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Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate, Frankland River, Western Australia

Hunter Smith in Vineyard

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!

Hunter Smith Vineyards

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!

Hunter Smith Wine Cat Bazil 2

Anything else you care to share…. We look forward to hosting your readers at Frankland Estate. It’s worth the visit!

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Filed under Australia 2.0, Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate

Australian Riesling Round-Up: The Exciting(?) Conclusion

Wakefield and Grosset Riesling in a bike basket

Australian Riesling Round-Up

I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day every time I wrote an Australian Riesling tasting note.  “Minerals, acidity, lemon-lime, dry as a Brit’s sense of humor”—yes, most of the wines had some or all of these qualities.  If you like this taste profile, try these wines.  I found them to be very good to excellent in quality, and aside from one bottle, extremely reasonably priced.  If any of the wines are sold-out through my links, try wine-searcher to check for bottles around the country, or the next vintage if the one I reviewed is no longer available. Unfortunately, I have looked back on a few bottles I tasted and discovered they are now tapped out completely in the American market.

After tasting 9 Rieslings, I conclude they offer the following:

  • Reliable quality and flavor profile.  Across the board, these wines are very consistent in palate.  For the wine buyer who doesn’t like to purchase brands they don’t know, this is a good thing. I was a little surprised not to find more variation between the wineries or even Clare and Eden Valley, but at least you know what you are getting yourself into if you can’t find the specific bottle you want. This is also good for Australia—their wines need to achieve regional identity to attract more admirers, and this is aided by consistency.
  • Good value.  I found many of these wines on sale, most likely because the American wine drinker doesn’t value them.  Very few people are storming the stores looking for Australian Rieslings, as evidenced by my inability to find them in local shops. I also imagine the casual wine buyer searching online, for say, white wine on sale on wine.com is not aware that for Australian Riesling, older vintages are better—this goes against the norm of white wine; shoppers may be disinclined to order them, mistakenly thinking they are over the hill.  Which brings me to the next suggestion:
  • Look for older vintages.  The fresh-out-of-the-vineyard wines are full of acidity and could use a year or three to even begin to mellow.
  • No need to drop a lot of cash.  You can reap the rewards of Australian Riesling in the lower price bracket, as they are well-made wines.  If you do splurge for prize wines (Grosset), get the oldest vintage you can find or hold it for several years, to really get the most bang for your buck and enjoy the qualities that make aged Riesling special.

I hope this enlightened some of you to the joys of Australian Riesling.  Comments or suggestions are welcome, particularly if you have another bottle to recommend or an idea for the next Untapped Region Series!

Sunglasses reflecting a wine glass in the Hudson Valley

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Untapped Region

Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Museum Reserve Riesling, Eden Valley 2006

We have reached the final wine in my Australian Riesling review—Pewsey Vale “The Contours” Museum Reserve from the Eden Valley; the most prestigious bottling in the winery’s narrow line-up.  The winemakers hold this wine back for an impressive 5 years before it hits shelves, making 2006 the most recent vintage available.

You would never believe this juice was bottled nearly six years ago.  The wine exudes freshness and bursts like a citrus-y pop-rock on the tongue:  zippy and bright with grapefruit, lemon, lime and green apple.  As the wine opens and warms, toast and a touch of honey shine through with hints of Marcona almond and key lime pie.  Clearly this bottle can endure many years of wine-ownership, if you have the storage space and the self-restraint.  $26.99 at K&L Wines.


Late-nights at mega-clubs, drunk Brits and chicks, Euro boys in tight clothes and party sunglasses—this is the European version of Jersey Shore, and for many first-time visitors to Ibiza, their only taste of summer on the island.  But with a car and a companion, one can discover all the secrets of this intriguing place— hidden, romantic restaurants; the wild, herb-scented shores of the rocky north coast; gorgeous beaches found by following a footpath coupled with curiosity; and historic villages in which the original islanders still reside.  After a day exploring, let’s unscrew a bottle of The Contours, watch the sun set and toast to taking the road less traveled.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Pewsey Vale Contours 2006

Dandelion Vineyards, Wonderland of the Eden Valley Riesling, 2010

Dandelion Vineyards, Wonderland of the Eden Valley, may have a whimsical label and name, but their grapes have serious history.  The vineyard was planted in the early 190o’s—some speculate late 1880’s—and grower 90-year old Colin Kroehn has tended his grape babies nearly his whole life.  Wha? No pension and gold watch for the farmer?  I admire someone committed to the longevity of his passion, as did the Dandelion team, a young winemaking group who chose his grapes for their Wonderland Riesling.

Refreshing like a cold shower after a summer day in New Orleans, Dandelion is crisp, clean and focused.  Fresh grapefruit, lemon pith and lime commingle with streaks of flinty rock,  suspended by taut acidity.  This wine exhilarates: a spa day for the palate at Guerlain, priced like a Chinese nail shop.  Loving this stuff for $14.99 at Wine.com.


It is summer and New Orleans is a swamp.  Fight these soggy dollar days (your hands sweat so much your fistful of bills are soaked) with a glass of Dandelion.  If your B&B doesn’t have AC, kick your feet up on the nearest balcony and try not to move.  Hand-held fans are coming back into vogue anyway.  If you must get out of the city, shack up at a plantation house and whittle away the day gazing into the massive trees that frame the splendid Oak Alley.  A platter of the state’s finest oysters round out a sultry afternoon.

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Grosset, Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley 2010

Damn girl, you got it going on but your tag is priced high—too many awards inflate the ego?  Grosset in the Clare Valley is considered by many the pinnacle of Riesling in Australia, including Langton’s, Australia’s leading classification authority on auction-worthy wines. It was definitely at the price point pinnacle of my Series, beating out the next highest wine by $20.  Does Polish Hill merit the big bucks?

The nose is restrained, but the palate pops with what I have learned are the hallmarks of Clare Valley—lime and stone, and is bone dry.  So what makes this bottle different from the rest? Balance, structure and intensity—Mikhail Baryshnikov posing as Riesling.  Polish Hill waltzes seamlessly between wet-slate minerality, pressed-lime fruit and crisp acidity.  While this is an impressive bottle and will age beautifully, $47 is a lot of money to drop on any wine, particularly one this young.  Buy and hold, or mark your google calendar to wine-search a bottle on July 1st, 2014 at, say, noon?  And invite me to your appointment, please.  $46.95 at Sherry-Lehmann


You are probably wondering where the heck is Bardejov and why anyone would go to Slovakia besides lascivious college kids looking for a hostel bunk.  The answer is in the image, if beautiful, intact medieval villages woo you (they do me).  There isn’t much to do there besides sit around and watch the passerby, so you want to have something good in your glass.  Slovakia produces wine, but nothing great, yet, so Polish Hill will do nicely on a hot, Central European afternoon.  Plus, the dry Riesling will cut the heaviness of Slovakian dumplings and bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese gnocchi), that you will find yourself over-eating.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Grosset Polish Hill 2010

Wakefield Riesling, Clare Valley 2008

Finally, a bottle from the Clare Valley!  Wakefield Riesling is brought to us by Taylors Wines, three generations of winemakers who believe the terra rossa soil (red brown loam over limestone) of the region is conducive to premium wine production. By the way, if you are looking for other Taylor wines in North America, you won’t find them—due to trademark restrictions, they have to go by Wakefield up ‘round these parts.

How does she taste?  This bottle is alive—all the energy of a red-bull without the caffeine.  Her fragrance is evocative of fresh picked lemons and chiseled limestone. The acidity is fresh, exciting and pricks the tongue like a Sichuan peppercorn.  Bursting with grapefruit and lime, delivered on a long finish, this bottle is still young at four years old—I could easily drink this for another five. Pick up a case and taste the fireworks.  $15.29 at Wine.com.


Riesling and spicy food are a natural duo, so let’s get down to business in China—they could use a few good bottles of wine over there.  Not only can you find fiery cuisine in China, but a summer day in Beijing can feel like your skin and lungs are ablaze as well. With the sky a yellow haze that blankets your head like the breath of a 1000 smokers, a cold glass of Riesling is perfect for squelching the heat of Beijing’s midsummer days, or as a reward after a stiflingly hot hike up the steep stairs of the Great Wall.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Wakefield 2008

Mesh Riesling, Eden Valley 2008

Another Eden Valley wine, Mesh, founded in 2002, is the product of two long-time South Australian winemakers—Robert Hill Smith of Yalumba and Jeffrey Grosset of same-last-name fame (not famous to you readers I assume, but he produces the most expensive and by many accounts, acclaimed label in the American market—Grosset.  Notes on his wine in a later post.)  The two tracked down 3 vineyard plots of similar altitude—apparently a difficult task in Eden Valley, a region of multitudinous hills and dales. They produce one wine each vintage through a “mesh” of visions: the season’s bounty is divided while still on the vine, the grapes are plucked and vinified separately using different but agreed upon methods, and the winemakers reconvene with the finished juice.  The bottle is filled with a blend of both, and voilà—Mesh.  Can two famous winemakers produce a delicious $19 wine?  Let’s find out.

I am surprised by the tropical breeze blowing through the glass.  The previous Eden Valley wines were razor sharp with tart citrus and acidity—perhaps anybody would find a fruity bone in this bottle?  Mesh has also had a few years in bottle, so perhaps a little Copacabana comes with age?  After a tactical pause to reset my palate, I receive the anticipated punch of acidity, but with a fleshier, weightier body than the others.  And the longer the bottle is open, the softer she becomes; in fact, after an hour, both my husband and I simultaneously suspect some degree of malolactic fermentation at play, which seems absurd for a Riesling (and my husband doesn’t even study wine).  As the wine continues to evolve, I detect notes of almond paste, and possibly Marzipan, pineapple and guava filtered through Limón y Limón (that is lemon AND lime in Spanish.) Am I nuts? Is this Eden Valley Riesling? (Can one be nuts and know it?) Regardless, Mesh delivers twists and turns, and is perfectly pitched at $19.99 on Wine.Com. (Wine.come is now showing this vintage as sold out—BOO. But they have the 2010.) So, where are we drinking this?


I can’t write Copacabana in a tasting note and not think of a Mexican beach, which leads me to dream about a fish. Seated beneath a palapa, palm leaves rustling in the faint breeze, on a near deserted beach of pure Columbian white (aka Playa Blanca), strewn with boulders that evoke the Seychelles, and a cerulean sea beckoning for a playmate, I was served a fish.  A perfect pescado, humbly offered by a local fisherman, transcended my finest dining moments. The glistening Snapper morphed into a char-grilled masterpiece, crusted in garlic and trimmed with fresh cilantro, Mexican limes and sea salt.  On this beach, with this fish, let’s drink a bottle of Mesh, her crisp citrus and tropical notes mingling harmoniously with our simple yet sublime Snapper.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Mesh 2008

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard, Frankland River 2007

Another racy Australian Riesling, Frankland Estate is the singular wine in the Series that is neither Eden nor Clare Valley. Located in the far southwestern corner of Australia, the Frankland River area is a sub-region of the Great Southern region in Western Australia, and is located 115 miles East of its more famous cousin, Margaret River.  An area to keep an eye on, Frankland River is earning recognition for its premium wines; plus it has great Mediterranean weather and is quite isolated and free of pollution, pests, disease, and too many people. The FRR is a modern day Garden of Eden—the kind of place you wished you lived in should a nasty pandemic sweep the globe.

Despite the racy start, this wine manages a rounder mouthfeel and softer palate than the first several Rieslings I tasted.  Dry as the Namib Desert, the palate serves up crushed rocks, white pepper, a hint of petrol and finishes with fresh squeezed lemon-limeaid, like the neighborhood kids used to sell.  I also taste a fruity undercurrent from a dab of white peach and a smidgen of pineapple, making this well-rounded, piquant wine an excellent date for day or night. Pretty delicious stuff,  and full of life at five years old, Frankland should be alive and kicking another ten.  $23.95 from Sherry-Lehman


Speaking of the Namib Desert, great wines are hard to come by in one of the oldest and driest places on earth, so let’s pack a few bottles of Frankland Estate and head into the red dunes of Sossusvlei park in Namibia.  Perhaps we can indulge in a twilight picnic, after hiking up to the crest of #45—all the dunes in the park are numbered.  Our basket holds uniquely Namibian treats: springbok salami, zebra bresaola and fresh German brown bread and mustard (Namibia was a German colony between 1884-1915—see Swakopmund photos.)  A few glasses of Riesling, game meat charcuterie and snapshots of the sunset are perfect prep for the hour-long 4×4 drive out of the park, compliments of our chauffeur, of course.

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Filed under Australian Riesling, Frankland Estate 2007