In 1968 Graham and Merilyn Hutton (nee Price) married and moved to Willyabrup. Graham was a dairy farmer from Capel, and Merilyn a Home Economics teacher from Perth. The couple met through Junior Farmers (a club for rural youth) when Merilyn was teaching at the Busselton High School. The early years were spent clearing their 230ha farm, fencing, planting pasture and rearing beef cattle.
The early 1970’s were particularly tough, with beef prices very low. In 1975 they decided to diversify their beef farming operation and planted a 4.5 ha vineyard on their farm. Merilyn recalls that it was an early bottle of 1973 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon that won them over - "we realized even in those early days there was something very special about the quality and flavour of the Willyabrup grapes." Merilyn and Graham were self-taught winemakers. Merilyn’s knowledge of chemistry plus a few short wine quality control courses at the University of WA, assistance from the WA Department of Agriculture, and lots of reading, provided the foundation for their new career. Graham’s great sense of practicality made possible the vineyard planting and the building of a winery 'on the cheap.' In fact there was no other way - with wax lined concrete tanks, dairy coolers, self help and improvisation being the order of the day. Merilyn recalls mixing the 9 tonne of concrete in a small cement mixer for the walls of the winery. Graham split the 1800 vineyard posts and strainers from jarrah trees on the property. They have fond memories of the camaraderie of the region in those early pioneering days, with friends and fellow vignerons offering assistance.
First Cellar Door and First Port
In 1978 Merilyn and Graham named their new venture Gralyn Cellars (a combination of both their Christian names) and opened the region’s first cellar door sales outlet. “In those days the first vineyards sold all their wine through the retail outlets, rather than at Cellar Door. We’ve seen some huge changes over the years,” Graham recalls. In 1978 the Huttons also made 30 gallons of Vintage Port which was to be the basis for continued fortified wine production. Today Gralyn Estate is well known for their range of high quality fortified wines, as well as a large selection of very popular sweet wines, premium dry red wines and award winning Chardonnay.
Gralyn Winery Restaurant
In 1986, the Huttons built a second tasting bar which featured a spectacular old jarrah tree, off their property. This coincided with the opening of the Gralyn Garden Restaurant. With Merilyn’s cooking background, the couple were keen to showcase their wine with the best fresh food of the region, so in their usual fashion, they built and opened one of the earliest winery restaurants in Margaret River. It was a real family affair, with Merilyn cooking, Graham in charge of wine tasting and the children helping out on weekends. Merilyn recalls, “it was the ‘heady’ days of the America’s Cup and an exciting time, with International visitors and many of the yachting crews becoming regular customers on their lay days. They enjoyed the local scallops, whiting, crayfish, whitebait and beef, with desserts a specialty, washed down with a glass or two of Gralyn wine!” Three years later, having achieved their aim, they closed the restaurant. The region by then, was supporting a growing number of winery restaurants.
Local Art, Craft and Festivals
Merilyn and Graham’s interest in 'the Arts' was manifested in the many music recitals, and art and craft exhibitions held in their cellar over the years. The Willyabrup Spring Festival was their brain child - a very successful exhibition of local art and craft, which they organized in the early nineties, in the thirteen wineries in ‘the block.’ Success was assured with generous sponsors, committed to purchasing the works of art. Merilyn is an accomplished artist herself, and her paintings are featured on several Gralyn fortified wine labels. Customers will also recall the much photographed Gypsy Wagon, that stood outside the Cellar Door from 1990-2002. It was sold prior to the opening of the new tasting room.
Merilyn and Graham were pioneers in ‘Wine Tourism’ in the Margaret River region, as well as pioneers in the wine industry. Their new Cellar Door, first Ports and new winery restaurant, attracted the locals and a growing number of Australian tourists as well as overseas visitors. The fledgling Margaret River wine industry was starting to gain momentum. In 2002, Merilyn decided to join the Committee of Management of the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association, and within a year was elected Chairperson of the Committee. “It was exciting to be at the helm of a dedicated and enthusiastic group of members, as Margaret River made her debut on the ‘world stage.’ We organized the first International Wine Tourism Conference at Leeuwin Estate winery in 2004, which high-lighted the tourism potential of our region,” Merilyn said. In September 2005, the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association recognized Merilyn’s outstanding service, by honouring her with Life Membership.
New Tasting Room
The Huttons have continued to focus on Cellar Door sales, rather than retail distribution. A new tasting room was opened in 2002, on the site of the Garden Restaurant, adjoining the original old winery. The state-of-the-art new Cellar Door concentrates the attention of the visitor on the ‘wine tasting’ experience. While tasting, customers have a magnificent view over the vines and surrounding farmland. Further improvements have included a new winery and a temperature controlled wine storage facility.
Gralyn has always been a strong supporter of the Australian Wine Show system and has achieved remarkable success. The cellar door is a showcase for the Hutton’s many awards and trophies. Their success is well known both nationally and internationally. It is the full bodied dry red wines that have really put Gralyn Estate on the map. They are superb examples of strength and finesse, with the potential to age gracefully. In recent years Gralyn Chardonnay has also established a reputation as one of the region’s finest, winning trophies and numerous gold medals. Today the fortified wines are regarded as some of Australia’s best, with trophies and gold medals bearing testimony to their success.
Vineyard and Farm
The vines are now mature - forty three years old, non-irrigated and planted on some of the finest gravelly loam soils in the Willyabrup region. The clay subsoil, about a metre down, acts as catchment for the winter rains, making possible the dry grown vineyard. The quality of the fruit being produced is exceptional, with organic vineyard practices producing grapes with perfect balance, intense flavour and fine ripe tannins - essential building blocks for great wine, when coupled with reliable growing seasons. Margaret River is recognized as one of Australia’s most consistent wine growing regions. The Huttons have continued to run beef cattle on their property, enjoying the balance between viticulture and farming.
The Missing Children
Many Gralyn customers will recall the publicity that surrounded Merilyn and Graham, as the finders of the two toddlers that went missing in coastal bushland at Willyabrup on the 27 May 2007. The Huttons describe themselves as ‘accidental heroes’. “Live media coverage via satellite, took the good news story to the world, as it happened - the response was overwhelming,” they recalled.
Travel, and the knowledge gained, has been a major influence on the development of Gralyn. Merilyn and Graham made their first visit to Bordeaux in 1996, and were astounded by the similarity of the top wines with their own Cabernet Sauvignon. Many return visits with tastings of Premier Grand Cru wines from barrel, broadened their knowledge and strengthened their belief that the terroir of their vineyard and region, was capable of producing world-class wines. "Travel to other great wine regions has kept us enlightened, and at the top of our own game. Our wines have also won us several overseas trips - truly amazing," the Huttons recall.
The Cellar Door is open daily from 10.30am - 4.30pm and is situated on Caves Road in the heart of the wine growing region of Willyabrup. Visitors are treated to a free tasting of the full range of wines. Gralyn wines are only available from the Cellar Door or by mail order, however Australia Post delivers throughout Australia and overseas. Wines can also be ordered online. There is a Gralyn wine to suit every taste. Warm friendly service, together with the outstanding quality of the wines, ensures that customers will have a memorable experience at the Cellar Door. Loyal staff have always been an integral part of Gralyn. Garry Robinson, who many customers will remember, retired on the 28th February 2014, after thirty years service.
The Gralyn Philosophy - “an uncompromising pursuit of excellence” is evident in every aspect of the business.