16/04/2008 - 22:00

Youthful energy set to reinvigorate the valley

16/04/2008 - 22:00

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Despite its location just 40 minutes’ drive from Perth city, the Bickley and Carmel Valley wine trail has struggled to secure the recognition and tourist traffic of other wine regions, such as the Swan Valley.

Youthful energy set to reinvigorate the valley

Despite its location just 40 minutes’ drive from Perth city, the Bickley and Carmel Valley wine trail has struggled to secure the recognition and tourist traffic of other wine regions, such as the Swan Valley.

But some new players and a number of new projects are aiming to lift the profile of the region, giving local wineries, some of which have been in business for 30 years, high hopes for the valley’s tourism potential.

With its green valleys and lush forests backdrop, the area became a popular vine growing region in the mid to late 1970s. Before this, it was primarily orchard country, until competition from imports  sunk many local growers.

Until recently, most of the wine producers were backyard, hobby operations, with the number of producers with serious wine operations too few to encourage a strong tourism industry.

The lack of cafes and restaurants attached to cellar door facilities was another issue holding back tourism.

But the tide seems to be turning, with young professional winemakers returning to the hills, improving facilities and opening new restaurants.

Josh Davenport and Rachael Robinson from Myattsfield Vineyards are at the forefront of a new generation of winemakers willing to make the valley a more popular wine tourism destination.

With initiatives such as cooperative marketing and permanent road signage, they hope to attract more people to visit cellar doors.

Mr Davenport is also current president of the Bickley and Carmel Valley Tourism Association, which works to promote wineries in the area.

“Our major market is cellar door sales; we are looking for local tourists but we recently observed a growth of interstate and international tourists,” Mr Davenport told Business Class.

The couple laments that the Shire of Kalamunda hasn’t been more supportive of marketing the region, not allowing some of the newer wineries to have permanent road signage, like that seen in other wine regions.

Sittella Wines winemaker Matthew Bowness combines his role in the Swan Valley with winemaking at the family’s vineyard, Fairbrossen Estate, which was planted five years ago.

Their first wine range was released last year under the name Thumbprint.

“The Perth Hills have fantastic potential. I would love to be here full time but unfortunately there is not enough here as yet so I come here a couple of days a week,” Mr Bowness said.

He said there was a lot of demand for restaurants around the wineries, and with the recent opening of the cafe within the Fairbrossen Estate cellar door, he is expecting the numbers of visitors to grow.

Piesse Brooke Wines, one of the first wineries in the region, is also about to make a fresh start with Lara Bray, the daughter of one of its part owners, taking over the winery this year.

The winery will be rebranded Aldersyde Estate.

Hainault Wines was the only winery to offer food at the cellar door premises until the recent opening of the Fairbrossen Estate cafe.

The current restaurant, which serves light lunches and vineyard platters, is located on the decked verandah of owner Lyn Sykes’ home, and overlooks the vineyard.

But there are plans to relocate the restaurant into a new building about to be constructed on another part of the property.

The new building will have capacity for 50 guests, with the basement area dedicated to wine tastings. It is expected to be finished in two years.

The Perth Hills wine region has a diversity of climate and topography that means individual wineries can grow different types of grapes on the same estate.

Hainault Wines’ vineyard is a typical example of the variety of grapes produced in the Perth Hills, with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, semillon, chardonnay and the German-sourced grape, gewürztraminer all produced.

The region’s pinot noir is essentially used to make sparkling white, generally using the methode champenoise, the traditional method of making French Champagne.

Award-winning winery Cosham Wines had its sparkling white selected by Woodside to give to the miner’s 3,000 employees when it celebrated the opening of the Woodside building in 2001.

The annual Bickley-Carmel Valley harvest festival on May 3 and 4 will showcase some of the local businesses, which will open their door for wine tasting, music and long table lunches.

Outside the festival time, the most wineries are open on weekends and public holidays.

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