Howard Park Wines

A tasting experience of Howard Park’s sparkling wines is a serious undertaking: three labels encompassing three distinct styles made in two countries, the program headed by Australia’s 2018 Winemaker of the Year, Janice McDonald.

Across their four sparkling wines, there’s flavours ranging from ringing pear, apple and ginger to cream and citrus. But it is the award-winning Howard Park Jeté story we are here to get a taste of; the label’s Brut Blanc NV taking out the 2017 trophy for Best Australian Sparkling Wine at London’s Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.

“With the Jeté Brut Blanc we’re looking at baked apple and red berries,” explains Cathy, my guide into McDonald’s wine world; a complex place that involves running vineyards in Margaret River and the Great Southern (along with her direction of the Australian collection of the lauded Marchand & Burch range, in collaboration with Burgundian winemaker Pascal Marchand – but that’s another story).

McDonald isn’t at the winery to chat today, having flown to Hong Kong on business. Hers is the story of modern winemaking – where artisan skill and business professionalism are dual necessities in the hard graft world of wine producing.

Indeed she is at the top of her game: McDonald’s award-winning Jeté is beautiful to drink. It’s as elegant as the ballet step for which it’s named in honour of past professional dancers David Burch and Lesley Scogna, both siblings of winery owner Jeff Burch. The sparkling is full and rich, a fine mousse giving depth and body to the palate.

Howard Park Jete Sparkling Wine Credit Dylan Alcock

“This one is the rosé,” says Cathy, pouring a delicate waterfall of pale pink bubbles that is the Howard Park Jeté Rosé NV into my emptied tasting glass. “This is raspberries.”

And the rosé is. But it’s also there, that nose of ‘delicate wafer with a smear of cream patisserie’ so evocatively described in the wine’s tasting notes.

“We believe we’re at the beginning of something very special,” McDonald muses across international datelines, her strength carrying the weight of the State’s largest sparkling wine production, “and our recent international accolades affirm this for us – it’s incredibly satisfying.”

As one of the only West Australian wineries to champion the methode traditionelle, Howard Park’s sparkling program has been built over more than a decade of concerted effort and hard graft. Grapes for the sparkling wines are predominantly grown in Howard Park’s Great Southern allotments, where cooler weather is sympathetic to pinot and chardonnay grapes.

Recent construction of the Margaret River winery’s own in-house sparkling bottling line, a first for West Australian wineries, is evidence of Howard Park’s dedication to the style. And the style takes time: the fastest production of methode traditionelle from vine to sale-ready bottle is executed in two years, with the longest timeframe extending to more than three years. It is a laborious, intricate though ultimately rewarding process, with more potential for error than with any other style of wine.

Howard Park Wines

Such complexity brings to light Howard Park’s desire to place an emphasis on storytelling innovation:  when the Petit Jeté NV officially launched this year (‘lemon curd and subtle wafer biscuit layers’), it brought with it into the world West Australia’s first engagement with augmented reality wine labels. The Label Motion App allows drinkers to scan their smart phones over the Petit Jeté bottle to view behind-the-scenes footage and learn more about the process of methode traditionelle wine.

For Howard Park owner and marketing director Amy Burch the technology allows a personalisation of the wine process. Winemaking is artistry, and allowing a customer deeper access to how this blend of creativity and process plays out is an integral step in cementing a valuable relationship between vineyard and consumer.

“The bottle becomes more than just a stagnant object, it conveys so much about the winemaking process and our in-house traditional champagne method,” Burch says.

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to express how much passion and thought goes into our decisions — even the choice to begin making sparkling wine in the first place, which was a huge undertaking. So to be able to express even a little of that to customers through this new medium is really exciting.”

Howard Park Wines
Howard Park Wines

Expanding the Bubble

The Margaret River Region is home to some other incredible sparkling wines too.

Throw the net a little wider and make some time to explore a few neighbouring sparkling wines grown within cork-popping distance of Howard Park Winery.

Leeuwin Estate Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut – Thirty-months bottle aged and a soft palate with delicate flavours of strawberry.

MadFish Wines Vera’s Cuvee Sparkling White NV – A fine bead and a crisp finish, this sparking is fresh and light.

Brookwood Estate Chenin Blanc NV – Drink it now as a citrus-fresh approachable glass. Perhaps with your dessert on Christmas day?

Vasse Felix 2016 Blanc De Blancs – Preserved lemon, mandarin and almond meal are part of the complex perfume of this dry and tightly woven sparkling.

Hay Shed Hill Vineyard Series Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV – Honey suckle and citrus on the nose, a delicate but creamy palate, with lingering notes of nougat on the finish.

The Pét-Nat Story

Pétillant-naturel is the umbrella term for sparkling wines made using the méthode ancestrale – a style of winemaking where a sparkling wine is made without introduction of secondary yeast or sugars, and the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished. The result? Pét-nats are a little edgier than their method-champenoise cousinsVisually, the traditionally unfiltered wine appears a little cloudy and each bottle has its own personality dependent on its individual fermentation process. Explore this style in the Margaret River Region with:

L.A.S. Vino 2018 Pet Nat – Wilyabrup Pinot Noir picked early and fermented in an amphora, topped with biodynamic Chenin juice and matured on full lees.

Dormilona Clay Face 2018 – Dry grown Chenin Blanc from a certified biodynamic vineyard in Wilyabrup. Hand harvested and fermented in an amphora.

LS Merchants Natorious Pet Nat – Sauvignon Blanc 95 percent and Vermentino five percent.

Cullen Wines 2017 Rose Moon – Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot made using biodynamic grapes and philosophy.