Paul Edwards: Clever take on Swan Valley tradition
When you imagine a small, family-run winery, with nearly 100 years of viticultural history, in the Swan Valley, you may conjure up images of a rustic cellar door, wooden pergola and shed with dusty corrugated barrels. The new wave of young producers who have championed the valley and its varieties have managed to enrich the landscape somewhat, but this remains a stereotype. One existing producer outside of either mold is Nikola Estate. Also a small, family owned winery, established in 2019, but set in the grandeur of WA’s most significant historic site – the former Houghton Winery on Dale Road in Middle Swan.
Nikola Estate is named after Nikola Yukich, who as a Croatian immigrant established his first vineyard site in 1929. The estate is operated by his descendants, the Yukich family who in 1989 purchased a slice of vines from this historic site and established Oakover Wines next door. The 2019 purchase marks the reintegration of the domain, although the two brands will remain separate.
A cheeky friend pointed out to me that for all its history, the site, until the sale, was actually a cheap white wine factory. That has certainly changed, although the infrastructure remains. This means that head winemaker Damian Hutton and winemaker Marcello Fabretti have a state-of-the-art winemaking facility at their disposal. Although they also make wines under contract for a number of small and large producers in the state, they find themselves with huge potential for expansion. I’m told that’s not necessarily their goal, but the mind remains perplexed at what might be possible.
My first impression, when the first vintages were released, was of a smart wine set – “variety correct”, “well polished”, tasty wines. It was two years ago. When tasting the latest releases, I was delighted to see that they continued to evolve with nuance and personality, reflecting Hutton’s steady hand and Fabretti’s flair.
The Gallery series is the most creative outlet for the team and all the wines in the series impress. The Symbolist is perhaps my favorite. It is a light and fluffy red, which can be chilled or served at room temperature. Made from seven varieties (red and white), it’s more than the sum of its parts and possibly the only blend of tempranillo, mencia, grenache, arinto, malbec, shiraz and montepulciano I’ve ever tasted . The wine is inspired by a few varieties that thrive in an on-site experimental block, but perhaps more so, it draws inspiration from the warm, shady dappled lawns for which the historic site is famous. Conceptually, this wine was designed specifically to be drunk on the grass under the jacaranda trees and ancient pines of Norfolk, but it could just as well be enjoyed on the terraces of Cottesloe beach or under the figs of Moreton Bay in Hyde. Park. Alas, I don’t think it will go much further because there isn’t much and it’s very good.
The $25 Estate label wines are also exceptionally priced and well worth checking out. The Chenin Blanc, for example, which was my star, is made only from the free run juice of fruit grown on the estate, from vines planted in 1963. They are widely distributed, but I recommend a visit to the cellar door .
Nikola Estate 2022 The Symbolist, multi-regional, WA, $50
The purple hues are evident through the clear glass bottle. (Clear glass is a minefield, so remember to drink it in the sun, don’t store it in the sun). Tasted fresh – black cherry, blackberry and pungent herbs lead a complex aromatic signature. The body and flavors are light but mellow: a more gourmet combination. Flavors include red berries, more black cherries, sage, licorice and delicate spice. A pleasantly chalky mouthfeel and vibrant freshness linger throughout.
Nikola Estate 2022 “Domaine” Chenin Blanc, Swan Valley, $25
A wonderful example of clean, crisp, simple and deliciously indulgent Chenin. This should be the go-to style of wine for all West Australians. Scented with lemon zest, talcy flowers, candle wax and a little honeydew, it lingers on with freshness, liveliness and a floury texture on the palate, worthy of many much more expensive whites. My second taste was with Thai prawns and spicy noodles and the pairing was exquisite.
Nikola Estate 2021 “Regional Series” Shiraz, Frankland River, WA, $45
From a few outstanding Frankland River vineyards, this is a suave, poised example of Shiraz and typical of the region. Flavors are detailed with a core of pepper, spice, plum, blackberry and a meaty, iron-rich mineral feel. The subtle oak is integrated and flavorful. For a wine with such a pedigree, it also has a playful juiciness, which makes it very palatable as a current-style drink.