Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate Winery, Frankland River, Western Australia
Signature Wines/Prices: Olmo’s Reward $56, Isolation Ridge Riesling $40
Where were you born? Where do you live now? I was born in Frankland River and spent my early childhood growing up on our then “broad acre” farm (growing crops and sheep grazing) that my parents purchased in the early 1970’s. Due to our geographical isolation, when I was 11 years old, I went to boarding school in Perth. This was the start of 15 years of living and working away from the family property until my return in 2001. However, school holidays were enjoyed on the family farm and emerging vineyard and winery.
How did you get into the wine business? I grew up with my father and mother’s love of wine–a bottle was always on the table for nearly every meal (breakfast excluded, sometimes)! My parents were, and still are, Bordeaux drinkers – it was commonplace to have a bottle of Bordeaux at the dinner table. My parents encouraged me to do other things outside of the wine industry, so my desire to be actively involved in wine came quite late. It wasn’t fully cemented until I worked a vintage in Austria and Germany in the year 2000. It was then that I really decided to get involved with our family business.
What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker? I have a fondness and interest for all kinds of agriculture and agribusiness. Winemaking is such a divers and rewarding career. One day you are in the vineyard kicking the soil and talking about microbiology and that afternoon you will be on the phone to your importer in California. To see your wines on the wine lists in some of the great restaurants of the world is hugely rewarding.
What are the benefits and challenges of making wine in your region? I will start with the benefits, there are many but to list a few important ones: The Frankland River region is remote and enjoys its inland position off the south coast. We get high temperature variation from day to night and cool persistent winds which make viticulture a real pleasure and allows us to quite comfortably grow in a low disease-pressure environment. Hence, our Isolation Ridge Vineyard that surrounds the winery is certified organic. The isolation of our winery provides many positives. However, it also has its challenges, perhaps the biggest being that our major markets are, literally, on the other side of the world!
Have Australians’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years? Absolutely. Australia like many of the markets we export to, is continually evolving and we have seen the Australian wine drinker become more savvy and more discerning. The increasing amounts of imported wines into Australia have really changed the wine landscape in a positive way and I think this has lent itself to the food-friendly, balanced styles of wine, a style we have been conscious of making from day one at Frankland Estate.
Have you been to the U.S.? Do you think Australia gets an unfair reputation in the U.S. for producing unbalanced, fruit bombs? I have, over the past 10 years, spent about 4 weeks a year travelling and selling our wines in the USA. It has been a great market for us at Frankland Estate and our focus has very much been in the premium end of the market. We have always felt Australia in general has a lot of work still ahead of it in promoting its best wines into the US market; you only had to go to the best restaurants of the USA to see the lack of great Australian wines on the menu. When currency was more in our favor it was possible to have nice, fruit-driven wines at an inexpensive price-point. Now this segment is tougher and we have seen stronger interest in the premium market; in wines that reflect terroir, are balanced and show a sense of location and identity.
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? WOW…this is a tough question. I am going to have to say Riesling! If everyone loved Riesling as much we do as a family here at Frankland Estate, every wine drinker would have a fridge full of it! It’s an amazingly transparent variety that can show a sense of place and a winemaker’s personality like no other variety. It also has many stylistic possibilities which I am sure adds to the complexities of understanding the variety for the average consumer. But, with a little knowledge, it can be some of the most rewarding drinking…from great “value for money” perspective, to some of the rare Trockenbeerenauslese wines and ice wines.
What excites you most about Australian wine right now? People are really doing a lot of soul-searching. Australia has enjoyed some amazing growth in export markets. However, due to a number of reasons, competition is strong and people are evaluating what sort of wines they are making. We have seen a strong push for winemakers generally to produce wines that are even more regional, more vineyard specific and more varietally- typical of their region. I think there are some amazing wines being produced by great young winemakers and these, I hope, will find their way out into the wine world and celebrated.
What do you drink when relaxing at home? A lot of Riesling. As I said before, there is great “value for money” in Riesling, but I do also have a love for wines from the northern Rhone.
What types of food do you like to eat? Any special dishes you make/care to share? I like eating! It’s an excuse to have a glass of wine in front of you. We live in an amazing part of the world and as a family we grow a lot of vegetables, fruit and meat on our own farm. My father has an incredible vegetable garden and as a family we go out of our way to eat fresh locally grown (if not our own grown) food. We are just a one hour drive to the south coast, where a fresh whiting or flathead can be on the dinner plate in a matter of minutes. It is this freshness and honesty in food that I like most, I believe it’s quite often referred to as “rustic food.”
What music do you listen to? I’m a bit of dork when it comes to music. I still haven’t moved on from the soft rock of the 80’s and 90’s; artist like the Stones, R.E.M and more recently casual stuff like Bon Iver.
Which non-Australian wines do you like? Variety is the spice of life and to limit it to just a region or two is hard. I spend a lot of time out in the markets selling wines from Frankland River — a region that is gaining in awareness but still has a long way to go. For this reason, I would consider I have a very open view on trying new wines. I prefer to drink wines that show their origin.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I would like to take a backpack and wander through inland China. It sounds amazing!
Is there a winery dog? We have dogs that help with our sheep work but we leave the winery to the winery cat!
Anything else you care to share…. We look forward to hosting your readers at Frankland Estate. It’s worth the visit!