Some of Australia's finest cool-climate varietals from Great Southern's stand-out wine brand
The Hogan Family started with sheep grazing during the 1860's. Their holdings and investments ranged from Perth to Mount Barker, and also involved forestry and other industries. The family evolved to its present status under the guidance of Terry Hogan, an insightful man who always displayed a serious respect for European wines and the art of viniculture and winemaking. His many travels abroad taught him the influence of great European wines and their growing environments.
In the mid 1990's, Terry Hogan (the former chairman of the Perth Stock Exchange) and his friend and fellow stock broker Eve Broadley shared a vision of one day being in the wine business and operating a commercial winery. To that extent, they consulted the definitive work on Australian viticulture, Viticulture and Environment, by Australia’s leading expert Dr. John Gladstone. Hogan was thoroughly familiar with the Great Southern growing area from his forestry dealings and Dr. Gladstone was careful to point out that ‘the best vineyard growing environments of the Great Southern lie to the south of Mount Barker and Muirs Highway.”
Heeding his advice, the partnership bought their first property, approximately six miles south of the picturesque mountain town. The initial investment in property has now turned into three vineyards totaling over 275 acres of prime grape vines, most of which are made into their Xabregas (pronounced X-ab-regas) brand of internationally acclaimed wines. The remainder of the fruit is sold to other top locally based wineries.
The winery’s name, Xabregas, by the way, has a colorful history associated with it. It is named for Sao Lucien, a 15th Century monastery in the Lisbon, Portugal section that is known as Xabregas. In some circles, the Portuguese are credited with discovering Australia and the name Xabregas lends homage to the early historical beliefs of the Hogan Family. The monastery itself was originally built by the Franciscan Fathers to provide alms for the poor. The frugal and charitable members of the order inspired the present Xabregas owners to embrace their ancient benevolent philosophy and only release exceptional wines at affordable prices, a comparative rarity in today’s competitive wine world.
All of Xabregas’ wines are produced at the Vintage WineWorx, a modern production facility opened by Australia’s doyen wine writer and principal wine authority James Halliday. The facility was reorganized and reopened in October, 2007 and now produces a number of wines for its award-winning client roster. The Xabregas Winery is a minority investor in the new Vintage WineWorx.
The first release of 2,800 cases of Xabregas occurred around the turn of the century and has steadily increased to about 15,000 cases, placing it among the largest wineries in the area. The investment in Vintage WineWorx has allowed the company to utilize state-of-the-art winery equipment to facilitate producing its award-winning wines.
Wine Regions of Western Australia
Western Australia is the country’s largest state, spanning the entire western third of the continent. Its winemaking regions are almost entirely concentrated in the south-western portion of the state, with just over 26,150 acres planted under vine.
This month’s International Wine Club selections come from the Great Southern region, the largest of the Western Australia wine regions with a vast and diverse topography and an ideal environment for cool-climate viticulture. Great Southern produces distinctive regional wines, and is especially known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Western Australia Gains an enviable reputation for world-class wines
Among Australia’s world-class producing wine regions, it is entirely arguable that the wines of Western Australia are the least known to the wine consuming world than any of their higher selling and more recognizable brothers. It is also debatable that these same wines have come further with regard to quality than any of the better known Australian wine regions during their relatively brief period of existence (40 – 50 years). It is also notable that the area’s location (thousands of miles from the more populated sections of Australia) makes transportation and marketing of Western Australian wines more of a chore than other wine regions.
Western Australia occupies almost one third of the country’s incredibly sprawling land mass, yet its impressive wine growing areas are all located in a smallish portion of that part of the country. These vineyard lands are directly south of the city of Perth, a truly beautiful locale found on the southwestern tip of Australia. The vineyards themselves run for about 125 miles along the Australian coastline and about 60 miles into the country’s core area. The climate ranges from the coastal maritime sub regions of Albany and Denmark to the premium inland and continental vineyards of Mt. Barker, among the area’s highest landmasses.
The district was initially a prolific and prosperous apple-growing region until the 1950’s when the country’s international apple market declined. Upon the advice of noted viticulturists, Western Australia was pronounced suitable for fine grape growing and significant plantings were begun during the mid to late 1960’s. This is relatively late with regard to Australia’s other wine regions that were planted hundreds of years earlier.
Today, Western Australia’s vineyard total runs above 26,000 acres and is growing yearly, a tribute to the 400-plus wineries that inhabit the sparsely populated terrain. Many of these wineries are tiny, with limited production that is consumed within Western Australia itself. A number of the newer wineries are state-of-the-art facilities with the latest in winemaking facilities and techniques.
The area is a wonderful beacon to tourists and wine lovers from many countries, with rustic inns and hotels complimenting the bucolic settings found around many curves and in the small towns that make up the area’s inhabitants.
Amazingly, Western Australia’s wines were critically well received from inception and have steadily advanced in worldwide popularity. The wines have garnered a significant number of important awards while the area itself has emerged through worldwide press recognition as an international high caliber wine producing area.
There are nine wine producing regions within Western Australia, some of which are virtually unknown in the United States and abroad. The largest of these regions is Great Southern, a highly defined area that is occupied by almost 6,000 planted acres. Mt. Barker is itself a sub region of Great Southern, and is generally considered the finest growing area in Western Australia, consistently producing delicate wines that rival many other outstanding international wines.
A large percentage of the plantings are post 1980, and have benefitted from modern viticultural research and developments.
The wines produced in Western Australia are most correctly compared to the classic wines of Bordeaux due to the climactic similarity of the two wine producing areas. When you consider that the Bordeaux wine industry is almost three hundred years old, such comparison is a feather in the cap of the fledgling Western Australia wine industry.
Australia: Fun Facts!
• The Australian Alps receive more snow than Switzerland.
• Australia has an average of 3 people living per square kilometer, making it one of the lowest population densities in the world.
• The Great Barrier Reef is the longest reef in the world at over 2010 kilometers.
• Australia was the third country, after the U.S. and Russia to launch a satellite into orbit.
• Australia is the only nation to occupy an entire continent.
• Over 90% of Australia is dry, flat and arid. Almost 3/4 of the land cannot support agriculture in any form.
• Australia was originally a British penal colony. The murderers and thieves were banished and deported to Australia as a form of punishment.
• The world’s largest cattle ranch is in Australia. It is the size of the country of Belgium!
• Half of Australia’s total wine production comes from South Australia.
Reading an Australian wine label
Australian wine labels are relatively straightforward with the information they provide, and like American wines, do not use different quality classifications. Instead, Australian wine labels are more focused on defining the wine’s geographic origin. If a specific region is called out on the label, then 85% of that wine’s contents must be from the defined region. This ‘85% rule’ also applies to the varietal and vintage of the wine if listed on the label.
Australia’s mandatory and optional wine label requirements:
(m) = mandatory information; (o) = optional information
The Flags of Australia
The Australian flag became recognized in 1954. It uses three prominent symbols: the British Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star, and the Southern Cross constellation. The Union Jack symbolizes Australia’s loyalty to the British Empire. The Commonwealth Star, under the Union Jack, has six points representing the six federating colonies, and a seventh point symbolizing the Territory of Papua and any future territories. The Southern Cross is one of the most distinctive constellations visible in the Southern Hemisphere, and has been used to represent Australia since the early days of British settlement.
The current flag of Western Australia was officially adopted by the government in 1953 and includes the British Union Jack and the state badge, depicting the native Black Swan on a yellow disc. The black swan has long been a symbol of Western Australia, in fact the original colony was called the Swan River Settlement, and in 1875 the badge was officially adopted.
Martin Cooper - Winemaker
Senior Winemaker Martin Cooper joined Xabregas Winery in December of 2009 with a list of credits that is nothing short of remarkable. Only 35, Cooper is a graduate of the University Of Adelaide who has already produced award-winning wines on three continents. He is also the recipient of the 2003 Quantas Airlines Young Winemaker of the Year Award, given annually to Australia’s outstanding and emerging young winemaker. Cooper has also been the senior winemaker at the prestigious McWilliams Group of Wineries. McWilliams is Australia’s oldest winery (founded in 1877) and currently enjoys its sixth generation of family ownership with wineries throughout Australia.
Martin Cooper is also a co-owner of Cooper-Coffman Wine Company, owner of the award winning Eden Road Winery and others.
Despite his relative youth, Cooper is an independent spirit that seems to fit into Xabregas’ plans for developing the ultimate Western Australia winery. He has been quoted as saying that he makes wines that epitomize his own idiosyncratic tastes rather than be driven by the so-called popular market place. While that might sound like a mouthful, Cooper has been able to back up his words with superlative wines and highest international awards since he began his winemaking career. His particular passion is Syrah, one of the prime varietals grown at Xabregas.
Great Southern Wine Region
The Great Southern Wine Region lays a relaxed four-hour drive southwest from Perth. It is very large by Western Australia standards but has a huge amount of plantable ground, a fact that allows for great popularity and an incredible growth area for both growers and new wineries. The entire area is dominated by Australia’s portfolio of hardwood trees, the karri, marri and jarrah, in addition to the venerable Eucalyptus that is so apparent throughout Napa Valley, Sonoma County and most of Northern California.
The first harvested vintages from the Great Southern Wine Region were recorded in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and were good enough to win medals in competitions. These early successes prompted added attention from local landowners and more vines and additional varietals were planted as the embryonic industry struggled to take its place in Australia’s burgeoning wine growth pattern.
The Mt. Barker sub region is also the largest within the Great Southern area. Since it is inland and is made up of a number of higher elevations, Great Southern has also been identified as the coolest growing area in all of Western Australia. Although the climate is still considered Mediterranean, there are lower humidity levels and a good deal more sunshine than elsewhere. Moreover, the excellent marri soils provide unparalleled drainage throughout the area.