When traveling photographer Robert Karri-Davies decided to pivot his career to an industry with more security for wife Karen and their children, then three years and three months old respectively, he turned to wine.

I query him on this logic, venturing that perhaps others would construe a vineyard as the opposite of security. Robert is congenially matter of fact, “My accountant told me I was mad, but I just knew it would work,” he says.

Cape Grace Wines - standing in the vineyard
Cape Grace Wines owner Robert Karri-Davies and winemaker Conrad Tritt. Photo credit Taya Reid.

We sit in the kitchen at the back of the current cellar door, a space that was once their temporary home. The first vines were planted in 1996, and with a combination of Karen’s marketing expertise from a background in luxury hotels, and Robert’s penchant for the outdoors and his intrinsic confidence and gentle determination, Cape Grace was born. The pedigree of the site was no small contributor, the prime grape growing real estate had previously caught the eye of Vasse Felix founder Dr. Tom Cullity for its superb conditions.

The property sits on tranquil Wilyabrup bushland, where the Cape Grace icon, the Great Egret, lands occasionally for a dam visit amongst other local winged wildlife. The Egret is elegant and classical in nature, and the perfect motif for a brand that prides itself on consistency of quality. Robert and Karen consider their status as a hidden gem winery to be just right for their size and ambitions, and the cellar door experience retains a personable grace, as customers are welcomed mainly by Karen herself.

Cape Grace Wines
The cellar door experience retains a personable grace. Photo credit Taya Reid.

Twenty-two years after their first vintage, the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, took out Best Wine at the Sheraton Wine Awards, the core formula of basket-pressed classics remains, coupled with an evolution of sustainable practices and some creative experimentation. Winemaker Conrad Tritt is straddling the boundary between upholding the Bordeaux stalwarts and dabbling in the realm of the contemporary minded customer. A block of Chenin Blanc that was planted right at the beginning has always been made in a dry style.  A cane cut Chenin Blanc dessert wine followed around 15 years ago, followed by the Crémant de Grace Sparkling, and most recently a Pet Nat. The grape has adapted and flourished over a wave of style changes and drinking fashions.

More than anything, Cape Grace wines are built to age well. The museum selection of back-vintages is held and released carefully, with the future and the past always in mind. Likewise, Robert reports that from the very first bottle sold in their kitchen, he and Karen have kept a log, now a very useful database, of all their customers. Like the 2010 Chardonnay you placed aside for later, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing and tasting the fruits of your labour in the light of retrospect. It’s this patience and forethought that has cemented Cape Grace’s endurance, and the reason it can still hold its own in a sea of over 150 regional cellar doors, which were not yet numbering 50 in the late nineties.

Cape Grace Wines
Conrad is straddling the boundary between upholding the Bordeaux stalwarts and dabbling in the realm of the contemporary minded customer. Photo credit Taya Reid.

The 26-year-old vines are in prime condition. They may have slightly lower yields now, but the fruit bears a beautiful concentration. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the flagships of the vineyard, as in many Margaret River outfits. Small batches of Malbec and Cabernet Franc are also produced and have proven very popular. Additionally, the Cab Mac Shiraz and Pet Nat released under labels of Robert’s own paintings sell themselves with what Conrad refers to as the modern consumer’s desire for something beyond the ubiquitous, a penchant for scarcity.

As with every story, I tell my mother about my visit to Cape Grace. She has glorious early 2000s memories of days when she and her friends could stand up to seven hours of cellar doors but would always begin in the morning with Cape Grace. I joke with Robert that perhaps the timing is a salute to his wine, the fact they still possessed their taste and discernment at that early stage of the day. In fact, every generation seems to hold a unique fondness for this winery, a testament to their ability to age, grow, remain consistent but also adapt and surprise.

Cape Grace cameras
A collection of cameras tell the tale of Robert's past as a traveling photographer. Photo credit Taya Reid.

Karen and Conrad are the mechanics and faces of the winery, with Robert now retired to his abstract landscape paintings and maintaining the aesthetics of the cellar door. He’s not prideful about the fact he built this business on what amounts to a feeling. He says he ran the numbers and was a talented rose gardener before trying his hand at planting a vineyard, but it’s clear that the real reason for their success was simply knowing they had the right formula in Karen’s skills and his own, and the perfect place to apply them.

We walk in the vineyard for a photo. Robert knows the exact spot where the undulations of the land will create the most effective picture and invites me to climb on the vehicle for a better shot. He dug this dirt himself, learning the art of winemaking from professionals who, by his own description, pulled the fat out of the fire and saved him on many occasions. It makes me ponder how significant it is that a person ages with their wisdoms intact, like bringing the right blend of impulsiveness and fortitude from photography to winemaking, or any other experience.  A lifetime, like a wine, is peppered with the characteristics of our minute decisions, our loves, failures and triumphs.


Robert and Karen consider their status as a hidden gem winery to be just right for their size and ambitions. Photo credit Dylan Alcock.

Buy Cape Grace wine online here, or better yet, visit the cellar door at Fifty One Road in Cowaramup.

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