Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Behind the Brand - Flametree Wines

Things could be worse than starting out a new winery and winning a Jimmy Watson with your first attempt. A pretty handy start in 2007 not only catapulted Flametree Wines into prominence but also set a high benchmark for the wines to follow.

General Manager/Winemaker Cliff Royle and Winery Manager Julian Scott
Photo:Winery Lane
Since that glorious result with the 2007 Cabernet Merlot, Flametree backed it up and were finalists for the same award twelve months later.  General Manager and Chief Winemaker Cliff Royle says, “The aim at Flametree Wines is to make a range of wines that play to the strengths of the region and consistently deliver a great drinking experience at any price point. Margaret River wines should exhibit the hallmark characters of structure, perfume and elegance that has made this region famous.”

Now ten years young, what makes the Flametree story a little more interesting is that they do not own one vineyard. Sure, there are plenty of producers in the same position nation wide, however, it's the consistently high standard across these wines at varied price points which continues to set an impressive trend.

Royle himself is no slouch having spent 12 years as Chief Winemaker at Voyager Estate. Langton's Master of Wine, Andrew Caillard, says, "Winemaker Cliff Royle is regarded by critics as one of the most gifted winemakers of his generation."

Of all the wines produced, Royle has a soft spot for Chardonnay. "Chardonnay makes the greatest white wines in the world," he says. "Top White Burgundy and Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are the benchmark to which we can all learn valuable lessons with regard to structure, balance and complexity. Am I trying to make these wines? No. I’m learning how to make Margaret River wines more interesting whilst keeping great examples of these wines in the back of my mind. We get so much raw fruit power in Margaret River, I just think we can look harder at making our wines a little less fruit driven whilst more savoury and complex."

Royle is also determined to make wines in the more elegant spectrum. "We’re not looking just at power," he goes on to say. "We want the wines to have a nice line, purity and perfume. We talk a lot about playing to the strengths of the region and harnessing the sub-regional characters within those wines. We like Chardonnay from Wallcliffe/Karridale to have a tight line of grapefruit, citrus and stone fruits." These whites are picked around 13% alcohol which is low for Margaret River.

Cabernet is a different story again picked from Wilyabrup/Yallingup more on perfume and tannin ripeness rather than sugar. "The fruit flavours must be in the cassis or black fruit spectrum. These are classic Cabernet varietal characters and we’d rather be making varietal wines than a specific wine style that’s currently in vogue. I like fruit to sing in our wines - you won’t see large amounts of oak." 

Not owning a vineyard and sourcing from 20 different sites enables Flametree to find great parcels in any given vintage. Royle adds, "The other advantage to not being locked into your own vineyard fruit is that you’re able to change direction with trends in the market with relative ease. We can make more Chardonnay if we need, whilst pulling back on Sauvignon Blanc Semillon if the market is heading that way." Another added bonus is the ability to monitor stock levels closely and adjust production levels on individual lines quickly. With his General Manager hat on, Royle goes on to say, "In a tight cash flow industry, this is a real advantage for a brand like Flametree. We have good long term grower relationships that provide us with plenty of options for all three levels of our wines."

Inside the Flametree Cellar Door
In a region where quality Chardonnay and Cabernet are so common, Flametree seek their point of difference to be their style. Early hand picking, high solids (cloudy juice ferments), wild ferments, puncheons rather than barrels for ferment and maturation, no MLF and minimal lees stirring in barrel. "We like the wines to be fine boned with plenty of layers but no obvious parts." Flametree's Cabernet wines are medium bodied and offer good early drinking yet offer some body enabling them to age.

Like many producers, Flametree is playing around with a few alternate varieties and styles. Success at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show saw the 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé receive a trophy. A few other things in the pipeline include a Malbec coming out next year and a Pinot Grigio released later in 2017. A soon to be released Grenache has me licking my lips - a variety not commonly seen in Margaret River.

With an ever growing band of loyal members, the future is looking bright. "We’d like to be considered part of the newer brigade who offer great value and quality across our entire range of wines - a reliable producer with a quality product, a strong brand with a good reputation."

The future of Flametree for the next ten years looks to be in very safe hands.

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