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The good folk of Plantagenet haven’t taken long to make their mark in the world of wine, as David Pike reports.

THE tyranny of distance hasn’t stopped the folk of Plantagenet establishing themselves among the leaders of the Western Australian wine industry.

It wasn’t long after Tony Smith turned over the dirt on his farm, Bouverie, at Denbarker in 1968 that Plantagenet established itself as a producer of note.

Early indications from vine resources planted at Plantagenet vineyards were that riesling and cabernet sauvignon were capable of producing outstanding wines.

The early wines were made at Sandalford in the Swan Valley before the winemaking duties were handed over to former Houghton winemaker David McNamara. In 1979 Rob Bowen (currently the winemaker at Willow Bridge Estate in the Geographe region of WA) took over the reigns.

Mr Bowen produced a number of outstanding rieslings and cabernet wines during those formative years of the industry in Mt Barker. The quality of those wines was the catalyst for others in the area to establish vineyards, especially those looking to diversify from traditional agriculture in the region.

John Wade made the wines over five vintages from the late 1980s until his deputy during most of that time, Gavin Berry, took over the role as winemaker in 1994, ensuring that the reputation of Plantagenet was maintained.

While in those early years the conventional varieties ruled the roost, it was the emergence of shiraz that had an amazing impact on the region. During the early 1990s, and with a healthy respect for the shiraz-based wines of the Rhone valley in France, Mr Berry started refining the respect for this variety.

The region was obviously producing a style quite different from those produced in the east of the country. The now legendary 1994 shiraz was to become a collectors’ item soon after release, receiving critical praise from around Australia. Interestingly, Mr Berry rates the elegance of the cooler 1993 vintage just as highly, and suggests that it probably looks better as it ages.

He also gives the 1999 a vote, while the soon-to-be-released 2001 gets an agreeable nod. Mr Berry is also among the region’s winemakers who have been singing the praise of shiraz from 2003.

Gavin Berry is a winemaker completely in tune with the job at hand and he leads a team of very passionate wine people.

The role of winemaker in the bigger wineries these days is very much that of a steadying and guiding hand, making the important decisions based on many years’ experience. However, it is the work of those other team members that allows Mr Berry and others like him to keep the ship on course from day to day.

One of those team members is winemaker Richard Robson, who joined the Plantagenet team from Yalumba for the 2002 vintage. He has provided Mr Berry with a very sound platform from which to operate.

Mr Robson’s role at Yalumba concentrated on the production of white wines and his skills in handling the white varieties has been quickly implemented into the Plantagenet winemaking philosophy.

Adjustments to how the fruit is treated and his experience in whole-bunch processing and pressing techniques have further added to the quality of wines in the Plantagenet portfolio.

Mr Robson says the two varieties in the region he has been particularly impressed with are sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Given that the 2002 Omrah Sauvignon Blanc was awarded the best Western Australian Wine at last year’s Royal Show, many would be inclined to agree with him.

Plantagenet 2001 Shiraz rrp $38 18.75/20

There is a sense of that famous Bruce Mcavaney cry ‘special’ when looking at soon-to-be-released shiraz from the Plantagenet team. Ripe rich dark fruits of dark cherries, damson and a briary note, spice and chocolate are among the congregation. The palate displays delightful savoury mulberry, plum and bramble fruits with some fleshy notes. Spice, anise and chocolate make an appearance in the second quarter. Dusty ripe tannins and an underlying finesse take control of the premiership quarter. In the remaining quarter you will see that this wine shows a depth of talent, which will see it drinking to a certain premiership in three or four years. It’s a delight.

Plantagenet 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon rrp $38 18.75/20

This is a smashing wine with concentration and power. Bright fruit aromas, blackcurrant-cassis fruits with notes of red berries and tobacco leaf. The seductive aromas lead into a palate that has delightful nuances and the power to ensure that it will be hanging around well into the next half of this decade. Cassis, mulberries and fruits combine with chalky fine tannins, a tobacco leaf touch and a great length of flavour; the palate weight is generous and you will have no trouble with friends, a rack of lamb and a healthy bottle or two of this. 

Plantagenet 2001 Merlot rrp $35 17/20

This one’s due for release in the later part of July. Rampant oak aromas with ripe plum and briary notes mingle together with meaty undertones. The palate knocks you for six with vibrant fruit and an all-encompassing tannin structure. The wine is intense and concentrated with plums, dark cherries and spice notes. The wine needs time as at present much of the fruit is still hidden in a cocoon of oak and will emerge with a tad more time in the bottle.

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