West Cape Howe has been a breath of fresh air among the winemaking operations of the Great Southern, as David Pike reports.
ONE of the most successful new winery ventures of recent years has been the West Cape Howe set-up in the tranquil surrounds near Denmark in the Great Southern.
The West Cape Howe brand was the idea of Brendan and Kylie Smith. It was established in 1997 after the Smiths identified a niche in the Great Southern market. At the time both were working in the wine industry in the region, Brendan as a winemaker and Kylie in marketing.
In establishing West Cape Howe the Smiths introduced a contract winemaking service to the region.
“At the time we were looking at setting up West Cape Howe the region’s more established larger wineries were reducing their contract commitments,” Mr Smith says.
To offset the demands of those initial infrastructural costs, wineries look to make use of the facilities they have established and one of the avenues available to them is contract winemaking. While there can be some pitfalls in doing this, it has proven to be the lifeline for the success of many wineries around Western Australia. Plantagenet, Goundrey, Alkoomi, Howard Park and, more recently, Castle Rock have undertaken contract winemaking to offset the capital costs.
During 2001 the Smiths made the decision to invest further into the brand West Cape Howe and looked to secure financial support to grow what was already quickly becoming a successful list of wines. The decision to sell off 50 per cent was, Mr Smith suggests: “At the time a strange feeling, however we needed cash flow to grow and the opportunity to invite others to invest in the brand was a way of realising some debt and being able to move forward. The investment into West Cape Howe also made us more structured”.
In looking to build the brand, West Cape Howe needed to source more fruit. With the new investment came the ability to source fruit from the Lansdale Vineyard, established in the mid 1980s just outside Denmark on the road through to Mt Barker. West Cape Howe now had access to fruit with vines ages between 15 and 18 years.
The investment in West Cape Howe has been a tremendous success, particularly for the brand’s reputation. West Cape Howe maintains a sensible approach to price points and continues to over-deliver in the quality of the wines produced.
It is a brand that is continuing to grow its domestic sales, which is an indicator of a healthy product. West Cape Howe has grown from selling almost nothing four years ago to selling more than 40,000 cases in the past 12 months.
In 2001 West Cape Howe processed 120 tonnes of fruit. This year the figure was approximately 900 tonnes and if yields hold true will push over 1000 tonnes for the first time next vintage. The only casualty of such numbers is the contract winemaking side of the business, which has been scaled back accordingly.
However in the merry go round of funding capital infrastructure, new winery ventures at Forrest Hill, and in the not-to-distant future James Kelly at Harewood, will be able to help service the growing number of labels in the Great Southern.
West Cape Howe 2003 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 18.5/20
Fresh and vibrant, you will need a couple of these in the fridge at any given time. There are lively aromas of guava and lychees with herbaceous undertones. The palate has attractive zippy acidity, lemon citrus flavours with touches of asparagus and snow peas, and displays plenty of weight right through the palate with a zippy finish that will leave you looking into your glass for a splash more.
West Cape Howe 2003 Unwooded Chardonnay 18/20
This is seriously good unwooded chardonnay. It is not often you find me uttering those words. However this offering has a fantastic purity of fruit that is entwined with mineral layers and length. Combined with nectarine, white peach, grapefruit flavours and balanced acidity this wine has an abundance of attractions to present.
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