Whicher Ridge: Where lightning strikes
Lightning struck when Cathy and Neil Howard first met at a wine conference. They were both living in separate parts of Australia, but Cathy eventually moved to Margaret River to spend more time with him. She was a winemaker and he was a vigneron, so it didn’t take long for them to start making wines under their own brand, Whicher Ridge.
Their two skill sets complemented each other perfectly, and they just needed to find the right property to start growing their own grapes and making their own wines. The search took some time, but they ended up finding a farm in the Whicher Range at Chapman Hill, in the southwest corner of the Geographe Wine Region in 2003. The soils, aspect and water resources were perfect for planting a vineyard.
Taking advantage of a north-facing slope, Neil planted a five-hectare vineyard using a mix of grape varieties which were well suited to the property’s soils and microclimate. This original planting included sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and viognier. Four years later, Cathy and Neil released their first wines under the Whicher Ridge brand.
Over the years, they continued to grow their business in stages. Their first vintage was made in a small converted section of one of the farm sheds, but by 2009 they had built their winery, and in 2013 they opened a cellar door and their ‘one of a kind’ wine sensory garden.
Standing Out From the Crowd
Australians have a lot of wine to choose from and Cathy and Neil know that their brand has to have a point of difference. Their grape growing and winemaking practices focus on producing small batch wines which highlight each grape variety’s distinctive flavours, which are a direct result of the unique terroir (otherwise known as soil and microclimate) at Whicher Ridge. They have chosen to make their wines in more complex flavoured and textured styles which pair well with food, and the wine sensory garden immerses cellar door visitors in the aromas and flavours found in each wine.
Neil uses sustainable farming practices in the vineyard to produce the best possible fruit each and every year. He doesn’t use pesticides and maintains grasses and flowering plants under the vines and in the midrows to encourage predatory insects. His sustainable approach to vineyard management also closes the loop on the winemaking process. Neil composts the winery waste products, such as grape skins and stalks, and re-uses the compost back in the vineyard and in the farm gardens.
Meanwhile, Cathy uses traditional, hands-on winemaking techniques to enhance all of the varietal and site specific flavours of each grape variety. The winemaking styles she uses, produce textured, balanced, and well structured wines which pair well with food. For example, her white wines are left to mature on their yeast lees for extended periods of time, which creates a creamier mouthfeel. Her red wines are fermented in open-top fermenters, gently pressed off skins using a basket press, and matured for 18 to 24 months in a mix of older and new oak barrels. By the time her reds are bottled, Cathy has set them up to be enjoyed straight away, and they also have the potential to age well.
Not ones to sit still and be content with their winemaking achievements so far, Cathy and Neil are always looking at ways to continuously lift the quality of their wines. According to Cathy, “Australian wine consumers are becoming more adventurous with what they are trying in the way of new grape varieties and new wine styles. They are still enjoying drinking wines made from the traditional grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, but they are also very keen to trying something different and explore new varieties. In recent years, the grape varieties in our vineyard have changed to meet this change in consumer expectations. We now have malbec, mourvèdre and montepulciano growing in our vineyard through a mix of replanting and grafting”.
The art of storytelling
Your story sets you apart from every other winery. Each wine we make has it’s own story, of where it’s been grown, and how it’s been made, and by whom.
Cathy and Neil know the importance of a good story, and their wine labels and styles, are a reflection of this. The Odyssey Garden wine range tells the story of the wine sensory garden with the labels showcasing the garden design and the distinctive varietal flavours that can be tasted in each wine. The Whicher Ridge small batch wine label with it’s lightning bolt, tells their story, of a winemaker and vigneron with their powerful combination of skills, experience and passion, discovering just the right place in the Whicher Range to bring their dream to life.
“Your story sets you apart from every other winery. Each wine we make has it’s own story, of where it’s been grown, and how it’s been made, and by whom”.
In fact, Cathy and Neil have used the name ‘Whicher’ with intention. As well as connecting their vineyard to a place name, they are well aware that the famous Margaret River that rises out of the Whicher Range was named after Margaret Whicher. She was the cousin of John Garrett Bussell, a colonial settler and explorer of the local area, whom the seaside town of Busselton was named after. Margaret and her sisters were known for their beauty and were often referred to as ‘the Bewitchers’ in Petersfield. John Bussell must have held Margaret in high regard, because he named Margaret River and the Whicher Range after her and her family, even though Margaret’s father rejected his marriage proposal.
Energy and passion
Margaret must have left some electricity behind because the region still bustles with life. It brought Cathy and Neil together from different parts of Australia, and their winemaking chemistry continues to bring joy to others.
How Cathy and Neil make wine today is a reflection of their working lives. Their entire careers have been in the wine industry and every bottle they produce is an amalgamation of their past and the present. They use their experience to make the most of the seasons that are presented to them while being conscious of the wine that people want to enjoy.
Experience wine from Whicher Ridge
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