Going beyond the headlines about the cellaring potential of Great Southern riesling, we speak to Galafrey’s Kim Tyrer about finding your favourite subregional style and the infinitely rising quality of these famously affordable wines.
Riesling has been central to the story of Galafrey since its foundation in the early days of the Mount Barker wine region. When owner Kim Tyrer (pictured centre) assumed winemaking duties in 2011, after the passing of her father in 2003, the varietal became an even bigger preoccupation.
She explains: “I made the decision to focus on making our riesling one of the best in Australia and every vintage since have agonised over the tiniest of details to make sure we’re achieving intensity in the mid-palate without the lovely lemon and fruit blossom flavours being displaced by acidity.”
What separates Galafrey riesling from the pack is that the grapes are grown without irrigation, only natural rainfall. Kim says: “I was lucky to inherit a dry-grown vineyard in a great patch – my dad dug holes all over WA in search of the right site before establishing Galafrey in 1977 – which just does all the right things for riesling.” She continues: “Nutrients move round the vines in a different way than if they were irrigated, which means we get these small but intensely flavoured bunches and changes in the weather have less of an impact.”
Riesling takes up a third of the north-facing, gravel loam vineyard (which is also planted to cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and riesling-descendant müller thurgau), and it is clearly a seven-day operation for Kim and family. When it is the right moment to pick, the grapes are off the vine within the day, she says.
The bush-pole verandah at the Galafrey cellar door then makes for an ideal spot on which to recline with the finished product. “For me, there is nothing better than coming back from the beach and pouring myself a glass of chilled riesling to have on the verandah with some Albany oysters,” says Kim.
Despite having long played second fiddle to other unoaked whites, riesling is an easy variety to become obsessed in Kim’s experience. “I think riesling is due a surge in popularity but those of us who love it don’t need it to be mainstream; it’s a great wine to geek out on because different parts of the country offer such diverse examples,” she observes. “That’s why ‘Great Southern riesling’ is something of a misleading catch-all term.”
Kim continues: “While our Mount Barker riesling is deliciously citrus, the volcanic soil of Porongurup produces more talcy examples, and open an Albany riesling and you’ll find notes of lavender.” She says seeing what other winemakers are getting out of the grape is what pushes her to keep refining the Galafrey style, and racking up wine show plaudits in he process.
Relying purely on free-run juice, Galafrey riesling can be lighter in style than many East Coast examples and develops honey and toast characters after around five years in bottle without any of the kerosene notes that polarise white wine lovers.
Kim adds: “Our riesling fills out nicely with a year of bottle age and I keep back a certain quantity for cellaring each year so people who attend our special dining events, like our March long-table lunch as part of the Taste of Great Western festival, have the chance to try some incredible aged wines.”
She has also opened the Galafrey museum this year to release a series of riesling magnums (some handpainted), and a vertical tasting pack of the vintages between 1999 and 2004.
Based on the slower rate of ageing within magnums, collectors of these special wines could even reserve them for an occasion a few decades further in the future.
Based on this year’s mild summer at Mount Barker, Kim says the slow-ripened riesling out of the 2018 harvest should be one to bookmark and she urges completists to join the Galafrey New-Release Riesling Club and thereby save 15 per cent on each new vintage.
As for Tyrer family favourites, Kim says the 2014 release described by James Halliday as ‘a wine worthy of the reserve tag’ figures highly, as does the 95-point release from 2016. As a producer of wines that regularly receive the Halliday Wine Companion top-value star, the passion and expertise of the Galafrey team ensures that even greater rewards lie ahead for riesling lovers.
Secure your favourite Galafrey Dry-Grown Reserve Riesling vintage and format now at galafreywines.com.au.
Pictured top L-R: The Galafrey team of Nigel Rowe, Kim Tyrer and Linda Tyrer
Next article: James on Great Southern riesling