Luxury Lady Sandalford lures visitors

WINE is a vital and major tourism catalyst to WA and investment in the industry in recent years has been staggering. Although the money tree has been harvested and invested in many parts of the state, the southwest, particularly Margaret River, is the fulcrum.

This makes Sandalford’s recent $6 million investment in the Swan Valley significant. Investment in the valley, only 35 minutes from Perth, has been growing quietly for years with small and large developments bringing an influx of new entrepreneurs.

The Sandalford commitment runs with developments such as The Vines Resort and the constant up-grading of Houghton’s Winery and facilities.

Trevor Kitcher of Boat Torque, through Kitcher Property Investments and with Don Hancock of Gloucester Ridge Vineyard and Restaurant also has huge development plans for Mulberry Farm in the Swan.

Having bought 50 per cent of Pemberton’s Gloucester Ridge, a 400-tonne crush winery and function centre will be in place by the 2002 vintage to be called Gloucester Ridge Caversham.

This will see another big investment in the Swan Valley.

Smaller facilities are popping up around the valley and now there are multitudes of venues to wine, dine and stay.

People are realising the obvious, the Swan Valley with its close proximity to the city has huge tourism potential.

The beautiful Sandalford Winery and property is now a Nappa Valley-like (California) tourism mecca.

The huge development, while a working winery, is visitor friendly and tourists are welcome be they arriving by car, bus or boat.

I say boat, because I travelled the upper-reaches of the Swan River on the spectacular Lady Sandalford that is part of this Swan Valley tourism push.

This plush craft heralds a new era in boat-borne wine tours and the two and a half hour journey up-river is a luxurious pleasure. Lady Sandalford has been totally refurbished and is a floating luxury lounge.

Two other craft ply the river to the wineries and Mulberry farm. WA’s oldest winery Olive Farm in Guildford is also serviced from the river.

Swan Valley river cruises began in 1975 when Perth entrepreneur and sailing guru, Bill Lucas, pioneered journey’s up-river to both Houghton and Valencia. This enterprise was bought and improved by Boat Torque in 1977.

The quality of the boats today has little bearing on those of the past.

Certainly the Lady Sandalford has a premium quality to it and the approach to the whole day is one of high standards which the company calls, ‘The Sandalford Experience’.

Lady Sandalford departs Perth Port at Barrack Street and sails to the Sandalford jetty, a short stroll from the winery through ancient vines, some over 100 years old.

A premium wine appreciation exercise takes place while on the river and Vivian McViegh conveys a good, learned and interesting commentary on both wine tasting and the historical interests of the Swan River.

Once at the new Sandalford Winery at Caversham Estate, a tour takes place through the working winery on catwalks high above the winemaking and packaging activity.

This tour includes a video presentation in the theatre before the walking tour. Sandalford was always a rather junky, add-on winery in the past, but thankfully the bulldozer was brought in and put to work.

In the new, state of the art winery, I could find little sign of past days.

This tour is followed by lunch with ample wine and coach returns to Barrack Street and you will realise that the Swan Valley is a precious tourist asset.

The wine to look for is the 2000 Sandalford riesling from Mt Barker, but as fine as this white may be, it won’t start the pundit’s long-awaited riesling renaissance – sorry, it just isn’t going to happen.

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