Wine-growing areas are usually remote from urban agglomerations and there is something faintly unsettling about the ease with which Swan Valley is accessed. Located close to Perth's international airport and a small way North of the quaint suburban town of Guildford, it takes well under an hour to get there along the highway from the city centre.
All right, Margaret River in Western Australia's deep South is far better known for its wines, but Swan Valley, the oldest wine-growing region in the state, provides a great introduction to its wines. It's also a wonderful place to visit if you have a spare afternoon and the desire to nose and nip.
Already somewhat acquainted with Swan Valley wine thanks to an evening at Lamont's Bishop House, a Perth restaurant owned by a family that runs wineries, we head for Swan Valley with the open-ended plan of visiting at least one large winery and a small family-owned one.
For the biggie, we settle on Houghton, which was established in 1836 and which produced its first commercial vintage in 1859 — a hoary history by Australian standards. Its portfolio has a range of modestly-priced wines, but of a fairly decent quality, reflecting its former winemaker Jack Mann's declaration, “There are no bad wines here”. The smaller winery, Lancaster, is a delight, with a tasting area that is but a partially-covered shed that overlooks the vineyards, which has some of the oldest vines in the valley. Lancaster wines can be bought only online or via the cellar door which, according to the young man who talks me through more than half-a-dozen tasting-sized pours, accounts of as much or more than any winery anywhere in Australia.
As one would expect pretty much anywhere in Australia, there is lots of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, but since whites make up the principal varieties in the Swan District — despite its flat terrain and unvaryingly hot climate — I stay focussed on them.
Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillion are planted in large quantities, but the wine that calls out to be tried is the Verdelho — the niche wine variety that is native to Portugal, which has taken root in Swan Valley and a couple of other warm wine-growing regions of Western Australia.
Lamont's and Houghton do a fine blend of Verdelho and other whites and Lancaster does an especially nice single varietal, which is vibrant, fruit-forward and soused with a buttery finish. I buy a bottle to take home.
Swan Valley, of course, is not only about the wineries, offering a whole range of attractions that include gourmet food, a visit to a chocolate factory, a cruise along the Swan River, and horse-rides around the countryside. Nashik, which is rapidly being populated by more and more wineries, should take note of this. Wine destinations are, and should be, always about more than just the wine.
Keywords: Swan Valley