Meet the Makers,
Sue, Andrew and Saxon of Mountford Wines
In 1987, when horticulturalist Andrew Mountford, and his wife Sue, decided to set up a vineyard in Manjimup, they knew that the property had to tick some boxes. Firstly, the raw materials: Andrew had been involved in the organic industry in the UK and was passionate about applying the same principles to his new venture. So the soil, rainfall and topography had to pass muster.
But there was also an intangible quality they were looking for – and which all the properties they had considered so far had lacked “I just had a gut feeling about this property,” Andrew says of the 72 acres they ended up purchasing on Bamess Road, just north of Big Brook National Forest. “It had everything: slopes, woodland, and a river running through it. We’d also taken some soil samples using a hand auger and everything was as it should be.”
“What excited me about this region for wine grape growing was – and is – the unique cool climate, pristine forest environment, and a topography that’s not flat, but hilly and with endless little niches for discovery.”
There were few wine producers in the Southern Forests region at the time – the couple were among the first. For Andrew, an experienced cider-maker looking to branch out into wine, this was part of the appeal.
“We’d travelled from the UK to Western Australia because it gave us the opportunity to start a vineyard and winery in a new area – simply put, we just had the pioneering spirit,” he says. “So we travelled extensively through the south west of WA for three years, closely examining all aspects of the various regions. Margaret River was already well established and not pioneering country. And trials here showed a strong bias to the potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two varieties we were very interested in.”
Just a few short years later, this discernment was paying off: the winery quickly gained a reputation for exceptional wines, winning a local wine show award in 1992 for its Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir, Rosé, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay today round out the range, which is a rarity in the industry: organic wines made and bottled on site, from grapes grown on the same property. A recently released Black Truffle-infused liquor, Australia’s first, has been well received while their Tangletoe cider (made in sparkling, scrumpy and medium-dry styles) has also been well awarded in its lifetime – which has been long, as it was the country’s first line of organic ciders.. In 2001, the couple were joined in the making of these products by their son Saxon, who studied wine science at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales.
However, Sue explains that in the early days, achieving recognition was never the end goal. “Success for us was not about winning awards but if we could make a sustainable lifestyle,” she says. “With two young children, no money but a lot of dreams, our chances were – in hindsight – not very good. But we did have optimism and a lot of help from relatives and friends. Looking back, they were good times, although at the time also quite traumatic!”
However, the pair did have a love of good wine as grist for the mill. “A dear friend I had met whilst studying horticulture in the UK – an Australian with an amazing knowledge and passion for wine – had introduced me to some very good cool-climate wines from France. This sparked our early interest in wines from Burgundy, but also from the Loire and Bordeaux,” Andrew says.
Many of the organic principles they apply in their winemaking process are those that would have been the norm in these regions prior to the advent of modern equipment, Andrew explains. “The organic winemaking process encourages a light touch and as time goes by and our confidence has grown we have understood how far we can go in producing wines with minimal intervention.”
“One of the techniques we use is adapted from Burgundy, where many of the smaller winemakers tap their barrels and run-off the wine without need for pumping – we use this process with Pinot Noir in particular. And with filtering, we assess each wine separately and determine how much – if any – is necessary. Our preference is a gentle wracking from the barrel and then into the bottle; we believe filtering can remove much of the wine’s expression of place.”
For the same reason, where possible, the use of preservatives in the wines is also avoided – the couple believe that by minimising external inputs, the integrity of the fruit grown in the vineyard is maintained and the quality of the wine is enhanced.
In line with this, grapes are grown without the use of chemical sprays – compost teas and potassium bicarbonate are applied instead – and a chicken caravan is moved around to help with pest and weed control. As needed, beneficial insects such as Lacewing Larvae are introduced to keep a handle on any unwanted invaders. “We have always believed in looking after the environment, our philosophy is to have minimal impact and a sustainable system,” says Andrew.
The wisteria-fringed cellar door they constructed from adobe bricks, painstakingly made by hand from clay dug on the property, stands as a striking physical embodiment of their hard work and sustainability philosophies. With it also serving as an art gallery, venue space and a place, of course, to drink fine wines, it also perfectly expresses their past and present.
“We were the first winery to host events in the region; we started with theatre nights once a month then moved into art exhibitions,” explains Sue, who worked in art and design before winemaking. “We’ve hosted medieval festivals, art workshops, ballet performances, and all types of music. When we celebrated our 30th anniversary recently, we were surprised by the number and variety of events we’ve had here.”
From the artists and performers who have become friends over post-performance meals, to visitors to the region who are invited into the cellar door for tasting sessions, all who visit are treated to a taste of Mountford hospitality.
“Relationships do develop,” says Sue. “And when you’re running a cellar door, you have to be genuinely interested in people and their stories. We love sharing the story of our family business too, and our experience of producing lovely wines using natural techniques.”