Great Southern is aptly named, as it is pounded by the Southern Ocean and is renowned for its dramatic cliffs, white sandy beaches and bays and is steeped in the history of early European settlement. The region is vast and diverse, extending 150 kilometres north to south and 100 kilometres east to west.
It ranges from the coastal, maritime subregions of Albany and Denmark to the inland, continental subregions of Mount Barker, Porongurup and Frankland River. In these circumstances it is indeed surprising that there is such a degree of coherence in the wine styles produced. The region is capable of producing excellent Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Great Southern wine region is vast - 150 kilometres north to south and 100 kilometres east to west - and includes five subregions.
The region was instrumental in the establishment of modern winemaking in Western Australia in the 1960s.
The most prominent of the subregions are Mount Barker and Frankland River (both about 360 kilometres from Perth).
The region is currently home to more than 40 wineries.
The climatic conditions range from maritime-influenced to Continental.
Rainfall and humidity increase to the south of the region and temperature significantly increases inland, towards the north.
Soils are mainly either lateritic gravelly sandy loams or sandy loams deriving directly from granite and gneissic bedrocks.
Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most important wines produced, both having superb aging potential.
Pinot Noir and Shiraz are also produced with success.
The country is dominated by the magnificent stands of the veteran hardwoods of the region – karri, marri, jarrah and other eucalypts of the family Myrtaceae.
Climate: As one moves north and inland from the strongly maritime-influenced climate of Denmark, the Continental influence and temperature variability increase significantly. Elevation, aspect and sites vary widely, but in general terms the climate of these northern areas is slightly warmer on the higher sites. Though rainfall is greater and relative humidity increases in the south around Denmark, heat summation and sunshine hours do not change greatly, so careful site selection allows the production of virtually every wine style.
The predominant soils are similar to those of the Margaret River region - either lateritic gravelly sandy loams (marri country) or sandy loams deriving directly from granite and gneissic bedrocks. They are typically brown to grey-brown in colour, with the percentage of clay varying from one location to another. Fertility is moderate, as are typical yields.
Chardonnay: Elegant, tightly structured, grapefruit-accented Chardonnay which ages well is produced in the region. Wines of the south can be a little finer and softer while those of the north are slightly more powerful.
Riesling: Riesling vies with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most important wine from the region. The wines age superbly, seldom reaching the peak of their development in less than ten years. As well as being crisp and lean in youth, the wines still have intense flavour, typically in the citrus spectrum with an underlay of herbs.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabernet Sauvignon thrives across the region, producing long-lived wines of deep colour, intense flavour and powerful structure. They have classic Cabernet sensibilities with an austerity of flavours which reward patience.
Pinot Noir: Until recently Pinot Noir was regarded as the preserve of the southern area around Denmark and Albany, but some exciting wines have appeared from Mount Barker in slightly cooler years.
Shiraz: High quality Shiraz is produced in this region. Great Southern Shiraz exhibits a compelling combination of liquorice, spice, pepper, black cherry and plum. Many producers use well-balanced oak treatment, allowing the fruit quality to fully express itself.
As Great Southern is such a vast region of Western Australia, climate statistics for each of the five subregions are given.
Map Coordinates: 35° 02'S
Altitude: 75 metres (246 feet)
Heat degree days, Oct-Apr: 1495 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April: 303 millimetres (12 inches)
Mean January temperature: 19°C (66°F)
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm: Average 59%
Harvest: Mid March - end April
Map Coordinates: 34° 59'S
Altitude: 50-150 metres (164-492 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 1471 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, Oct-Apr: 354 millimetres (14 inches)
Mean January temperature: 18.7º C (66ºF)
Relative humidity, October - April, 9 am: Average 75%
Harvest: Early March - late April
Map Coordinates: 34° 39'S
Altitude: 200-300 metres (656-984 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April: 1441 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April: 310 millimetres (12 inches)
Mean January temperature: 19ºC (66ºF):
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm: Average 47%
Harvest: Mid March - mid April
Map Coordinates 34° 36'S
Altitude 180-250 metres (590-820 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April 1488 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April 287 millimetres (11.3 inches)
Mean January temperature 19ºC (66ºF)
Relative humidity, October - April, 3 pm Average 55%
Harvest Early March - mid April
Map Coordinates 34° 10'S
Altitude 250-300 metres (820-984 feet)
Heat degree days, October - April 1441 (cut off at 19°C (66.2ºF) but not otherwise adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October - April 310 millimetres (12.2 inches)
Mean January temperature 19ºC (66ºF)
Relative humidity, October - April 54%
Harvest Mid March -early May
Rick Hoyle-Mills, General Manager, Alkoomi Wines, Frankland River, Western Australia
Alkoomi is the pioneering wine producer of Frankland River, a subregion of the Great Southern, and seeks to produce wines of great regional and varietal integrity.
Rick Hoyle-Mills, General Manager of Alkoomi, says to achieve this, each site on the 105-hectare vineyard has been carefully chosen to suit the variety planted to ensure the maximum potential of a given variety can be achieved when made to wine.
"First recognized in the 1950s as having excellent prospects for the growing and ripening of wine grapes, the region's combination of lateritic gravels, clay sub-soils and Continental climate are ideal for a range of grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Semillon.
"Today Alkoomi produces wines that are sold in 26 countries worldwide and is proud to be a part of the Frankland River wine region."