The agronomist who advised Mary and Bruce Cussen to bulldoze the vines at Stringybark Winery when they took ownership of the property would today be enjoying a slice of humble pie — accompanied by a glass of their 2018 Verdelho, a wine which took out first place in the Swan Valley Wine Show in 2018.
Thankfully, Bruce and Mary ignored the advice and instead nurtured the unkempt vines, which had not seen a pruning shear for a decade.
“The vines here are nearly 40 years old,” explains Bruce. “The quality has been improving as every year goes by. The outcome of that is we have been winning more medals and trophies.”
In fact, nearly every wine in the Stringybark range has received an accolade. The 2017 Rose was Bronze Medallist in the 2017 Perth Hills Wine Show and the 2016 Cabernet Shiraz took out the silver. The 2015 Cabernet Shiraz was Wine of the Show and Class trophy winner at the 2016 Perth Hills Wine Show, and the 2015 Chardonnay was Bronze Medallist at the 2015 Swan Valley Wine Show.
“The pick of the bunch is the Verdelho,” says Bruce. “Out of 330 entries in the 2018 Swan Valley Wine Show — from 32 different wineries — it took out first place. That’s a pretty big tick for Chittering!”
The Chittering region isn’t one that would be at the forefront of people’s minds when thinking of award-winning wines, but it definitely should be! The cooler climatic conditions of the area, coupled with Bruce and Mary’s explicit intention to grow quality over quantity has seen Stringybark thrive. The hands-on approach — Bruce prunes the 1000 vines himself every year — also affords them greater control over the growing process, tweaking as necessary during the season to ensure optimal fruit.
“I prune very hard here,” says Bruce. “If I can reduce the amount of fruit, it means less stress on the vine to produce. The outcome of that is we have less production, but what we do make is high quality.
“If we get the fruit in good condition, with lots of flavour intensity, well-balanced, not volatile, we are 80-90% of the way into producing a great wine.”
Amazingly, and a testament to the precision of their grape growing, this award-winning Verdelho can go from vine to bottle in just five months.
“It’s quite distinctive from other Verdelhos — there’s a citrus element, a real Chittering aroma,” says Bruce. “It’s competed against a raft of other Verdelhos, and consistently rates very highly.”
Housed in a distinctive stone building, Stringybark Winery is also home to a restaurant. Mary, as a trained chef, has spent many years running the restaurant and kitchen and drawing in crowds from around Perth with her contemporary, homestyle cooking.
Although Mary still often finds herself in the kitchen, it is now co-managed with head chef Nick Campbell. Nick has over twenty years experience; fifteen as a head chef. He is passionate about his profession and is enjoying learning about his new clientele at Stringybark and having access to the fresh, local produce the region has to offer.
“It is the best atmosphere here — sunshine, families, kids running around, enjoying their wine overlooking the paddock,” says Nick.
“In terms of their dining style, our customers love the quality and selection of foods and feel that they get value for money.”
Mary agrees, “You never come to Stringybark and leave hungry!”
Nick had taken time out from being a practicing chef to teach hospitality students, but was soon drawn back to the rush of running a kitchen.
“I just wanted to design menus and create food again. That’s what pulls me in. I try and be creative, put different things together that you wouldn’t do at home,” he says.
“It’s rewarding at the end of the night when you have a good service and customers walk away happy.”
As part of Chittering SpringFest, Stringybark will be releasing two new wines at the Reds, Whites and Blues event on September 8.
“One is our 2018 unoaked Chardonnay, which will be entered in this year’s Perth Hills Wine Show,” says Bruce. “We are also releasing our 2017 Cabernet Shiraz – this is probably one of the best yet. It went into the Perth Hills Wine Show last year and was in the top three for wine of the show.”
The event provides a perfect opportunity to meander along Chittering Road and discover this hidden gem. The ‘blues’ will be provided by The Smokin’ Goats performing live from 3 pm to 6 pm.
You can find Stringybark Winery and Restaurant at 2060 Chittering Road, Lower Chittering. Bookings for the Red, Whites and Blues event are essential. You can phone them on 9571 8069.
Stringybark’s philosophy — applied to both their winemaking and culinary endeavours — is best explained by Bruce, “When you go somewhere you want to have an experience which is of the area – you don’t want some generic encounter. What we try to give visitors is a Chittering experience.”