1950 – 1965
In the late 1950s the Western Australian Government was concerned that the failing apple industry in the Great Southern would create a depressed economic environment in the region. To address this, the State Government invited Professor Olmo, a world class viticulturist from California, and Dr Penfold Hyland from New South Wales to visit the region to investigate the possibility of starting a grape-growing industry.
Their report was very positive so, in 1964, the State Viticulturist, Bill Jamieson was instructed to find a suitable site for an experimental vineyard. Mr Jamieson originally recommended State-owned land at Pardelup that had ideal soil types. However this site was- and still is – used as a prison farm, so the government declined the recommendation. After further investigation, Mr Jamieson entered into a 10 year lease for 5 acres of land at Forest Hill owned by the Pearse family.
The land was prepared and planted in 1965. A very wet spring and early summer waterlogged the vines and resulted in a very poor take, but the site was successfully replanted in the following year.
1966 – 1975
The initial planting comprised 2.5 acres each of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dorham Mann assisted Bill Jamieson in the vineyard establishment and Ian Cameron, from the Swan Research Station, supplied the cuttings for this vineyard and for those that started over the following 10 years.
Others in the district soon followed suit. In 1967, John Roche of the Frankland River Grazing Company planted 5 acres on his property on the banks of the Frankland River. In 1968, Ernie Mead planted 5 acres at Denbarker and persuaded Tony Smith, a near neighbour, to do the same. Ernie died in 1976 and his vineyard died with him, but Tony’s vineyard thrives today and remains part of the portfolio of vineyards run or owned by Plantagenet Wines.
The first vintage from the initial Jamieson plantings was harvested in 1972 and produced a startlingly good Riesling. The subsequent 1973 vintage is still the state’s most awarded, with the wines still winning gold medals and trophies 10 years later.
By 1973 it was obvious that the region needed a lobbying body, so the Mount Barker Frankland Wine Producers’ Association was formed. The inaugural President was Tony Smith and Betty Pearse was the Secretary. This Association became the present Great Southern Wine Producers’ Association.
Tony’s vineyard, Bouverie, produced its first crop in 1974. This was the first crop produced privately around Mount Barker and was processed at Sandalford Wines in the Swan Valley.
In 1975 Plantagenet Wines purchased an apple-packing shed in Mount Barker and converted it into a winery. That year 10 tonnes were processed to produce the first commercially made wine at Mount Barker.
1976 – Present
In 1976, 25 tonnes were processed. Some of this came from Merv Lange’s 1970 plantings at Alkoomi in Frankland River and from Mike Goundrey, who had planted at St Werburgh’s in the same year.
Shiraz from that vintage won Plantagenet’s first gold medal at the Perth Royal Show. In 1977 Cabernets from Plantagenet and Alkoomi won 3 gold medals each in Perth and put the region well on the way to success.
In 1978 Betty Pearse and Tony Smith founded of the WA Grapegrowers and Winemakers Association – WA’s first truly state-wide wine organisation.
Tony went on to serve as a board member of the Winemakers Forum of Australia, the Winemakers Federation of Australia and the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation. He also served on the Geographical Indications Committee of the latter and oversaw the first Geographical Boundaries in WA, that of the Great Southern and its 5 sub-regions