The Higher Plane property is located in the Forest Grove locality of the Margaret River wine region, 15km south of the Margaret River town site.
The location in the southern part of the region experiences a slightly cooler climate, due to sea breezes off both the Southern and Indian Oceans as well as increased cloud cover in spring and summer. This moderates the spikes of summer heat, and the fruit is characterised by more elevated perfume, higher natural acidity and silky tannins.
The property sits at an average elevation of 90 meters above sea level in the headwaters of the Chapman Creek, which flows into the mighty Blackwood River. Three streams enter the property, feeding the dam, and these undulating creek formations provide slopes for cooling air movements to allow the night-time temperatures to fall. This enables the retention of natural acidity that we seek in the wines.
The north-facing aspect increases sun exposure for the vines and also reduces stress on the vines from the south winds.
The property is a distinctive site of the highest quality viticultural soils and aspects.
The soils across the site are the Forest Grove type; duplex soils on a clay sub-soil which is the ideal soil type for wine production in the region. These soils have a significant gravel component which aids drainage and reflects heat back to the vines in the evening. The sandy loam component of the soil gives it its water holding capacity, and in combination with the high gravel content, tends to promote low vigour.
Each variety has been planted on blocks where the soil and the aspect match its precise requirements. For example; the Cabernet Sauvignon is on a freely draining, northern facing slope, with no trees on the western side, which enables a long afternoon of ripening and provides a ripe fruit and tannin profile. The Chardonnay on the other hand, is planted to the western side of the tree line, which provides shelter to the early season weather that can damage the Chardonnay crop, and also allows good early morning sun exposure when ripening the fruit in summer, whilst shading the fruit from the heat of the late afternoon sun. This maintains the delicate flavours and natural acidity that we seek in our wines.
The property is 49 hectares (123 acres) in size, and has 16 hectares of vines. Each variety and clone has been selected from the best source possible.
The vineyard is planted to a high density of up to 4000 vines per hectare. Whilst this is much more work for the vineyard crew than on a more conventional vineyard in Margaret River (or Australia generally), it means that the cropping level for each individual vine is less than half of normal. Hence the vines produce wines of great flavour intensity, ripeness of tannin and are harvested earlier than neighbouring blocks, which avoids the risk of weather events reducing this quality.
During the growing season, shoot positioning, leaf removal and shoot trimming are used as necessary to achieve good fruit exposure. Later in the season, when the berries change colour, bunches are removed to achieve a balanced yield level and to remove unripe fruit. The aim of these activities is to achieve optimal sugar, flavour and tannin ripeness simultaneously
The best vineyards in the world are on terrible soil as this encourages vines to grow grapes instead of lots of leaves (it’s a hormone thing). The soil at our place is up to 1,600,000,000 years old so we look after it and the whole environment in which the vineyard sits.
This takes a bit of work, such as: using sheep to eat weeds and turn them into fertiliser, planting cover crops to outcompete weeds, then ploughing them back in to enrich the soil.
We apply tea made of seaweed and manures (as vines can absorb their nutrients more easily), use predatory insects to eat pests, apply friendly fungi to destroy unfriendly rots, compost all of our leftovers (marc) each year and put back onto the vineyard. We plant natives along the waterways, plants to attract beneficial insect, only use water to establish vines (which is captured rainwater) – anyway you get the picture.