A CHINESE proprietor and a winemaking duo from Chile and South Africa – it’s a combination that is producing some impressive wines from Western Australia’s remote Frankland River area.
Along with Mount Barker and Albany, Frankland River is a sub-region of Western Australia’s Great Southern Wine Region.
The Ferngrove vineyard’s proximity to the Southern and Indian oceans produces cool-climate grapes that bring forth wines under the Stirlings, Orchid, Frankland River symbols and Leaping Lizard labels and is owned by Chinese national Xingfa Ma.
The group also includes the Killerby brand, established 13kilometres south of Bunbury in 1973 by GP Barry Killerby. It was acquired by Ferngrove in 2008, which moved the base from Capel to Margaret River.
Ferngrove was founded in 1998 by Murray Burton, who diversified from beef and dairy farming into winegrowing. A majority stake in Ferngrove was acquired by Xingfa Ma’s Oceans Wine Group in 2011 and Burton, some Ferngrove employees and original stakeholders maintained shareholdings for a time.
For 13 vintages the Ferngrove group wines have been made by the highly regarded Kim Horton, but he has left to join Willow Bridge Estate in WA’s Ferguson Valley.
His winemaking duties at Ferngrove have been taken over by two young winemakers he has mentored during the past six years.
They are 37-year-old Chilean Marco Pinares and South African Marelize Russouw.
Pinares gained his winemaking degree in Chile and then set out to explore the wine world, working in the US, France, Switzerland and Australia.
In most cases he was employed as a cellar hand and did vintages at Ferngrove in 2008 and 2009, impressing Horton enough to land himself a permanent winemaking job in 2009.
Pinares relishes life in Australia, making the Ferngrove portfolio wines and working alongside his friend Marelize Russouw.
The pair worked together in California’s Napa Valley and, after he joined Ferngrove, Pinares persuaded Russouw to join the Franklin River team in 2010.
She was born and raised on a farm in South Africa’s Western Cape Region and originally planned to become a farmer like her father.
The farm, however, also had a vineyard and that farmed a desire to become a winemaker.
After completing a degree in viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, Russouw worked in various South African wineries and then travelled to New Zealand and California for more experience.
She says she has fallen in love with the Frankland River area, taking its isolation as an opportunity to immerse herself in the winery, learning from the team and discovering more about the region.
KATE Sturgess from Balnaves at Coonawarra, has been appointed assistant winemaker at the Brokenwood winery.
Sturgess graduated with an Adelaide University degree in viticulture and oenology in 2011 and worked in the Wirra Wirra, De Iuliis and Mount Langi Ghiran wineries. She also did a vintage in Canada in 2012.
She will take up her Brokenwood post in August, working with senior winemaker Stuart Hordern.
Sturgess says she is looking forward to working on Brokenwood’s diverse sources of grapes from the Hunter and other premium areas.