Frankland Estate’s transition from producer of solid, workmanlike wines of promise to top drawer, innovative producer should form the blueprint for any small family winemaker.

Frankland Estate started out in 1988 when Judi Cullam and her late husband, Barrie Smith, chose Frankland River to explore varieties and styles they encountered during their travels through Europe.

Like all such ventures, things started modestly.

However, the rieslings in particular and then the shiraz soon sounded the alert that this was a place to watch.

Now in the hands of Hunter Smith, his sister Elizabeth and her winemaker husband, Brian Kent, Frankland Estate has been taken into the rarefied air of the state’s best producers.

The latest release of wines provides compelling evidence of the lofty heights they are reaching with established varieties and styles, plus interesting twists on the norm.

In fact, I believe this is the best collective release yet.

With a solid foundation laid by their parents, Hunter and Elizabeth had plenty to work with when they returned to the farm in 2000, beginning a period of extensive investigation, trial and error and re-evaluation in both winery and vineyard.

The vineyard was organically certified 15 years ago and has been farmed with biodynamic principles for the past two years.

Traditional Australian winemaking maxims were challenged, particularly with riesling, but also with shiraz, which transitioned to the more appropriate stylistically defined syrah before leaping forward with the introduction of new clones.

The shiraz/syrah variety has shown the most remarkable transformation.

Previously, it was a variety that could be very good but was often inconsistent.

The distinctive ironstone character that comes from the vineyard could be a little intrusive.

It needed a new approach and, with winemaker Mr Kent, they almost wiped the slate clean and started again.

With new clones, different oaks, different oak formats and a generally more restrained approach in the winery, the uncut shiraz has become a sparkling gem.

Improvements in viticulture have also affected the quality of their premium blended red, the Olmo’s Reward, which has the Right Bank cabernet franc as its dominant variety.

It’s wine that just gets prettier and prettier while retaining its regionality.

More recently has been the release of a single vineyard mourvedre, which shows how well this naturally rustic, earthy variety can work on the ironstone soils of the vineyard.

And while the rieslings were exceptional in some years, they, too, have not been allowed to rest on their laurels.

Adopting an altogether atypical Australian approach, they followed traditional German techniques of using large format oak, time on lees and new clones.

The result is a riesling that combines tension, purity with texture and layered complexity.

These wines are just hitting the shelves now and are well worth checking out.

Frankland Estate Alter Weg 2023 ($39)

This has become one of the most interesting Western Australian wine releases. It’s from the Geisenheim riesling clone close planted on high ironstone. After vinification with no additions, it is put into 500-litre and 1,000L old oak, where wild yeast fermentation does its magic. So, this is riesling made in the old way, hence the name. Spicy with a creamy citrus lemon rind character. In fact, it is all about character as it takes riesling into another dimension.

Score 94/100

Cellar: Eight years

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge riesling 2023 ($58)

One of the very best Isolation Ridge rieslings produced. It’s from an exceptional vintage showing the pristine purity and minerally tension of great rieslings. Comes from a combination of clones planted in 1988. This is not your usual riesling. It was left on lees for nine months and about 10 per cent was matured in oak. The result is a wine of tremendous texture, with an intricate weave of fine acid and intensely flavoured fruit. Has a crunchy vibrant minerality on the finish. Exceptional wine.

Score 97/100

Cellar: 12 years

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge syrah 2022 ($58)

A wine that shows the evolution of both style and quality of this now well-established WA syrah. It now has clone 470 in addition to the original Houghton clone from its original 1988 planting. A small amount of viognier and mourvedre is also used. The wine was matured for 14 months in a 3,500L French oak foudre and a few additional 500L puncheons. This is an exciting development. The wine has become more elegant and stylish while gaining complexity and better structural tannin profile. It’s medium bodied with beautifully expressive red fruits and a little spice and black pepper. Outstanding.

Score 96/100

Cellar: 12 years

  • Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines over more than 40 years. In 2017 he co-authored The Way it Was: The History of the early years of the Margaret River Wine Region