Discover the wines of the Southern Forests wine region
Meet the Makers,
Clinton and Melissa Robertson
of Chateau June-Jerome
When Clinton and Melissa Robertson’s dream of setting up a family business led them to purchase an 85-hectare property near Manjimup in 2013, they didn’t let a few hurdles throw them off. The property had 15 acres of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon already under vine, but these had been left to fend for themselves for six years and had grown wild and unfettered. Undeterred, the couple moved into the unlined shed – a gruelling prospect when the climate in the Southern Forests regularly tips the scales as one of Western Australia’s coldest – and got to work, painstakingly rehabilitating and retraining each vine by hand. Or chainsaw, as required.
The hard graft paid off, and today the vineyard is turning out sophisticated, zesty chardonnays and well-balanced rosés from these same vines. A plummy, lightly spiced Syrah and elegant Pinot Noir is being produced from sourced fruit while the couple are cultivating new plantings of these varieties (plus some lesser-known varieties such as Saperavi, Lagrein and Gewürztraminer). The ‘Axeman’ fortified wine has also proven to be very popular, while there are plans to release a Granache in the near future, too.
The sleeves-rolled-up approach continues. Clinton is passionate about moving towards a biodynamic operation. “We use minimal chemicals, and are working to set up an environment that can naturally withstand disease pressure and pests,” says Melissa.
And by keeping their processes small-scale and hands-on, they are able to adapt constantly during the winemaking process to ensure their artisanal wines are the best they can be. “Our operations may not be grand but we are involved at every step of the process,” says Melissa. “We handpick the fruit; we hand-plunge the fermenting fruit. We also use equipment that will allow us to maximise quality, and, generally speaking, we check our barrels far more regularly than large-scale operations.”
They’re helped and supported in their pursuit of the perfect wine by the tight-knit community they’ve found themselves in. Their mentor is celebrated local viticulturalist Mark Aitken of Woodgate Wines, and they also share facilities with another near neighbour Stuart Hutchinson of Truffle Hill Wines. The trio work together closely each vintage. “We help each other with vineyard management, harvest – handpicking and crushing each other’s grapes – and winemaking,” says Melissa. “We’ve formed a wonderful collaboration here, with the three wineries dedicated to seeing each other succeed.”
“For us, our focus is on the time and love we put into the process. Clint has a story for how the fruit in every barrel came to be. He knows the vineyard, the fruit, the terroir and how the environment impacted our fruit, be it positive or otherwise. And he and Mark won’t compromise on quality.”
The pair still hold down full-time day jobs in the mining industry – Melissa is a project manager specialising in business improvement in the mining industry, while Clinton is a diesel mechanic by trade, and is also currently studying viticulture. With young children (Piper, 3, and Ryder, 2), time is in short supply. But the pair’s dedication hasn’t waned.
“I love seeing the passion from Clint when he talks about the quest to make that perfect drop,” says Melissa. “It’s also wonderful to think that our children will grow up on a large property and help out with a family business one day.”
The brand’s colourful, Cubism-inspired label speaks to those future apirations, along with the past. The ‘chateau’ depicted is the unlined shed they once lived in; ‘June’ and ‘Jerome’ are names shared by many members of their families. Even their dog Paris makes an appearance (he’s the English staffy at the feet of the man holding the grapes).
“Our wine is not just wine; it’s part of who we are. It’s a labour of love,” says Melissa, “and each bottle tells that story.”