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Wines Of Now

Pioneering Mount Barker
– 2020 Top 50 Winemakers Feature

Western Australia is served by one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, the Swan Valley, as well as some of the country’s youngest, with the marquee zones of Margaret River and the Great Southern only starting in earnest in the 1970s. Margaret River does a pretty good job of hogging the microphone, but the Great Southern’s subregions are the quiet achievers, where in addition to working with the vines that excel in ‘Margs’, they specialise in riesling and shiraz, and have a raft of emerging varieties coming through. This year’s Young Gun Top 50 features Galafrey Wines from the oldest Great Southern subregion, Mount Barker.

Western Australia’s Great Southern is an expansive region, running some 100 metres wide by 150 kilometres east to west, occupying the eastern side of the extreme south of the state. It has the most declared subregions of any Australian region – Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Porongurup, Mount Barker – which is perhaps unsurprising given its scope. And while vineyards may be coastal or 100 kilometres inland, and the subregions have distinctive geological or climatic themes, there is a thread through the region at large that sees riesling, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay star, and – at the risk of generalising – typically in that order, but emerging varieties are starting to make their mark, too.

Pioneers of the region

Pioneering grape growing took place in the 19th century, as indeed it did in Margaret River, but – again like Margaret River – it wasn’t until the 1960s that the modern growth began. The Swan Valley was the driving force of the West Australian wine scene then, and it was Californian viticulturist Dr Harold Olmo who pegged the Great Southern as a region of interest.

View of Mount Barker from Galafrey.

The first trial vineyard was at Forest Hill near Mount Barker, in 1965, with Mount Barker aptly the first subregion to be declared in 1997, a year after the borders of the Great Southern were mapped. Galafrey was one of the area’s first vineyards, planted 20 years earlier. Kim Tyrer is the current winemaker and custodian alongside her mother, Linda Tyrer.

“The original pioneers [of vineyards in the 70s and 80s] were farmers who diversified. When my parents came to the region, we dug holes all over Western Australia, and we chose this property. For us, back then, it was all about the viticulture. So, I’m really lucky to inherit such a beautiful vineyard. Whereas now, if you were to set up a vineyard somewhere, you’d pick a place with a really big highway and really nice tourism,” laughs Kim, reflecting on their remoteness.

“The original pioneers [of vineyards in the 70s and 80s] were farmers who diversified. When my parents came to the region, we dug holes all over Western Australia, and we chose this property. For us, back then, it was all about the viticulture. So, I’m really lucky to inherit such a beautiful vineyard. Whereas now, if you were to set up a vineyard somewhere, you’d pick a place with a really big highway and really nice tourism,” laughs Kim, reflecting on their remoteness.

That isolation is a feature of much of Mount Barker, with wineries scattered across the region. Kim notes that her nearest neighbour, Plantagenet, is about five kilometres away, while the next, West Cape Howe (the old Goundrey), is five more away still. Hardly distant, but not exactly rubbing shoulders either. But for Kim, beyond neighbourly connections, it’s not about tourism or chatting over the back fence.

Labour of love

“For us, we’re in that family artisan sector of the industry. We’re enjoying the land; we’re enjoying our family time, working on the land. We love working hard, and we love being pushed to our limits… Especially now, the standard is so high that you’ve got to constantly be on top of things. It’s a really rewarding industry …but the reward is in the land, in the beauty of the land and the beauty of the product, and that lifestyle of living with your family.”

Mount Barker was built on family vineyards, and they remain its strength. “In the 2000s, all these investor schemes came in, and there was huge growth in the industry and just so many plantings of vineyards,” says Kim. “There was extreme growth. Now, everyone’s pulled back and a lot of those vineyards don’t exist. We have less people in the industry than we used to. It’s a hard industry!”

“We’ve got the classics and we’ve got the avant-garde, and we’re all admiring each other’s work. And that’s what got me into Young Gun, watching people like Brave New Wine and La Violetta… watching those people and talking to those people… it breathes new life into things.”

Kim also notes that styles have changed, too, harking back to older styles but informed by decades of experience, mirroring the trend nationwide. “It’s kind of gone back to the old way. There was that time there when wine was so ‘perfect’. A perfect thing. Almost produced like a beer… Whereas now, there’s a bit more of a rustic edge to things, where people want to be able to taste a wine and feel like it’s come from a place, has a bit more of a background …things are a bit more artisan.”

Mixing it up

And although Galafrey unusually champions the variety müller-thurgau, the traditional grape varieties still hold sway. “For me, without a doubt, this area is riesling. Riesling’s what we do on a national scale. When you think riesling, you probably think Eden, Clare and Great Southern,” says Kim. But to take that as a sign that not much has changed would be illusory, as Kim embraces change whole-heartedly, as does the region across the board.

“We’ve got the classics and we’ve got the avant-garde, and we’re all admiring each other’s work. And that’s what got me into Young Gun, watching people like Brave New Wine and La Violetta… watching those people and talking to those people… it breathes new life into things,” she reflects.

That inspiration has fostered adventure, while not prescribing a path. “You don’t have to do what they’re doing, you just have to be inspired by it and push yourself. The Great Southern has done that really well, and we have an even mix of both, and both are really strong. And everyone’s having a play; even people who are doing more classic styles might invest in an amphora, an egg or whatever, or have a play with some skinsy stuff.”

Kim Tyrer at Galafrey Wines. Photo by Wayne Harrington.

That seems to be a great strength of both Mount Barker and the Great Southern more broadly, with makers very much finding their own way.

“We’re not competitive with each other, it’s just inspiring to see. There’s a spot for everyone. If everyone’s doing well then it’s great for the Great Southern, and it’s great for Mount Barker. If we all made the same thing it would be pretty boring, and it’s so not what the industry is built on.”

The Wines

Photo by James Morgan.

2019 Galafrey Dry Grown Vineyard Reserve Riesling $25

There’s real intensity here, with lifted citrus notes, lemons and limes, lime pith and orchard blossom to the fore – classic, but the intensity is quite apparent. There’s a chalky and rocky mineral note, and this carries very dry and bright across the palate. The acidity is taut and ripe, with natural verve and a super-dry race and linearity to it, but it carries plenty of power and density along for the ride, giving it impeccable balance.

2019 Galafrey ‘Whole Bunch’ Shiraz $30

This is 100 per cent whole bunch, but you wouldn’t know it. There’s a charming spicy tea leaf note to the cool climate melange of red and black berries, red florals and flashes of violet. Mid-weight in feel, there are some liquorice and amaro herb notes, hints of panforte, tar and a ferrous minerality. This is really appealing and fragrant, and the impact of the whole bunch on the palate is subtle but compelling, with quite a furry grip, giving this a push and pull tension, which is less slick and more engaging than oak tannin.


See the full list of Top 50 winemakers in the 2020 Young Gun of Wine Awards here. Join in our virtual events here, and also vote on who wins the People’s Choice until June 1.

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