineyard as Isolation Ridge to their marketing consultant at the time, Guy Grant.
It’s a no-brainer as the vineyard is one of the most remote in Australia.
Judi had been a radiologist and Barrie a real estate agent at the time they decided to buy land and farm it. Later, trips to the wine regions of France and Germany, including a memorable one to Bordeaux with South Australian winemaker Bill Hardy, saw them fall in love with wine.
Now, wine has taken over their lives.
What is so good about this site?
“Cold nights and cold southerly winds” balance the warm sunny days and “the diurnal temperature variation sets the tone, and captures the natural acidity,” says Hunter.
“A lot of riesling-makers around the world say ‘If you’ve got acidity, you can do anything’.”
And Frankland Estate grapes have plenty of acidity.
The entire vineyard is certified organic, which also helps: “Since we’ve been organic, the acidity hangs on better.”
The Smiths also lease the 3-hectare Poison Hill vineyard which produces one of their single-site rieslings. Hunter believes all of their wines share a ‘house style’, and I’d agree with him. Part of that style is due to fully ripe grapes, which result from a relatively long hang-time. The climate allows this without loss of natural acidity.
The quality of these wines was amply demonstrated by a tasting hosted by Hunter. Isolation Ridge rieslings were poured, from 2017 back through 2016, 2015, then a jump to 2006, 2002 and 1991. All were still drinking superbly, the 1991 despite it being sealed with a cork. Made from first-crop grapes, the ’91 was deep, bright golden colour with a bouquet of lightly browned toast, very complex, the palate rich and deep and quite refined in texture.
The 2002 was the star, curiously from a vintage that made great rieslings throughout Australia. Still only light to mid-yellow in colour, it was fresh and tight, crisp and delicate, with terrific intensity and refinement. A great wine which still has years ahead of it.
I thought the 2015 was also outstanding, while the current release 2017 lacks nothing in comparison and could well prove to be another top wine in time.
*To view Huon's 2018 Top Australian Wineries click here.
Vintage Report 2018
A very wet 3 months from July – September 2017 set the vines up for very good spring growth. Fine weather during November lead to good flowering and hence average to above average crops on the vines. From October 2017 to May 2018 rainfall was below average across each month and daily temperatures were cooler than usual leading to a mild season with lovely cool evenings.
Harvest started with the Chardonnay on the 28th February and finished with the Mourvedre and Touriga National on the 30th April. The annual red gum blossom was strong and kept the birds away while harvesting the whites. We purchased 5 Ha of nets for the reds to keep the birds off and they did a great job reducing the amount of bird damage.
At the time of writing, the Rieslings (Isolation Ridge, Poison Hill and Estate) are blended and tucked away in full tanks with some lees to mature and relax on over the coming months. The Chardonnay and Alter Weg Riesling are in barrel on full solids unsulfured at this stage.
The dry conditions allowed a very measured and considered intake for the red varietals all of which are in barrel for maturation. It was also a great year for the later ripening varietals such as Mourvedre and excitingly for the very first crop of Touriga National. All reds enjoyed the mild weather, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon had some lovely hang time providing reds with great depth and complexity.
This vintage we took receipt of our first large format shiraz barrel (3,500Ltrs) which aims to allow the elegance and origins of our shiraz speak even louder, an exciting evolution in our approach to this variety.
Be a part of our 30 year celebrations this May at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney.
We invite you to join Head Winemaker Hunter Smith on Tuesday, 29 May for an exclusive wine dinner.
Enjoy a four-course dinner menu curated by Head Chef Corey Costelloe, as you taste your way through an exquisite selection of wines from Frankland Estate.
Tuesday, 29 May - 7:00pm
$150 per person
That's right! Our Brian has been nominated in the Top 50 Young Gun of Wine awards for 2018.
You are invited to get along to the Top 50 tasting this Saturday night at the Prahran Market from 7pm to 10pm.
There will be live tunes, a selection of tasty eats and 100 wines on pour.
There are not many tickets left so head to Eventbrite to secure your spot!
For members of the wine trade and restaurant industry, you can secure a spot at the Trade Tasting on Monday, 14 May. To RSVP go to: TRADE ONLY Tasting Event.
Terrior, talent and tenacity; this is the bedrock of Frankland Estate.
Thirty years strong, our remote West Australian winery has conquered distance, isolation and any seeds of doubt, to take our wines to the world.
A chance meeting with Bill Hardy of Hardy Wines in the mid-1980s initiated Barrie Smith and Judi Cullam’s journey from sheep and crop farming to winemaking.
Barrie and Judi joined Bill on a journey through the wine regions of France.
They stayed on in Bordeaux to complete a vintage and fell in love with the romance and reward of wine production.
The first vines planted on our remote Frankland River property in 1988 were riesling, shiraz and cabernet franc. The first shiraz and cabernet franc wines earned some commendations – lauded as very respectable early efforts from an unknown region.
Riesling on the other hand, was broadly misunderstood Australia wide.
Barrie and Judi knew their terroir was close to perfect for this noble variety. Yet they were still honing their talent and soon realised it was going to take tenacity to really achieve the status riesling deserved.
Barrie and Judi’s belief in their riesling wines was unwavering.
The achievements and success achieved by Frankland Estate over the past three decades was spurred by this commitment.
Barrie and Judi came to champion riesling nationally and internationally through the establishment of a riesling scholarship and the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting, which has now evolved into Riesling Downunder.
We now produce six different riesling wines. And they are widely accepted as benchmark wines of riesling production in Australia.
Barrie and Judi’s tenacity has been well rewarded.
Today, Barrie and Judi’s children Hunter and Elizabeth strive to honour the talent and tenacity of their parents, along with a firm focus on the terrior.
Together with Elizabeth’s husband Brian, they have converted the vineyard and winery into a fully certified organic operation.
The wine range has expanded, wine sales have extended to 20 countries and the pristine elegance of the fruit has continued to develop.
Our thirty years has really only signalled the beginning of what we hope will be a long history of wine making at Frankland Estate, as we continue to experiment, refine and craft a lasting precision in our wines by honouring the health and purity of our unique environment and vineyard sites.
Today we celebrate Barrie and Judi’s talent and tenacity, and we have converted it into wines created with thoughtfulness and care, which we aim to share for many generations to come.
Barrie & Judi hand harvesting their first vintage at Frankland Estate.
As you may have worked out by now, riesling is what we live for. We have proudly been living and breathing riesling for 30 years.
In celebration of this extraordinary grape and our thirty years of dedicated toil to the soil, vines and style, we are offering a mixed dozen pack of our new Single Vineyard releases, a SmithCullam Riesling, the limited edition Alter Weg Riesling, and to top it off a special museum release of the 2008 Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling.
This ten year old wine is looking superb and is only available for a short time due to limited stocks.
At $545.00 online retail price, if you're a Wine Club member or Frankophile you can access this for much less.
To access this exclusive '30 years of Frankland Estate' riesling pack, please click here.
We hope you enjoyed our summer Entwined, printed edition which we sent to Frankophile members in December 2017.
As you may have discovered, we included a Crossword puzzle for some light entertainment on page seven.
Hopefully, you were successful in completeing the puzzle but if you have been burning to know the answers, you can now find the solutions listed below:
If you didn't receive our summer Entwined, sign up to Frankophiles and make sure you enter your address details to receive our next printed edition.