tasting notes

NEW people are breathing new life into our city’s doorstep wine region.

Thirty minutes from Perth a revitalised Swan Valley awaits a city population still slow to realise the goodies offered by a short drive.

Once recognised as our major wine producing district, the Swan can no longer make that claim as the Great Southern, the South West and the hinterland expand.

There are plantings everywhere as the WA industry leaps from early puberty into young adulthood.

However, the Swan hasn’t stood still.

Sons and daughters of traditional Swan wine-producers are coming home adorned with viticultural, oenology and marketing degrees. Because of this, wine styles have taken great leaps forward.

Add to this new faces the Swan Valley has attracted from all professions and lifestyles.

There are boutique hotels operated by former advertising executives, seafood restaurateurs becoming vintners, brewers, cheese makers and, I believe, chocolatiers.

There are also seasonal road stalls where melons, table grapes, plants, honey and vegetables abound at market prices.

From The Vines Resort to the more humble Lamont’s, Jane Brook and Swan Brook Estates, there is an array of dining experiences from which to choose.

One of the fresh faces in the Swan is based around a new label called Upper Reach.

In Swan Valley terms, this 10 hectare property is one of the larger and is the

result of a dream that began in England.

While working in an English wine merchant’s store a Dalwallinu wheat grower’s son found wine and, while surfing a library, he made another major discovery – an attractive librarian who shared his interest in wine.

Long stories are sometimes best cut short and I will do that by telling you Laura and Derek Pears are married and living happily-ever-after at Upper Reach in Baskerville on the eastern banks of the Swan River.

The Upper Reach vines stand on a historic WA site.

In 1829, when Captain Stirling undertook his history-making rowing exploration, he camped where Ellenbrook meets the Swan River on the boundary of Upper Reach.

Trudging through what is now the vineyard, the good Captain was impressed with the rich river loam. His report recommended the Swan Valley as an ideal settlement support region. If you blend the loam with Derek’s taste for fine wine, the predictions of Stirling are being proved correct.

As the vineyard was nearly all chardonnay vines on arrival, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon have since been planted. To ensure they had red wines to sell in the meantime, local fruit was bought in.

An immaculate 100 tonne winery has been built and the hygiene is outstanding.

Cellar door sales are conducted from the winery.

The Upper Reach earlier chardonnay reminded me of past Swan Valley whites.

The 1998 brought back memories of the days when whites were picked over ripe

and a burnt character played on the nose with a slightly oxidised taste on the palate. This is a white from 15 year old vines that is perfect for Swan traditionalists ($14.99).

By contrast, later 1999 chardonnay ($17.99) whites showed a distinct improvement.

A cleanliness brought to them into modern days, though they still showed some handsome Swan complexity and the hallmark of the region – softness. Derek lifted the latest 2000 vintage chardonnays from the stainless steels vats and some under French oak – from the casks.

The obvious improvement over a few short seasons was outstanding and, although this vintage is still incomplete, I was very impressed and can assure you Upper Reach is moving in the right direction.

The 1999 cabernet sauvignon ($17.99) is medium to full-bodied, rich, minty, with a luscious mouth-filling fruit. A feature that appealed to me was the oak treatment.

This was treated with a mix of new and

one-year-old American and French and the older wood has added a ‘thinking dimension’ to this velvet finishing red. A fine Swan red.

New American oak contained the 1999 shiraz ($19.99) for nine months. This is a bigger red than its cellar partner – a more obvious varietal wine with a hint of pepper.

Take a picnic basket on a tasting-picnic and look over the upper reaches of the Swan.

Upper Reach

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