Garth Cliff spent 20 years making wine across Australia and in the US, with a decade at Houghton before striking out on his own with partner Kristen McGann. And while many a Western Australian winemaker would feel drawn to the glamour regions, like Margaret River, Cliff was most passionate about the deeply unfashionable Swan District. Under the Vino Volta label, Cliff focuses primarily on the region’s strengths, which are chenin blanc and grenache, with the Swan having many well-sited vines of significant age. Chenin is given four distinct voices: the ‘old school’ treatment with bright fruit to the fore; it gets barrel fermented with plenty of lees; is raised under flor; and given fizz in a vibrant pét-nat. Grenache also gets the pét-nat treatment, as well as a spicy mid-weight rework with some whole bunch, and it also contributes to a blend with tempranillo and touriga.
Right on Perth’s doorstep, the Swan District is Western Australia’s oldest wine region, first planted in 1829, which predates some of Australia’s marquee regions, like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. The region is rugged and hot, but it is widely planted to varieties suited to the climate, even as it inevitably warms further. Unusually for Australia, the vine material here first came via South Africa, giving the region a distinctive varietal mix, as well as a unique set of clones. But Cliff felt that specialisation just wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.
“[I have] seen a lot of grapes from around the region not reaching their full potential. I have always wanted to focus in on these vineyards, work with the growers and play around with the winemaking to make an array of expressive wines that speak about where they are from,” he says.
Cliff aims to only produce from the district eventually, though for now he needs to source a small component from other areas, including the Perth Hills and Geographe. One of the first wines Vino Volta released set the tone. It was their 2018 ‘Beneath the Flor’ Chenin Blanc. “…An experimental Jura and Jerez inspired Chenin Blanc matured under a flor yeast for 18 months in old barriques. We were so happy with the left-of-centre result that we bottled it as our premium white wine.”
This spirit of experimentation, of adventure, underpins Vin Volta, as does a focus on approachability. “My focus is on championing lesser known or appreciated varieties and styles. I make fruit-bright, interesting, textural wines they are generally light to medium bodied. They should have high drinkability young, and some of them are age-worthy, if you have the patience,” says Cliff.