It’s been quite a year for WA and the Western Australian wine industry. David Pike takes a look at some highlights.

AS summer rolls into town I have needed to make some sacrifices to my daily routine. Well, maybe not sacrifices.

Firstly, I have given up my daily bagel and coffee, preferring instead to imbibe large volumes of tomato juice and similar refreshing delights.

This also has necessitated a move to the more relaxed surrounds of my pool, which not only ensures that white wines are just cold enough to taste, but also enables me to drink the reds at room temperature.

Another benefit is that the tranquil waters help me forget the thumping group of drummers that seems to take up residence in my neighbourhood for a few weeks around this time of the year.

This year the wine industry has provided some memorable highlights, and has highlighted a number of concerns. Notable successes would be the extremely well organised eastern states ‘sip in the city’ exposure of the Western Australian wine industry.

The industry board, headed by Tamara Stevens, has created an impressive platform over the past 12 months, which enables Western Australian wineries to make further inroads not only throughout the eastern states, but further afield in overseas ports such as Singapore and London. The wine industry is worth millions of dollars to our State’s economy, yet no money is directly given to foster this sector by the State Government.

The various wine shows around the country provided gold medals and a number of trophies for wineries throughout the State. Houghton’s range of GI (geographical indicator) regional wines certainly was a highlight.

The Regional Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River has ended the year with at least six trophies and, what would be my Western Australian red wine of the year, the Houghtons regional Shiraz from Frankland, was a runner up in the Jimmy Watson trophy earlier this year.

My Western Australian white wine of the year is not as clear cut. It would be a choice of three chardonnays – the Forrest Hill 2001 Chardonnay from Mt Barker, the Middlesex 31 Chardonnay 2000 from Manjimup and the Leeuwin Art Series 1998 Chardonnay.

Each is a fantastic example of the great variation of the quality of chardonnay we here in WA can produce.

This year has provided some headaches for a number of grape growers across the State. Much of this is due to several of the bigger players in the industry not only cutting contracts with some growers, but placing increasing pressure on growers to provide the quality that is demanded to ensure the quality versus price ratio is maintained.

In my view the prices being paid for grapes around WA will not get any higher per tonne and I believe that the issue of grape prices ultimately will determine the future of many of the struggling producers and wineries across the State.

Several of the major purchasers of grapes I have spoken to over the past few months are looking at not renewing contracts with growers unless they agree to lower the price per tonne of their fruit.

Lowering grape prices will not be welcome news to those investment-driven vineyards that produced prospectuses with unrealistic expectations of grape prices.

The award for WA’s most talked about winery of the year would without question go to Palandri.

After a spectacular launch into the marketplace 18 or so months ago, Palandri has given the wine industry plenty to chew over.

Firstly, Palandri was unable to finalise the deal to purchase Amberley wines down the road from its HQ in Margaret River, and then company CEO Darly Jarvis told a journalist that Margaret River was dying. Well, this ignited a fire in the bellies of many of the established Margaret River producers, who questioned the Palandri project in the first instance. It was strange comment from someone who plans on making a living from the area.

Palandri also introduced a new wine marketing term with its imaginative Twice Oaked Merlot … must be some oak they have at Palandri.

One of the more lively events of the year was the ‘Great Estates of Margaret River Wine Auction’ at Cape Mentelle.

The focus of the day was a tasting and then auction of barrel samples of mostly the 2000 vintage from wineries within Langton’s Auctioneers classified ‘Great Estates’.

The auction, according to Langton’s Auctioneer and Master of Wine Andrew Calliard, was well supported by both local and international buyers, with many of the lots on offer attracting higher than estimated prices, which would confirm a confident market.

The highest price paid was $24,000 for the 225lt (25 dozen) 2000 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon.

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