Founded by Graham and Merilyn Hutton in 1975, Gralyn Estate – on the prime stretch of Caves Road in Wilyabrup – is one of Margaret River’s oldest vineyards. In what was originally a diversification from their cattle farming operation, the pair have never chased the same path as other Margaret River pioneers, instead opting to remain decidedly compact. There are just 3.5 hectares of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon planted, with wines made in an array of styles, from profound reserve bottlings to unoaked reds and even a late harvest off-dry cabernet. The vineyard is now managed with organic practices (not certified) by Scott Baxter, who is pushing the boundaries even further with the elimination of copper and sulphur in the vineyard in his sights.
Outside of Western Australia, Gralyn Estate may not have pushed into wine drinker’s consciousness like other Margaret River pioneers, but that’s not to say that the wines have not seen substantial acclaim. Indeed they have, and their top wines sell for a premium, but the paths of some of the more storied names of the region, with extensive vineyards, marketing departments and large international sales, was never the aim. And it has remained that way.
Today, the estate is still very much a family affair and one with a business centred on visitors, with no wholesale side. So, no restaurant listings and no retail sales, aside from those of their popular cellar door (the region’s first, built in 1978), or through the mailing list and online shop. Today, the Hutton’s daughter Annette and her husband Scott Baxter run the estate, with the latter in charge of the viticultural duties.
“Our organic viticultural program has a strong focus on soil biology, canopy health and chlorophyl management to enhance vine health and immunity,” says Baxter. “We have introduced a lot of task-specific microbes to improve nutrition and increase crop resilience to pests and disease. The biologically active soils interact with the vine roots to supply mineral needs on demand that in turn help with the overall crop nutrition.”
The estate vineyard was originally planted to cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and riesling, though the later has since been removed – chardonnay sourced from the Wildberry Springs vineyard largely fills in the white duties now, while other grapes are sourced for some other wines and a range of fortifieds. The shiraz and cabernet sauvignon wines are made in an array of styles, from unoaked to commanding flagship styles released with near a decade of age on them, as well as a vintage fortified, and all from the original plantings, which have been farmed with organic methods for around a decade, though not certified.
“The 45-year-old dry-grown vineyard needs minimal attention,” says Baxter. “However, maintaining the under-vine grass by hand takes a bit of effort, but is well worth it for its low impact on the soil. The quality of the fruit is exceptional, with organic vineyard practices and increased microbiology in our soils, we are producing grapes with perfect balance, intense flavour and fine ripe tannins – essential building blocks for great wine.”
“Maintaining the under-vine grass by hand takes a bit of effort, but is well worth it for its low impact on the soil. The quality of the fruit is exceptional, with organic vineyard practices and increased microbiology in our soils, we are producing grapes with perfect balance, intense flavour and fine ripe tannins – essential building blocks for great wine.”
That farming is only part of the picture stresses Baxter, noting that they are blessed with a site of ideal location and excellent soils. “Our Wilyabrup vineyard is located only a few kilometres from the spectacular Indian Ocean. Its sea breeze provides protection from extreme temperatures during the summer ripening period and in the winter supplies us with the purest of rainfall to our gravelly loam soils.”
The farming approach is as much about the quality of the grapes as it is to preserve both the legacy and viability of the estate and to actively contribute to larger environmental outcomes. “We attempt to farm with sensitivity so as future generations can enjoy the same lifestyle as us,” says Baxter. “Regenerative practices are vital to its success.
“Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are out of hand, and we need to do something. Soil-based carbon capture and regenerative agriculture can play its part in drawing down atmospheric carbon and storing it in the soil. Education is key – we need to be teaching the next generation in schools how important healthy soils are for our future.”
Soil and leaf tests are carried out regularly throughout the season, Baxter says, to “fine-tune any mineral inputs to make sure we are optimising soil nutrition and growing sustainably.” Additionally, the aim is to eliminate any use of copper and sulphur in the vineyard. From 2020, sulphur is now only used to control mites early in the season, and then nothing after that. “And it’s been very successful,” he says. “I believe our vineyard is healthy because it is in balance with nature.”
Baxter’s focus is particularly sharpened around soil health. “We are always looking to improve the microbiology in the soil and on the vine. This is our main line of defence against pests and disease.” The development of fungi in the soils and the application of compost teas have meant that “yields have been steady with little to no pest or disease pressure. Our vines are able to produce more complex carbohydrates and direct those building block materials into reserves and towards more complex biochemistry in the fruit.”
The long-term approach of Gralyn has not changed much in spirit, with the aim to produce ultra-premium fruit from their small patch of estate vines to comfortably sustain the family and make the best wine they possibly can. But Baxter notes that the development of a different viticultural model over the last decade or so has seen that fruit and wine quality increase, with the environmental and economic sustainability even more assured.
“Our reserve dry red wines produced from this site show perfect balance,” says Baxter. “The cabernet sauvignon is rich, full-bodied and elegant. The fruit is intense, the perfumed aromas are deliciously seductive. There is a core of sweet berry fruit and finely structured tannins which support a long persistent finish. It is everything you look for in a super-premium cabernet sauvignon.”