Meet the Makers,
Kate and Shaun Woods of 10 Chains Estate
With its views of rows of vines sloping out to stands of giant karri trees and across a large dam, the verandah of the 10 Chains Estate cellar door certainly encourages a spot of wine tasting. Throw in the “easy drinking” wines being poured by proprietors Kate and Shaun Woods, the rustic appeal of the stone-and-wood cellar door itself, and a slightly off-the-beaten-track location in Crowea, around 30 minutes south from Manjimup, and it’s a winning combination guaranteed to throw off even the most well-laid tourist itinerary.
"We do find people tend to settle in,” says Kate. “And everyone who comes says we’re a bit of a hidden gem amongst the trees. They also usually say that they had no idea that Pemberton and Manjimup produced such good wine!
“And we love having people come to visit, as we feel that if they have put in the little bit of extra effort to come and see us, then they must be worth having a good chat with.”
The winery is named for the unit of measurement used to mark out blocks as part of the scheme that brought settlers from the UK to the region in the early 1900s. A ‘chain’ was a unit equivalent to 22 yards; ‘10 chains’ was a furlong. “We just wanted to acknowledge the hard work that the early families put in to enable this area to be established for future generations,” says Kate. It’s also a great conversation starter in the cellar door. “We’ve had a few customers tell us that they’ve had family members who were amongst the first settlers, and they were able to tell us some tales of what it was like living on the land in the early 1900s.”
Like these pioneers, Kate and Shaun have had to learn how to weather the vagaries of farming in the pursuit of their country dream. In fact, the hard-knock lessons began on the very day that their purchase of the land was settled. “That day the biggest fire in WA history at the time, the Northcliffe fire of January 2015, started about 30kms from our property,” says Kate. “Although the fire didn't physically reach the vines, the smoke hung around for a couple of weeks and ruined our first crop. So it wasn’t a great start. But every year it feels as if our skin gets a bit tougher.”
It was a desire to live on the land that brought the couple to the region. “The trees and the tranquillity of the area is what attracted us,” says Kate. “It’s physically stunning.” And while neither had a background in wine (Kate is a veterinarian and Shaun an Emergency Services Officer, jobs they both still hold), they quickly learned that the patch they’d just invested in offered something pretty special when it comes to grape growing.
“The vines are on a gentle slope, which allows for good drainage in our high rainfall area, as does the Karri loam soils. And being around 20km from the ocean helps modulate the cool temperatures that we can experience in the South West. We rarely get the frosts that can affect more inland wine areas, and that can be devastating to the vines as the buds first emerge.”
The first rows of Chardonnay, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Semillon had been planted on the property in 1996. Since taking over, the couple have been busy grafting Pinot Noir and a Riesling-like variety called Grüner Veltliner. “It’s a brand new variety for the area,” says Kate. “We’re very excited about it.”
“And we are currently involved in a trial with the Ag Dept to study the suitability of 14 different Pinot Noir clones to our region. Once it’s done, we’ll probably have the largest variety of different clones in all of WA – possibly even all of Australia! And it will be great fun playing around with the grapes from all these different varieties to see which combinations make the best wine.”
Shaun and Kate’s business model sees them use around 20 per cent of the 50 to 60 tonnes of grapes produced in a good year, with the remainder sold to other producers. “And once our grafted areas are at full production, this should increase by another 10 tonnes,” says Kate. “We also do vineyard contracting - barrel pruning, vine trimming, spraying and harvesting. “This keeps us very busy, especially around harvest time.”
The winemaking for the 10 Chains label is handled by Michael Ng and his team at Silkwood Winery in nearby Pemberton (“We don’t have any plans to set up our own facilities,” says Kate. “We think the experts should handle the winemaking!”). But this doesn’t mean the pair aren’t integrally involved in the way the bottles turn out. “We work with our winemaker while the grapes are still growing so that we have a plan to pick the grapes at the exact time so that the wine style we want will be produced,” says Kate. “For example, if we want tropical flavours in the Sauvignon Blanc, we pick them a bit riper. Pick the grapes a bit less ripe, and you’ll get more dryness.” She taps the Semillon and the cool-climate Shiraz as the current heroes of the stable.
Underpinning all of the final stage finesse is a rigorous, hands-on approach to vineyard management that can be customised year to year. “We try to use minimal chemicals, but it can be challenging,” Kate says. “And if buyers want grapes grown a certain way, such as ‘dry grown’ [without the use of irrigation], we can work around that.” And while the nearby forests give the property a stunning aspect, there is one drawback to being so close to unbridled nature. “We have to net the entire vineyard before vintage to prevent bird damage,” says Kate. “It’s highly labour intensive and we don’t look forward to it, but it’s the trade off for our beautiful location.”
And while there’s no denying it can be a hard way to make a living, Kate and Shaun feel the advantages far outweigh the challenges.
“I love the idea of producing something from the ground up,” says Kate. “It’s a great feeling to know that you were involved at every stage in the production of a wine – all the physical work that went it it. Just looking out at our vines at the end of the day, whilst enjoying a glass of good wine that we’ve helped produce, makes it all worth while.”
10 Chains Estate is open by appointment only. Please call 0488 183 770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.