17/09/2008 - 22:00

Valley gets spring in its step

17/09/2008 - 22:00

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TOWN planner Brian Hunt spent a lot of his professional life working to develop the Swan Valley region, so perhaps it was no surprise that he would eventually turn his knowledge of the area, and his passion for wine, into a business.

Valley gets spring in its step

TOWN planner Brian Hunt spent a lot of his professional life working to develop the Swan Valley region, so perhaps it was no surprise that he would eventually turn his knowledge of the area, and his passion for wine, into a business.

Together with his wife, Heather, Mr Hunt established Entopia Wines, one of the most recent additions to the Swan Valley wine scene in a number of years.

First planting shiraz vines in 2000, followed by chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, Entopia had its first vintage in 2003.

The winery now harvests 12 tonnes of grapes a year - all by hand - producing about 400 cases of wine.

Entopia opened its doors to the public at last year's Spring in the Valley festival, in the second weekend of October, hosting more than 600 visitors on its opening weekend.

The winery only opens on weekends, and has a steady stream of visitors throughout most of the year - a combination of small bus groups and tourists.

Mr Hunt said the winery sold about six cases of wine a week.

"We identified last year as a 'getting known' year," Mr Hunt told Business Class. "We've had a lot of people who came for Spring in the Valley come back during the year."

Mr Hunt said he was under no illusions about the wine business, and would be happy once the operation became self sufficient, which meant turning over about eight cases a week

"It can take 10 years before you start turning a profit," he said. "Small places like ours are doing alright, people like the quirkiness of it."

Entopia is one of almost 40 wineries in the Swan Valley region, most of which are boutique, family run operations.

Visitor numbers to the Swan Valley have increased each year for the past three years, with almost 554,000 day-trippers visiting the region in 2007.

Visitors to the valley are also spending more than ever, injecting about $57 million into the local economy in 2007.

The majority of the visitors to the area are day-trippers from the Perth metropolitan area, with almost a quarter of visitors indulging in food and wine experiences during their short stay.

The annual Spring in the Valley festival will bring more than 60,000 to the region over the weekend of October 11 and 12, with 38 food, wine and art businesses holding events this year.

But while the Swan Valley receives more visitors than the Margaret River wine region, the region still lacks the reputation of its southern counterpart as one of the country's premier wine regions.

Swan Valley Visitor Centre manager Scott Fleming said the area needed to ensure that its message of being a premium food and wine destination was being delivered.

"There is a general public perception that Margaret River is more of a premium wine experience. The perception is there, and that's something that we really need to continue to concentrate on," he said.

"Spring in the Valley and other events try to showcase the region as a premium food and wine destination.

"It's just a matter of continuing to delivering that message."

Mr Fleming believes the make-up of the businesses in the region, and its close proximity to the city, distinguishes it from other wine regions.

"A majority of Swan Valley wine businesses are third- and fourth-generation winemakers, they're very family orientated. You can meet the winemaker at the cellar door. But with Margaret River, it's more of a commercial operation," he said.

"A lot of our winemakers pick the grapes, prepare the vintage and sell through the cellar door."

One of the region's oldest wineries, John Kosovich Wines, typifies the style of operation the Swan Valley has become synonymous with.

Started in 1922 by Croatian migrants, the winery is now a third-generation family operation, producing about 4,000 cases of wine a year.

Anthony Kosovich, who is also president of the Swan Valley & Regional Winemakers Association, said there hadn't been many new vineyards established in the region for some years.

"We're not seeing a lot of new vineyards in the region because land is impossible to get and it's very expensive as well," he said.

Mr Kosovich said the association was focusing its efforts on the annual Swan Valley Wine Show, held this weekend, to promote the region.

The association also holds other events throughout the year, including Seafood and Shiraz, held in winter, and the Tastes of the Valley, held in the spring.

He said the association tailored its events to a more boutique, premium standard.

"We're holding more premium events through the wine makers association, with an emphasis on the wine, with regional food," Mr Kosovich said.

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