Walsh & Sons / Margaret River
10 of the Best New Wineries– Wine Companion 2019
The name Walsh & Sons has a Burgundian twist, the only difference is that Walsh & Sons would be Walsh et Fils. The analogy continues: the sons Roi and Hamish (Ryan Walsh and Freya Hohnen their parents) are in turn from McHenry Hohnen, of Margaret River blue blood wine aristocracy. Ryan and Freya have had a Burgundian family association making wine for McHenry Hohnen from 2004 to ’12, and over that time visiting/ working for wineries in France, Spain, Switzerland and the US. JAMES Halliday, The Wine Companion
Walsh and Sons, despite sounding like an accountancy firm, is an exciting Margaret River winery project from Ryan Walsh and Freya Hohnen. If that last name rings a few bells you would be on the right track. Freya is the daughter of the legendary David Hohnen, founder of Cape Mentelle and one of this country’s great wine luminaries. Walsh too comes from a family steeped in agriculture and wine growing in the region. Both Ryan and Freya grew up in the vineyards and have balanced that invaluable experience with time spent cutting their teeth working for wineries overseas before setting up shop back in familiar territory.
Ryan and Freya are part of a new breed of small-scale Margaret River winemakers, think Si Vintners, Dormilona and LAS Vino, who are embracing biodynamics and minimal intervention while keeping regionality and expression of site as their focus. They are breathing new life into a region where, although studded with some of this nation’s greatest producers, it can difficult to uncover new and exciting projects.
The full range of wines from Walsh and Sons strikes me as a touch eclectic straddling traditional offerings amidst some more playful releases and while some of their wines are definitely aimed at a more modern natural drinker, their 2019 Burnside Chardonnay is a sensational wine in anyone’s language.
The fruit came from the family’s Burnside vineyard which was planted back in 1981 by David Hohnen. It lies on steep north facing slope, rare in Margaret River, and is only a ‘couple of dropkicks’ to the ocean, as my Dad would say. This is a unique site and one which shines through in this wine. This is a Chardonnay that balances power and finesse beautifully, not always an easy task in Margaret River. There is concentration and drive in spades but that is framed against pithy grapefruit acidity, layers of creamy nuts, ripe orchard fruits and a saline spritz. It is unmistakeably Margaret River but offers a more dynamic and expressive interpretation than most, with a welcome touch of restraint.
Erin Larkin, Halliday’s newly crowned correspondent in the west, was enamoured with this wine as well as you can read in her review below and I whole heartedly concur. There is some insane value here and if this is a window into the future of Margaret River Chardonnay, then I am excited.
The Margaret River wine region (some 240km south of Perth) is the most important region, alon with the Great Southern in Western Australia. Its viticultural history began in the nineteenth century on a very small scale when the grandfather of Dr Kevin Cullen, founder of Cullen Wines established vineyards at Bunbury in 1890, though the vineyard site has now been absorbed by Bunburys unban suburbs. Contemporary Margaret river viticulture began in 1967 when Perth cardiologist Tom Cullity - inspired by papers written by John Gladstones from the University of WA which suggested Margaret River was a good place to grow grapes - planted the first commercial vineyard at Vasse Felix. Moss Wood, Cape Mentelle and Cullen soon followed and since then Margaret River has grown to become regarded as one of Australia's, and the world's great wine-producing regions and today there are nearly 5,500 hectares under vine and over 120 wine producers in the region.
Though warm, Margaret River's proximity to the Indian Ocean provides a moderating effect ensuring a temperate dry climate which is often likened to Bordeaux, in part due to the moderating influence of its proximity to the ocean and also due to the marked similarities between the average growing tempreture in Margaret River and Bordeaux in a dry vintage. These warm even growing conditions allow for the cultivation of a number of diverse grape varieties, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (often blended together) does well here, producing fresh textural white wines best condumed in their youth. However, the real heroes are the world class Chardonnays (headed by Leeuwin Estate and Cullen) and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends, Cullen and Moss Wood, that have done much to propel both the region and it's star performers on the world stage. Vasse Felix, Voyager Estate, Cullen, Moss Wood, Lenton Brae, Pierro, Fraser Gallop and Woodlands are just some of the benchmark producers.
The Wine Atlas of Australia, James Halliday