Much like the rest of the world in 2021-22, this year’s growing season has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. Coming out of one of the wettest winters in many years, we continued to receive plenty of rain through ‘til the end of October, which is ideal for giving the best start to our new plantings and the early growth of established vines. The wet weather was also welcomed with open arms by our dry grown vines in the original Isolation Ridge Vineyard.
This cool, wet start to the season has meant bud burst and initial vine growth have been slow, delaying flowering by two weeks. We are only now heading into veraison at the beginning of February and almost all varietals still have hard green berries, indicating we are still some six weeks until the start of harvest.
Since November conditions have been very dry, and December and January have been very warm. The average temperature this January was a fraction over 19°C, one of the warmest since 2016. Despite this, the yields look good and to date, the quality looks very exciting. We are starting to see the night time temperatures of around 10-12°C and the days are cooling, which gives our vines the ability to slowly develop the bunches, which imparts the quintessential flavour spectrums and intensity we expect from our certified organic vineyards.
Despite its challenges, we are very excited to see how vintage takes shape over the coming months.
Our 470 clone Syrah (above) is just starting to change colour (veraison) whilst the Riesling (below) is looking great but yet to change.
“When it comes to riesling, we have worked hard in the vineyard to create an environment that nurtures the creation of wines with minerality, nerve and drive. As the vineyard gets older and our understanding and management of it improves, we have found the intensity and natural acidity gets better with each year.” - Hunter Smith
Isolation Ridge Vineyard was named in 1988, after our friend Guy Grant visited the region and the newly planted vineyard, to help us to establish both a vineyard and winery name. After a few bottles of riesling over lunch, Guy jokingly suggested we call our vineyard site ‘Isolation Ridge’ due to the extreme remoteness of the site. Promptly adopted, we had no idea it would so aptly transmit the unique and humble approach we have taken to our viticultural and winemaking philosophy…
The vineyard is managed organically (certified in 2009), however the attention to detail goes further than just managing this way. The family live on the property and are in the vineyard every day. The viticultural techniques that we employ are constantly evolving in response to our observations of the behaviour of those vines. We know what we know from years spent looking after them and understanding their response to weather like rain, sun, thunderstorms, long hot summer days and cool night-time temperatures. These little adjustments might involve completing manual jobs on the right day as needed, as opposed to a set day of the week. In this way we are able to continue refining the things that make the soil healthier, the vines more resilient and at the end of the day, the wines more vibrant.
“It’s the little things… like noticing hot days can fatigue a vine, just like they do us, and asking ‘what can we do to give the vine additional energy to thrive?’ The cool breeze that rolls in over the landscape on a warm summer’s day brings relief to both the vineyard and vineyard worker equally - to share these moments with the vine is what makes a truly great viticulturalist.” - Hunter Smith
Vine resilience is central to the ongoing success of the vineyard. Frankland River has relatively low annual rainfall, so the vines are forced to drive their roots deep into the loamy, iron stone gravels in their pursuit of hydration. The absorbent clay bedrock swells with water during the winter months and allows the vines to access that water source during the months where surface hydration may be less frequent. This deep rooting means weather events on the surface have less impact on the vines, reducing the stress on the vines during the all-important growing season.
The notion of a great vineyard site (like great wine) is not the things that can be said about it, but rather those things that cannot be easily put into words. The way the breeze blows, the way it smells, what it feels like to walk the rows every day for 33 years… literally thousands of days. The memories of storms, sunsets and sunrises. All the while learning, observing and spending countless hours thinking about how best to enable and encourage the site to truly express itself in the bottle.
Isolation Ridge Vineyard embodies the philosophies we carry so strongly. Striving to let a vineyard site speak for itself through the wines it makes is what motivates us and hopefully moves those that drink the wines.
The results we believe speak for themselves.
“Frankland Estate is one of Australia's greatest wine producers with a thirst for excellence. The wine offering is underpinned by the pioneering work and vision of founders Judi Cullam and Barrie Smith only enhances the potency of Frankland Estate's wines.
The focus on riesling is, of course, at the forefront of any conversation about Frankland Estate. Established vineyards and considered single-site offerings have contributed to Frankland Estate's fame. They continue to craft wines that not only reflect their unique patches of Great Southern, but show that Australia produces wines to match the best of any riesling-producing nation”. Mike Bennie Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine
“We have no desire, through our wines, to lose a sense of place or an understanding of where we are. This is not an ‘international’ style of wine, this is a wine that speaks very much of a specific place in the south west of Western Australia. The place is Frankland River. The vineyard is Isolation Ridge. Olmo’s Reward doesn’t come from anywhere else; it is intrinsically Frankland River and it expresses the beauty of where we are.” – Hunter Smith
Olmo’s Reward is the ultimate expression of the red varieties planted in the Isolation Ridge Vineyard and through the lens of the excellent, slightly cooler 2017 vintage the wine has achieved new levels of sophistication and poise. It speaks of elegance, power and authenticity to the vineyard site, which reached its organic certification in 2010.
All four varieties were picked and fermented separately in order for them to retain as much as possible their individuality. The wine was blended 6 months after fermentation (in open pot fermenters) and returned for a further 12 months to 500Litre French oak for maturation as a completed blend. The wine is then bottled and matured in the cellar prior to release.
Olmo's Reward is only made in the best vintages and is sources from a total of roughly two hectares within the certified organice Isolation Ridge Vineyard.
“The success of the wines made from the Isolation Ridge vineyard is rooted in the dirt, the aspect, the organic management and the fact that the right varieties were planted in the right spot. Frankland River is wild and dramatically vast and beautiful in its rugged Australian-ness that is red gravelly dirt, wide open blue skies, and gum trees. The vineyard produces wines that speak of minerality and fresh vibrant fruit: this is articulated with brilliant clarity both in the Isolation Ridge riesling and here in the Olmo’s Reward. The varietal composition will differ slightly each vintage depending on the vintage conditions; however, this wine will always come from this vineyard. The cabernet franc that makes up the lion’s share of the blend provides a bright purple edge both to the nose and colour, and a fresh crunch to this elegant wine: all of the gaps are filled in every possible corner with performances from malbec, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Cassis, violets and brambly raspberry is bolstered by liquorice, clove, and black pepper – the tannins are super fine and chorale the fruit across the palate, through into the finish. The acidity is bright and lifts all of the dense fruit flavours, providing a perfect foil of freshness to the darkness. Silky, fine and almost succulent, the sunshine of Frankland River is evidenced by the perfectly ripe fruit, the cold nights exist in the natural acid and energy of this wine. Glorious stuff.” Erin Larkin
The History of Olmo’s Reward
Dr. Harold Olmo (July 31, 1909 – June 30, 2006) was a pioneering viticulturist and professor at the University of California. Dubbed the “Indiana Jones” of viticulture for his pioneering work, Olmo was widely regarded as one of the most influential viticulturalists of the 20 century.
In 1955, Harold Olmo (Professor of Viticulture at the University of California) spent eight months in Western Australia studying climatic limitations of viticulture in the Swan Valley, at the invitation of the Western Australian Vine Fruits Research Trust. When he published his findings in a report “A survey of the grape industry of Western Australia” in 1956, one of the recommendations put forward was that the Frankland [River] area of Western Australia showed great promise for making table wines in the light traditional European style.
The mention in Olmo’s publication was modest, but nonetheless it was the first mention that we know of, that acknowledged the suitability of the Frankland River region for grape growing. This early recognition coupled with Olmo’s tireless energy and contribution to viticulture globally, was the reason we named this wine Olmo’s Reward.
Olmo’s Reward, Today
When Judi Cullam and Barrie Smith established Frankland Estate in 1988, they set out to highlight the nuance, allure and strength of a varietally blended wine, in a market that was at the time and remains today dominated by single varietal labelled wines. Fast forward to 2020 (32 years later), and Judi and Barrie are still involved in the blending process each year, however their son Hunter and daughter Elizabeth together with Elizabeth’s winemaking husband Brian continue to evolve the Olmo’s Reward story each year that they have the fruit to do so.
The evolution of this wine is driven primarily by learning more about the vineyard site over time; how it performs as the seasons wash over it and the vines gain age, and also by witnessing the evolution of the prior vintages as they age in the cellar. Every year a small hand bottling of each of the components (straight cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot) are reserved, so that in the future, 10 and 20+ year old wines can be revisited. This has provided us with great clarity with regards to how the wines evolve and change over time, and it affords us unblemished vision of the blending of the current Olmo’s Reward. From what we now know of the vineyard and what it is capable of producing, we accept that age-worthiness is a given. The cabernet franc vines are now 30 years old and are providing a welcome balance of elegance and benign power that typifies this wine. This is the reason why cabernet franc now dominates the varietal makeup of this blend - it is assembled with small influences from malbec, cabernet sauvignon and merlot (the merlot comes from new clones planted 5 years ago). These provide the complex and nuanced backdrop for the cabernet franc: the Olmo’s Reward stamp of uniqueness.
Get a taste of this special wine for yourself
96pts Huon Hooke
96pts GOLD James Halliday
96pts Decanter World Wine Awards.
Vintage 2019 had a few curveballs up its sleeve but ultimately yielded wines of poise, power and acid drive: 2019 is one for the collectors – their long future is bright indeed.
Each year, the seasonal conditions determine the level of our own personal riesling indulgence. That is how many wines we are able to make, or more accurately how many our certified organic vineyards allow.
In 2019, five individual rieslings wines were made. The wet winter was followed by an early spring which dried out quickly as summer approached, but not before a good canopy and fruit set was achieved. Dry conditions continued through summer, into autumn and nearly to harvest, with the resulting fruit intensity looking more than impressive. With dry weather comes cold nights (no clouds) as a result of the continental effect in Frankland River. In 2019 this caused the natural acidity to remain outrageously high for a long time, and it was clear that we had to wait this situation out until some of the friendly, resolved and more rounded acidity that we look for came into the fold. A rain event in early March caused some considerable tension as we knew we had to sit tight and hold off picking what was at that stage, just underripe riesling. It was right on the cusp. Whilst many picked, we held out, nervous as the rain event swelled the berries a little and then thankfully, they started to subside. As the concentration returned it was decided it was time to pick. As a result, sugar ripeness is a little higher than in other years, but a necessary trade-off. Overall the 2019 vintage is considered a very successful riesling season.
Each block of fruit that goes into the single vineyard wines was picked on its own merit. The harvest extended from the 11th to the 24th March, meaning we had several passes through the vineyards ensuring optimal picking times for each parcel. While there are a lot of differences in the vineyard sites and styles of the five rieslings, we hope that balance, energy and a trueness to site are the constants.
This is a wine that we are happy to pick a little riper, allowing it to go into a fuller fruit spectrum. From making this wine we have learnt that, under our organic regime, natural acidity does not drop away (like it was prone to years ago). Instead, the rieslings go on developing flavour and friendliness. This more open, forward style of wine spends nine months in neutral oak; a combination of 500L to 1,200lt. This time on lees helps relax the wine and pull some of its terroir and secondary flavours.
“…there is juniper and white currant, brioche and spice. The wine is more rounded and softer, likely owing to its time in oak. The acidity has a tingly lightness…” Read more at erinlarkin.com.au
A challenging year in this vineyard with the dry conditions affecting berry size. The wine however impresses with its resulting power. A conscious decision over recent years to embrace the riper spectrum of Poison Hill seems to be giving the wine greater individual personality and charm, power yet retaining elegance. Its white floral aromatics and pithy texture will reward cellaring.
“…A slightly more expressive nose between it and the Isolation Ridge, reminiscent somehow of lemon sherbet and clean white beach sand. The palate is inordinately intense, searing focus and line encased in an almost savoury spice capsule…” Read more at erinlarkin.com.au
As is always the case, the Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling carries more purity and elegance than that of Poison Hill on release. The location in the south of the Frankland River region leads to conditions at our home vineyard and winery where more rain falls and the clouds linger, keeping things just that little bit cooler.
Ten months on lees in tank with a small portion (5%) barrel fermented and matured, the joined back to the final wine. The time on lees in tank and barrel are a critical component in helping these wines relax and find themselves, increasing both texture and personality of site. The additional time on lees has been a large part of the evolution of Frankland Estate rieslings. Bottled in December and rested in the cellars ready for release in May 2020.
“…This vintage of Isolation Ridge has every hallmark possible to indicate a virtual lifetime ahead of it in the cellar. The almost unbelievable fruit power and drive, and interminable length of flavour speak volumes…” Read more at erinlarkin.com.au
Frankland Estate have retained a small quantity of Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling for release at 10 years of age. Each year with the release of the Single Vineyard Rieslings, a 10-year-old Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling wine will be released direct from the winery and to restaurants through our distribution partners.
We hope you enjoy seeing these wines (2019 & 2010) side by side. Much has changed in our minds when we compare these vintages, yet they are recognisably the same DNA. In 2010 lees contact lasted only 3 months, as a slightly fresher/tighter style was achieved. It was the first of our certified organic wines to hit the market, the start of a new era. RRP $65 (wine club and website sales, while stock lasts).
“…The 2010 has lost not a jot of its acidity which remains in place, now at the centre of a very different landscape of fruit flavour. The nose has a green peppercorn, bitumen, roasted salted macadamia vibe to it…” Read more at erinlarkin.com.au
With so much natural acidity hanging around in 2019, it was obvious from the onset that the possibility of making a SmithCullam Riesling was very much on the cards. Delicate and floral, the residual sugar (16grams) dissolves into the wine, appearing hardly “off dry” (which is, by the way, the intent). Floral and juicy is what we look for in the mineral drenched delicate framework. SmithCullam is a block selection from within the Isolation Ridge Vineyard.
“…The nose is exceptionally floral and fine. Shaved soap, limestone, a gust of sea breeze and more than a dollop of lime and crushed almond. The palate has salivating acidity and a rolling, tumbling texture which almost disguises the laser-like drive across the palate. It is not restrained but expansive…” Read more at erinlarkin.com.au
Isolation Ridge Vineyard surrounds the Frankland Estate Winery, 13km south of the Frankland River town site on ironstone gravel soils over a clay subsoil.
Poison Hill Vineyard is a granitic based soil type with predominantly underlying white clay soils. This vineyard is situated 3km north of the Frankland River town site and enjoys slightly dryer and warmer conditions through the season.
15km separates these two vineyards.
SUMMARY / WRAP
The rieslings of the Great Southern are well known for their ability to age. They unfurl very slowly over many years, reluctantly yielding their tight-fisted grip on acidity, tension and coil, eventually moving into a very graceful space, speaking of a subtle toastiness, spice and structure. The 2019 vintage release from Frankland Estate is the epitomy of the start of this evolutionary arc, and should you be wise enough to start cellaring these now (or perhaps you’re ahead of that game and have a collection already) you will be rewarded for many years to come. As I discuss in my tasting notes, the Poison Hill and the SmithCullam contain every bit of structure, acidity, spice and charm that I think Riesling needs for a stint in the cellar, and for my money, these are the two wines that absolutely do it for me. Having said that, the texture and personality of the Alter Weg makes that the wine that I am choosing to drink now. The Isolation Ridge are wines of structure and poise, and that 2010 proves the power of a bit of extra age. I’d love to see what these wines look like in ten years from now, the impact of (at that future time) two decades of organic management under the belt will have no doubt contributed a substantial whack of personality, site distinction and purity that may have been otherwise unobtainable. When the vines get the chance to speak for themselves, without the interference of sprays and external synthetic stimulants, the results are phenomenal, as these wines are. ‘-Erin Larkin’
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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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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.