While some winemakers might take you straight to a tasting at their landmark cellar door on Caves Road, Scott and Annette Baxter first draw context from Gralyn Estate itself: almost 200 hectares of pasture and forest, and just four hectares under vine. Like many of their Wilyabrup peers they’re known for their estate grown premium Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also as one of Australia’s great producers of high-quality fortified wines.
As we climb gradually through the pasture to take up a vantage point looking west across the property Scott says that one of his loves of this property is its proximity to the ocean, just 3km away. At night when the swell is particularly raucous you can hear it rumbling in the distance.
That maritime influence is never far from mind in Margaret River, a key to the region’s success. Gralyn Estate sees the interplay between gravelly loam soils, hot summer days that bring fruit to maturity, while cool nights offer needed respite, the plentiful, recharging rains of winter are captured by the clay subsoil just a metre down.
A home for Scott and Annette as well as a place of work it’s very much a family business. For Annette the property holds memories as far back as childhood; her parents Graham and Merilyn Hutton first cleared the then 230ha property back in 1968. Graham, a dairy farmer from Capel, had plans to solely run beef but a Cabernet Sauvignon from the district’s 1973 vintage acted as something of a lightning rod. "Even in those early days there was something very special about the quality and flavour of the Wilyabrup grapes," recalls Merilyn.
On an elevation above the winery Scott points out where the estate borders Mosswood, Vasse Felix and Cullen Wines; names synonymous with the past and present story of Margaret River wine, though to Merilyn and Graham, they’re conjure memories of friends and fellow vignerons who would often band together in those early days.
You could say it was Graham’s practical nature, borne from his farming background that allowed for the establishment of what is now Gralyn Estate back in 1975. Graham terms it as “on the cheap,” the planting of a vineyard that’s stood the test of time; Graham splitting almost 2000 vineyard posts and strainers from Jarrah found on the property. Building the winery, which was also home to the region’s first cellar door, was a further test of ingenuity, mixing the 9 tonnes of concrete for the wax lined concrete tanks in a small concrete mixer, and using repurposed dairy coolers.
Gralyn Cellars emerged in 1978, the region’s first cellar door. While the idea of such an experience is commonplace now, back then vineyards sold direct through retail outlets. The cellar door and tasting room patrons see today was built in 2002 on the site of what was Gralyn Garden Restaurant opened in 1986 amidst Western Australia’s heady America’s Cup days. That original cellar door has been preserved. Stepping up to the Jarrah tasting bar there’s a palpable sense of the region’s viticultural history, a line that goes back to those first customers discovering Margaret River in its infancy.
The tasting room isn’t simply a relic, now used by Annette and Scott for special bookable experiences; a place to showcase the evolution of Gralyn Estate, and in particular its focus on vintage port styles. The Hutton’s made 30 gallons of vintage port back in 1978 which was to be the basis for continued fortified wine production. “That's been a programme here since day dot,” says Scott. “We've got this enviable collection of fortified wine that we can now produce these barrel aged fortifieds from and we're matching up with the best in the country,” he says. “That doesn't just happen,” adds Annette. “It takes time.”
Story and Interview by Max Brearley