The Swan Valley sits on the eastern side on the Swan coastal plain, a low lying plain the hugs the south western coastline of Western Australia. At distances of between 30 and 50 kms from the ocean a high plateau rises up from the plain and extends up to 600 kms inland. The edges of the plateau have been eroded over time and from the plain give the appearance of steep hills. This western face of the plateau is known as the Darling Scarp.
The Swan River collects rainfall from the plateau, runs over the edge, and down along the coastal plain making its way to the Indian Ocean.
Located in the north east corner of the Swan Valley at the base of the Darling Scarp, our soil has been formed by the errosion of the Scarp above and is a shallow layer of ironstone gravel in a sandy loam. At about 30 cm is a thin layer of about 10 cms of yellow clay which sits over a hard layer of compacted ironstone and clay known as coffee rock. This rock is full of fissures and cracks and is between 30 and 40 cm deep. Below this is a deep layer of reddish yellow clay. The soil is quite acidic and relatively infertile.
The Swan Valley climate is hot with a winter dominant rainfall. It is strongly influenced by the close proximity to the coast which results in a mild winter with frosts rare, and cooling afternoon sea breezes in summer and autumn. As well as afternoon westerly seabreezes we experience strong easterly winds at night during spring and summer. These winds are very drying and can be quite destructive.
As a result of the shallow soils, hot dry growing season, and strong easterly winds our vineyard is naturally low in vigour and crop, and also experiences very little disease. This makes it an ideal site to grow the ripe, flavoursome, disease free grapes we need to make rich disticntive wines.
We planted our vineyard between 1998 and 2000. We used cuttings from what we considered were the best vineyards in the state for each variety and propagated them in a nursery for twelve months. We took our shiraz cuttings from Houghton’s Frankland vineyard, verdelho from Moondah Brook, chardonnay from John Kosovich, brown muscat from Dorham Mann, and Petit Verdot from Salitage in Pemberton.
We planted with an east-west orientation using a vertical shoot postioning (VSP) trellis system. This ensures our fruit receives the best balance of protection from the sun, yet adequate light for colour and flavour development. Our rows are 2.8 metres wide and our vine spacing is 1.5 metres and we hand spur prune to 20-28 buds per vine. We have a drip irrigation system feed by a 30 metre deep bore. Unfortunately we don’t have much water and we only manage a very minimal irrigation programme – well below the replacement level of evaporation.
We grow about seven acres of shiraz, chardonnay, verdelho, brown muscat and petit verdot. We walk through and inspect the vines often during the growing season and sample and taste the fruit as it nears maturity. All our fruit is handpicked when we consider it has reached perfection!
Millard’s vineyard is located 750 metres east of Faber and is higher up the Scarp. It has a similar soil profile over most of the vineyard and experiences the same climate. The vineyard was planted to shiraz and cabernet in 1998 with east west row orientation and using a vertical shoot positioning trellis system – the same as Faber. We have been purchasing Millard’s shiraz since 2005 after identifying it’s potential as equal to that of our own shiraz. From 2005 we have blended this fruit with our own shiraz in our Riche Shiraz. The first release of our Millard’s Vineyard Shiraz was 2009.
Orondo Farm Vineyard is located in Dwellingup, in the Peel wine region of Western Australia’s Greater Perth area. The vineyards are set on a former apple orchard on slopes rolling down in a southerly direction to the Murray River. The soils range from rocky weathered granite at the highest points above the creek line and deeper alluvial soils close to the creek line. Only 100 kilometres from Faber Vineyard as the crow flies the climate is considerably milder, in particular wetter. Thus with different soils and climate the fruit grown is very different to the Swan Valley – resulting in more fragrant and crisp white wines, and more firm and austere red wines.
After making small quantities of the different wines on the property over several vintages we have concluded the best suited white variety is chardonnay and malbec the best suited red. Orondo also has interesting parcels of viognier, semillon, grenache and mataro, which gives us the chance to dabble in these varieties.
This vineyard was planted in 1998 in Frankland River. Surprisingly the cabernet sauvignon is planted on similar ironstone laterite soils to Faber. The block slopes at about 20 degrees and faces due north. It is an ideal location and soil for cabernet, offering low vigour and perfect ripening conditions. The cabernet sauvignon grown here is outstanding year in and year out. john has been making wine from this fruit since 2000.