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Gustovino

I SPENT a short time in my hammock last week reflecting on the year just past and trying to select a few highlights.

The period of swinging reflection was not cut short by any inability on my part to remember much about the year in wine, but rather that the frayed ropes on the hammock finally gave way, sending me crashing to the floor.

Obviously being a wine writer isn’t all fun and games, despite common belief to the contrary.

There were, however, some stand-out events.

Top of the pile was the Cullen weekend held in the middle of the year, when every one of the wines made at Cullen since 1975 was opened and explored over two days. It was a tasting that will remain a highlight for some time.

Some occasions would prove memorable for the wines on offer, while others would be great wine functions that included interesting wine-related stories, some myth, some factual. (The thought of a well-regarded winemaker climbing a tree to gain mobile phone reception in the South West after his Alfa Romeo broke down along Mowen Road brings a wide grin, as does the vision of a winemaker turning a full press over without closing the door.)

The wine industry may face several important issues at the moment but the less serious side will continue to keep most of us grounded.

With more winemakers actively looking for winemaking roles than ever before, it seems only a limited number of opportunities will be presented in Western Australia over the next few years, unless several small wineries win Lotto and build wineries.

This year we have seen more movement than the past few years put together: Will Shields took up the winemaking role at Clairault Wines after leaving Vasse Felix; Virginia Willcock left Evans and Tate to head up the team responsible for Hay Shed Hill, Alexandra Bridge and Chestnut Grove; James Kelly snapped up Harewood Estate in Denmark and will leave his position at Howard Park at the end of the year; and Andy Browning took up the role vacated at Howard Park after spending a number of years at Plantagenet.

One of the years more talked about moves was the resignation of Larry Cherubino from his role at Houghton. Mr Cherubino has moved on to the position as general manager at Forrest Hill in Denmark, replaced at Houghton by respected Rob Bowen. Other moves included Julian Scott to Stella Bella wines, and Simon Keall into a consulting role after leaving Hay Shed Hill.

Many very smart wines came across my desk from all around Australia this year and I have plenty of highlights. One distinguishing feature of the year has been the ongoing success of the wines from the Great Southern Region and a number of good showings from Pemberton.

 The Great Southern region is a marketing dream – great wines, great food and a beach for every wind – and it seems only a matter of time before something is ignited in this region. 

The emergence of the Geographe region and a number of wines from inland areas such as Boyup Brook have also impressed.

Another of the developments this year has been the increasing acceptance by wineries of screw caps.

While the cork manufacturers might be getting a little touchy as wineries abandon the tradition of cork, the fact of the matter is far too many wines are still suffering taint or some form of variation when using bottled under cork.

As more wines are put under a screw cap consumers will enjoy the benefits of a fresh glass of wine each time they screw of the cap. In a recent tasting of local blended whites wines, 90 per cent of the wines had been bottled under the convenience of a twist top.

Anyway, I am off to work on my Christmas list … my wine list that is.

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