Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published February 4th 2012
Upper Reach Winery is the brainchild of Derek and Laura Pearse. Purchased some fifteen years ago, it is a continuation of the Pearse love of land and agriculture, Derek coming from Western Australian farming stock.
The vineyard was given over to bulk chardonnay when it was bought, and considerable effort and labour has gone into improving the quality of the fruit and diversifying the range to arrive at today's vines of Verdelho, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, some Petit Verdot and a few Tempranillo.
Upper Reach is not just a winery, it's also a café/restaurant, which is an entirely separate business but incorporated into the combined vision of the two families running the two businesses.
Upper Reach also has an Edwardian cottage with a spa, available to rent for weekends and weekday short breaks, that hosts the highly popular Twilight Concerts.
It is situated on rich loamy soil exactly opposite the landing where Captain James Stirling's gig was moored before the party travelled eastwards towards the escarpment. Stirling named the small tributary of the Swan, the 'Ellen' Brook, after his wife.
The Upper Reach wines have won a large number of awards, and those people who are impressed by that sort of thing will find the awards impressive. To my mind the actual wine is more important than the label, and I found the wines to be superlative.
There is a large range for only twenty or so acres under cultivation, but the soil is good, the care they receive is immaculate and the crusher and processor are a matter of feet from the crop, so the fruit is at its very peak when processed and it shows.
I spent a very happy couple of hours at the Upper Reach sampling the range and I would love to share this time with you.
A couple of points for you to consider when thinking about the wines - firstly they are priced well under their actual value and secondly, although they are all pre-eminently drinkable now, some have the structure and strength to lay down for several years if you can afford, or bear, to do so. Personally I seldom delay a pleasure. Remember all those on the Titanic who chose not to have dessert that night.
The cellar door is newly renovated and has a charming prospect over the vines, is well-shaded by trees and is well-lit and welcoming.
With only one exception, the 2010 Tempranillo, all the wines are made from the Upper Reach fruit. As Derek says, 'There's no fun in making wine from grapes you haven't grown yourself'. (He's also the winemaker.)
I began my foray into the Upper Reach with:
2011 The Gig ($20*)
This is the classic 'house white' if you like. Unwooded and rich with fruit it's like drinking liquid grapes mixed well with sunshine; crisp, clean and charming.
2010 Verdelho ($20*)
This was dry, but hugely citrus in aroma, subtle, elegant and crisply long in taste, with a lovely finish. It would go well with Thai food or delightfully with fruit or cheese, or just by itself.
2010 Reserve Chardonnay ($28*)
Now this was a truly impressive wine, the sort of chardonnay that chardonnay drinkers lust after. It's wooded in new French oak, so there is more than a hint of vanilla. It's fresh, complex and delightful.
Perfectly able to stand alone, it would also do well with fish or pasta in a cream sauce.
It has a sinewy strength that would carry it through five years in cellar but is highly drinkable right now, something I noticed with several of the wines which is no mean feat - one is usually sacrificed to the other.
Black Bream White ($15*)
This blend of chardonnay and verdelho is as sweet as Upper Reach wines get, but the sweetness doesn't show as sugary, it's the fruit-driven sweetness of passionfruit. This, together with the rosé, are the babies of the vineyard and are priced to move - buy now.
Perfect as a lazy afternoon wine, chatting with friends or quietly reading by oneself.
Black Bream Pink ($15*)
Wine snobs are often accused of being able to smell fruits that no-one else can in the bouquet of wines. I defy anyone not to get the fresh strawberry of this lovely quaffing wine. It's also a truly gorgeous colour.
Black Bream Red ($18*)
An excellent merlot, cabernet sauvignon blend - ripe, rich and mature. Well-rounded and elegant.
2010 Tempranillo ($25*)
Not a wine with which I'm terribly familiar, but I would say it's the wine to introduce hardened white wine drinkers to the joys of red. It really requires food to be at its best I would say. Serve it at the temperature you would wish your room to be in summer, slightly cool and you'll love it.
2010 The Gig Shiraz ($22*)
Ridiculously cheap for what it is, this easily approachable wine has strength, mellow flavour with an almost plain chocolate overtone and rich, complex layers. Outstanding, but overshadowed by its big brother -
2009 Reserve Shiraz ($32*)
This is the wine to buy if you love shiraz. Buy as much as you can afford to because although ten years is recommended I think it will last fifteen, and what this will taste like then is unimaginably sublime. It is a great wine now and can only get better. Rated by Ray Jordan at 94/100 I think that was a bit mean. A superb wine.
Do yourself a favour - have a tasting, have lunch and stay for a Twilight Concert.
*All prices quoted are for single bottles - bulk buys attract substantial discounts. A dozen of a particular red may give you an extra half-dozen white for free, for example.