The Swan District is Western Australia’s oldest wine region, having been planted by English settlers soon after their arrival in 1829. The first vines at Olive Farm were planted by Thomas Waters, and the following year he dug out the wine cellar that is incorporated in the present winery of the same name. For almost 150 years it was the only significant wine-producing region in Western Australia and today it's also home to the state's largest winery. Some of Western Australia's finest wines and local produce can be found in the Swan Valley. It is an actively multicultural area, with the descendants of early Yugoslav, Italian and English migrants continuing the region's winemaking traditions. Pioneers in the development of table wines include the legendary Jack Mann at Houghton in the 1930s and 1940s and John Kosovich at John Kosovich Wines in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Regional Checklist:

  • The Swan District is Western Australia's oldest wine producer, dating from 1829.
  • The region is currently home to around 30 wineries.
  • Swan District produced fortified wines for much of its first 100 years, turning to table wines.
  • Warm to hot Mediterranean climate, very dry during ripening and harvest.
  • Cool sea breezes provide relief from the heat.
  • Soil types are typically young alluvial with excellent moisture retention capacity.  
  • Principal varieties Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdelho.

Climate:
The Swan District has a warm to hot Mediterranean climate. It is very dry during ripening and harvest, with most rainfall (167 millimetres or 6.5 inches) occurring during winter and spring. It has an extremely high mean January temperature of 24.15°C (75.5°F), a low relative humidity of 44% and a high 1791 total sunshine hours during the growing season.  The district is relieved from the heat by the famous Fremantle Doctor ─ the south-westerly sea breeze. Verdelho, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon excel in the warm, dry growing conditions.  The Gingin/Moondah Brook area is somewhat cooler and has consistently demonstrated a surprising capacity to produce full flavoured, full bodied white whites, particularly with Chenin Blanc, Verdelho and Chardonnay.

Soil:
The soils of the Swan District are typically young alluvial soils; very deep, with excellent moisture retention capacity. Soil types vary widely, from deep draining sand over limestone along the coastal strip around Wanneroo to well drained gravelly loam along the fringes of the Darling Scarp, deep rich red loam around the Swan River and grey sand over clay in the Herne Hill flats of the Swan Valley subregion. On the lower slopes of the Darling Range is the highly suited gravelly sand to gravelly sandy loam overlying brown clay.

Wines:
Chenin Blanc:  This is one of the principal varieties in the Swan District. In this climate the wine produced has a certain luscious richness, which responds well to bottle age, producing a full-flavoured white of voluptuous dimensions.

Chardonnay: The plantings are increasing and one or two producers have produced some very good, buttery, peachy wines from this grape.

Verdelho: Many wineries produce a varietal wine from Verdelho and are usually allow the rich honeyed, honeysuckle flavours free reign without the influence of new oak.

Vital Statistics:
Map Coordinates:                                       31° 50'S 
Altitude:                                                   45 metres (147 feet) 
Heat degree days, October - April:               2340 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April:      145 millimetres (5.7 inches) 
Mean January temperature:                        24.15°C (76°F)
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm:      Average 44%

 

Jack Mann, Houghton Wines, Swan District, Western Australia

Established in 1836 in the heart of the Swan Valley, Houghton Wines produced its first commercial vintage of 25 gallons in 1859. Today, the Houghton winery property has 50 hectares planted with premium grape varieties including Verdelho, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc.  The Houghton commitment to excellence from vine to bottle has made it Western Australia's most awarded winemaker. The portfolio includes the brands of Houghton (including the famous White Burgundy), Houghton Crofters and Moondah Brook. Special Houghton releases and the Houghton Jack Mann Reserve Cabernet reflect the ultra premium winemaking abilities and cellaring potential of Houghton wines.

The late Jack Mann, creator of Houghton White Burgundy in 1937, was the driving force behind the company for 51 years and a legendary character of Western Australia. In 1922, aged 16 and under the guidance of his father and mentor George, Jack was made apprentice and worked the first of his 51 consecutive vintages at Houghton. In 1930, he succeeded his father as chief winemaker and so began one of the most illustrious careers of Australian winemaking history. Jack's ambition was to make only top quality wines and he knew this could only be achieved by great attention to the soil, the care of the vineyard, the selection of noble varieties of grapes and the care of them with the utmost devotion and dedication. He restricted the crop on the Houghton vines, espousing that supreme wines were made only when the vine had endured a measure of stress, but never sufferance. Throughout Australia, the 1930s was the time of fortified and heavy red table wine. The mainstay of Houghton was fortified wines, which were uniquely suited to the warm climate of the Swan Valley. The grapes that Jack grew had the highest percentage of natural sugar of any grape, producing liqueur wines of unparalleled lusciousness.

Little had been heard of the "west" in the eastern States before then, but Jack carved out a reputation by winning the Australian Champion award for his Oloroso a record 13 years in succession. He then sought to produce something new in the Houghton range; a white table wine with the weight to do battle with the popular red and fortified wines. His aim was to extract more flavour from the grape without any loss of refinement, so he left the skins and juice in contact for 24 hours before the pressing began, to gain more body. Never before had a warm area like the Swan Valley produced such a flavoursome wine. Houghton White Burgundy won first prize for the 1937 and 1938 light dry whites.

Today, the Houghton name is synonymous with fine wines complemented by parkland gardens, historic cellars and a restored homestead of Scottish Croft design. In addition Houghton operates four of Western Australia's largest vineyards (at Moondah Brook, Pemberton, Mt Barker and Frankland River) and sources fruit from Margaret River, Harvey and emerging premium areas.

Join the Savour Australia conversation

Sign up to join the conversation today

subscribe

What do I receive as a member?