Winemaker Cathy Howard has been making wine for over 25 years. A passion for which she developed after a fateful trip to Roseworthy Agricultural College where she would study Oenology. Since then she has made wine for and with some of the mightiest names in the wine world. She met her Vinemaster husband Neil at a Wine Industry Technical conference and the rest, as they say, is history. Founding Whitcher Ridge Vineyards was only a matter of time.
Wilyabrup, Margaret River wine sub-region, is notorious for well drained, deep soils that have helped put Margaret River wines on the world map! The twenty-five-acre (5 hectares) Whicher Ridge vineyard sits at an elevation on 170 meters above sea level on Chapman Hill, Western Australia, and share similar rocky gravelly ironstone sandy loam soils as Wilyabrup region. The valley it is nestled in is shouldered by the Whicher Ridges and Margaret River to the West.
Ancient loamy-gravel soils lying on a clay base provide excellent drainage and support for Whicher Ridge’s now three varietals; Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking advantage of the cooling winds from the Southern Ocean and gravelly hillsides ensures that the Howards produce grapes of high intensity to be moulded into elegant wines.
What makes Whicher Ridge intriguing is its Wine Sensory Garden
Each grape variety has a well-established personality. They smell and taste in a particular way (that’s how Sommeliers can blindly tell you what’s in the glass!) Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, smells like black currants, tobacco box, cedar, and bay leaf. Chardonnay always has lovely aromas of apples and most of the time baking spices and vanilla.
What if you could experience all these aromas in their original form? That’s what a wine sensory garden is. All the fruits, plants and spices that you can find in the glass planted together. In a way, you can stand between vanilla beans and an apple tree and really feel a Chardonnay vibe.
Cathy was inspired by her grandfather’s flower-and-vegetable garden. Remembering fondly how magical it was when the flowers bloomed and the birds and bees came calling. Inspiration came after reading about the Red and White Wine sensory garden at Kendall Jackson in Napa Valley.
When asked Cathy what motivated her to go ahead with the sensory garden; Cathy replied. ‘We wanted to do something different, yet something connected to the wine and food pairing experience. Using descriptors is more educational and helps you remember. For Example; using herbs to describe a wine is interesting because most have herbaceous characters.’
An inside view
As you step out Whicher Ridge Winery’s cellar door, you’ll find yourself in the equivalent of Alice in Wonderland for wine lovers. A one of a kind Wine Sensory Organic Garden. One thousand square meters of manicured garden planted in 2014 that now thrives!
Fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and everything down to edible flowers flourish in harmony creating a picture bigger than the sum of its parts.
Neil and Cathy Howard planted each plot with the fruits, flowers and herbs that are commonly found in a particular grape’s bouquet. They profile seven grapes, to be exact: Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Viognier.
The experience is overwhelming as you find yourself surrounded by orange blossoms, pears and lime in the Riesling plot, or by oregano, black currants and bay leaf in the Cabernet one. Lemongrass in Sauvignon Blanc, black peppercorn in Shiraz, they’re all there. Like plunging into a glass of wine from head to toes, all your senses come into play; it’s just stunning.
A second set of plots are planted with the food frequently associated with every wine. These «affinity beds» allow you to experience first-hand classic food pairings and understand the connections that make them great.
If you’re a wine novice and have trouble matching wine with food, you’re in luck! Cathy runs wine tastings in the sensory garden. She will steer you through each wine enabling you to see, smell, touch and taste your way through every nuance in wine, all within a hand’s reach in this charming back yard.
Here’s a little plot layout for what you should expect graded by varietal, its primary and affinity gardens.