Pemberton, in the heart of Western Australia’s south-west, is "karri tree country". The tall, majestic trees abound, forest upon forest, in national parks, amid creeks and rivers, wetlands and waterfalls, and on hills and dales.
The region was first planted experimentally in 1977, with commercial vineyards following in 1982. The region is situated in the lower south-west of Western Australia, west of the Great Southern region and south-east of the Margaret River. In terms of climate, Pemberton has a marginally warmer growing season and a more maritime climate than neighbouring Manjimup. The region is home to a range of boutique wineries, each winning medals and trophies in wine shows around Australia. Chardonnay is the most successful style, producing generous, structured wines with an almost creamy texture.
- Pemberton was first planted experimentally in 1977, with commercial vineyards following in 1982.
The region is currently home to almost 20 wineries.
- Situated in the lower south-west of Western Australia, west of the Great Southern and south-east of the Margaret River regions.
- A region rich in flora, forests of karri trees abound.
- 85% of the Pemberton region remains under native vegetation.
- Chardonnay is the most successful style, producing generous, structured wines with an almost creamy texture.
- There are two major soil types: lateritic gravelly sands / gravelly loams and the more fertile karri loam.
- Principal varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pemberton is cooler than neighbouring Manjimup, with fewer sunshine hours, more rainfall (except in January and February) and greater relative humidity. As a result of the high annual rainfall, a number of vineyards do not use irrigation, but the very pronounced winter/spring dominance can lead to stress late in the growing season if subsoil moisture diminishes.
Some 85% of the Pemberton region remains under native vegetation, with magnificent marri forests in the northern half, moving to karri in the south. There are two major soil types. The first are the lateritic gravelly sands and gravelly loams overlying medium clay with moderate water retention capacity. These moderately fertile soils are found on many of the higher slopes around Pemberton. The second soil is the more fertile karri loam – a deep red fertile soil which was formed directly from the gneissic country rock and which, together with the abundant winter and spring rainfall, leads to vigorous growth.
Chardonnay: Not only is this the most widely planted variety; it is clearly the most successful across the entire region. At its best, it produces opulently flavoured and structured wines, with an almost creamy texture. These wines respond well to the generous use of high-quality French oak.
Merlot: Either as a varietal in its own right, or blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot impresses, with good varietal character and mouthfeel.
Pinot Noir: Great faith has been placed in this variety, with substantial quantities of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay used for sparkling wine, with good results in each case. Perhaps the region is too warm for the variety, but these are still early days. Some good Pinot Noir has been made but work remains to be done to see the variety fulfil its true potential in the region.
Map Coordinates: 34° 27'S
Altitude: 174 metres (570 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 1497 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April: 340 millimetres (13.4 inches)
Mean January temperature: 19.6°C (67°F)
Harvest: Early March - mid April
John Horgan, Salitage, Pemberton, Western Australia
Salitage was the first winery in Pemberton and has been described by James Halliday as “the most important winery in the Pemberton region. Salitage is the showpiece of Pemberton. If it had failed to live up to expectation it is a fair bet the same fate would have befallen the whole Pemberton region."
This did not happen by chance. It followed intensive research by two men who commenced their respective wine industry careers in Margaret River – John Horgan at Leeuwin Estate and Dr Bill Pannell of Moss Wood.
Following the sale of their respective interests in Margaret River in the early 1980s, the men became partners in the Premier Cru Burgundian winery Domain de la Pousse Dór in Volnay, France.
“We recognised that Pemberton, which enjoys a cool maritime influence from the cold Southern Ocean, had similar climatic characteristics to Burgundy's. Soil types enabled us to stress the vines naturally and both Salitage and Picardy are now producing wines that rank with some of the finest in the world,” John says.