A right royal red

31 Jul, 2011 03:00 AM
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Coralie Garnier-Lewis, one of two female winemakers at Fermoy Estate, Willyabrup, with director and general manager Cameron Rhodes.
Coralie Garnier-Lewis, one of two female winemakers at Fermoy Estate, Willyabrup, with director and general manager Cameron Rhodes.

THERE are more than a few things unique about Fermoy Estate, Wilyabrup.

Aside from its striking pink and green French provincial architecture, its owners are young by name and young by nature.

It could be named Femme-oy given both winemakers are females and it has a genuine claim to fame (or claim to a Dane) as the only WA wine served at the official wedding reception of Danish Royal Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary in May 2004.

Company director and general manager Cameron Rhodes says it was a landmark event in Fermoy's history and came about through renowned chef Luke Mangan's long association with the winery.

"It was before my time and I'm not sure how Luke Mangan first discovered our wines but he had been serving them for many years on his restaurant menus," Cameron said.

"When Princess Mary approached him to prepare the official wedding reception menu he accompanied the food with Australian wines and our Fermoy Estate 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon was the only red and only WA wine served at the function.

"Cabernet is one of the flagship varieties for the Margaret River region so it was an honour to have our wine selected and ultimately recognised for its quality in this way.

"It was matched with poached loin of lamb with a mustard crust and Jerusalem artichoke puree."

Cameron said although Fermoy Estate was 25-years-old and one of the oldest wineries in the Margaret River region it had mostly "flown underneath the radar" in terms of recognition in WA and this was a moment in time to help invigorate its profile.

"Lots of wineries can pull out a gold medal, but not many can show you a royal endorsement," Cameron said.

Not that it hasn't had its share of medals with the more recent a gold medal for its 2008 reserve Semillon at the 2010 International Wine Challenge in London and a silver medal for its current release 09 Chardonnay at the World Decanter Awards in May.

Fermoy was started by a group of WA investors in 1985 and named after the ancestor of one who came from the town of Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland.

Swiss investor Hans Hulsbergen bought the winery 12 years later and given the majority of his wine interests were centred in Europe, most of the estate's wine was exported, hence its "underneath the radar" local profile.

The ownership triangle was completed in December last year when Perth brothers Aaron and John Young bought the 26 hectare property with its 14 hectares of vines on Metricup Road.

At just 20 and 25 years of age respectively, one might think the pair would be more comfortable in a pub or boutique brewery but wine is their passion and where they see some real business potential, particularly in Asian markets, in the future.

Their patch in the region's "golden triangle" with its rich, loamy, well-drained soils, perfect temperatures and quality old vines is a purveyor's paradise.

"In all sectors of the business we have a very young team in place and we'd like to think we can meld our historic base with youthful exuberance to create something really unique," Cameron said.

"There is a real re-birthing of the food and wine industries going on in Australia at the moment, in part attributable to shows like Masterchef, so it's an exciting time to be in the industry.

"Certainly wine has had its challenges in the past few years with oversupply issues compounded by the high Australian dollar which has made export markets tough but hopefully we are at the bottom of the cycle with some real rebound potential ahead of us.

"Quality will always sell and we'd like to think we have a unique blend of the right property, the right varieties and the right team to excel," Cameron said.

Like a football coach he talks about the importance of the one per centers.

"Someone once told me there is only a one per cent difference in the brain of a monkey and the brain of a human but what a difference that one per cent makes," he said.

Fermoy Estates has a production capacity of 30,000 cases a year but is currently doing only half that with 50 per cent sold domestically and 50pc exported to Europe, United Kingdom and increasingly Asia.

The intention is to continue to build to sustainable levels using organic practices and one of its one per center trump cards has been employing its own, rather than a contract, viticulture team.

It's an edge winemakers Liz Dawson and Coralie Garnier-Lewis cherish.

Perth-born Liz studied oenology at Curtin University and travelled extensively with her craft before joining Fermoy where she has been winemaker for seven years.

Coralie, like the Fermoy architecture, is the French connection.

Born in Limoges in south west France, she studied agronomy, viticulture and oenology in Montpellier, spent 14 months at wineries in the country's cabernet and merlot-centric Bordeaux region and worked on vintages at Margaret River wineries, in the Hunter Valley, NSW and in New Zealand before settling in Margaret River.

"The French wine industry is very regulated for everything from the yeast, to varieties and appellations so I really enjoy the freedom and creativity that Australian winemaking allows," Coralie said.

"The soils in Bordeaux are more gravel -based, you're not allowed to irrigate and the grape bunches have to be grown closer to the ground on the vine to ripen properly.

"It's also great here to be able to work so closely with the viticulture team because the more they do in the vineyard, the less we have to do in the winery which is really important for the quality of the vintage."

So is there anything she doesn't like in WA?

"Yes, the summer heat... and the cheese!" she said.

"Because it has to be pasteurised, cheese here tastes nowhere near as good as French cheese."

And cheese may soon be on a menu at Fermoy with management contemplating adding food service to its repertoire to complement cellar door sales and better utilise its stunning grounds and gardens.

Already popular for weddings and functions and with a four bedroom, three bathroom cottage nestled among the Semillon vines on the estate's lake, Fermoy offers a truly memorable experience.

Like its motto, Fermoy Estates looks set to 'stand sure' for many years to come.

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