Storm on a hill

Flying from Dubai to Perth, Western Australia, then driving four and a half hours down to Frankland River in the Great Southern region, one realizes the enormity of this land we Australians call home, passing the many country towns that end with the word “up”. Driving over bridges with dry creek beds, passing road kill of kangaroos, going through forest with flicking light, following double semi trailers, hauling cattle, timber, until one encounters the many overtaking lanes on the Albany Highway .

Frankland River is a farming community with cattle, fields of grain, grazing sheep, wine grape vineyards. Enter the Frankland River township, blink your eyes and you will miss it. Those who live in Frankland will make the one and a half hour drive to Albany or Denmark to do their weekly grocery run. 

In 1999 while working as a wine maker Clemence Haselgrove, who hails from the Cognac region of France met a South Australian lad while working at one of the wineries in Coonawarra, South Australia, fell in love, married, then in 2006, up stumps, moved to Denmark, Western Australia in the pristine south west of the state to be chief wine maker for WA's oldest cool climate winery and raise a family.

This is the story of Lee and Clemence Haselgrove. Their vineyard Clos du Tertre is situated on an elevation of 240 metres, with soil composing of ironstone gravel over ferricrete / medium clay and annual rainfall around 600 mm. The 30 year old dry grown riesling  on the vineyard that Lee had known of,  through his years of being a viticulturist in the region and Clemence by buying the exceptional quality fruit the vineyard produces for the winery she was working at. 

When the 10 hectare vineyard, and the surrounding farmland came up for sale Lee and Clemence purchased the property, that they had known intimately for over a decade, knowing the exceptional fruit coming from the vines. The "Albany Doctor, " the cool ocean breeze that blows in from the Southern ocean each afternoon like clockwork, cooling the vineyard from the heat of the day, blowing away any insect pests, together with the lack of surrounding trees nearby, was another plus. ( As native bird life love to congregate in trees, waiting patiently for grapes to ripen, then descend on mass to wreck havoc on vineyards, by stripping every ripe berry of the vines just before harvest.  A neighbouring vineyard surrounded by trees down the road from Clos du Tertre uses netting to prevent grape lost. )

Two days after returning from their visit to Dubai in October 2014, a once in 50 year hail storm ripped through parts of Frankland River. A vineyard 120 hectares up the road, that Lee manages had most of the early shoots, stems stripped from their vines, causing the 2015 vintage to be written off, due to hail damage. Clos du Tertre vineyard just 10 kilometres down the road was spared. Was this an act of divine intervention, in being merciful to a couple who had just harvested their first vintage of riesling in 2014.

The small size of the riesling vineyard at Clos du Tertre means production of their first riesling the 2014 will be limited to around 600 cases, with an allocation going to top restaurants in Perth and a handful of independent retailers. Those of you who enjoy superb riesling, do seek out, the 2014 Clos du Tertre riesling, as you will be treated to the vinous pleasure of this remarkable wine.

Clemence told me:  

" The 2015 riesling has just about finished its fermentation and is looking very long with a very fine structure. The wild fermentation worked very well and actually allowed the fruit to bring out its natural richness "

2015 was to see the making of a parcel of Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon from mature vines at Clos du Tertre. For a new start up, it was a difficult business decision to sell the grapes to other wineries, who where seeking quality fruit, due to the shortage of top quality grapes, caused by the October hail storms of 2014. The mature Cabernet Sauvignon grown at Clos du Tertre is of such high quality, even during difficult vintages, it punches above its weight. This just shows how special the vineyard at Clos du Tertre is. Production of a Clos du Tertre Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon will have to wait to the 2016 vintage. 

During my visit I was fortunate to share a wonderful home cooked meal with the Haselgroves, taste an assortment of aged German and Australian rieslings, grand cru Champagne and red Bordeaux. After dinner they showed me their Clos du Tertre label, the story behind the design, their wait for,  the soon to be delivered basket press and securing bottling time from a nearby winery.

To often we only hear about the wine maker, not the viticulturist who tends the vines.

This collaborative life partnership of a French girl and an Aussie lad, there enduring commitment to make exceptional wines, is a testament to their dedication for the land.  Lee and Clemence thanks for sharing the Clos du Tertre story. All the best for many, many more good harvests to come.  Santé and cheers!

Author: Alain H Lee, Founder, Maison Alainh Fine Wine Consultancy