When you picture a small family-owned winery, with almost 100 years of grape-growing history, in the Swan Valley, you may conjure up images of a rustic cellar door, timber pergola and dusty, corrugated barrel shed. The new wave of young producers who have championed the valley and its varieties have successfully enriched the scene somewhat, yet this remains as a stereotype. One producer existing outside either mould is Nikola Estate. Also a small family-owned winery, established in 2019, yet housed in the grandeur of WA’s most important 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, had purchased a tranche of vineyards from this historic site and established Oakover Wines next door. The 2019 purchase marks the rejoining of the estate, although both brands remain separate.
A cheeky friend remarked to me that for all its history, the site, up until sale, was in fact a cheap white wine factory. This has certainly changed, although the infrastructure remains. This means that chief winemaker, Damian Hutton and winemaker Marcello Fabretti have a state of the art winemaking facility at their disposal. While they also make wines on contract for a number of smaller and larger producers around the State, they are left rattling around with enormous potential for expansion. I’m told this isn’t necessarily their goal, but the mind boggles at what might be possible.
My first impression, when the first vintages were released, was of a smart set of wines — “varietally correct”, “nicely polished”, tasty wines. That was two years ago. When tasting the latest releases, I was thrilled to see they have continued to evolve with nuance and personality, reflecting the steady hand of Hutton and the flair of Fabretti.
The Gallery Series is the most creative outlet for the team and all wines in the series impress. The Symbolist is perhaps my favourite. It’s a light, plush red, which can be chilled or served at room temperature. Crafted from seven varieties (red and white), it is very much, 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 thriving in an experimental block on site, but perhaps more so, it’s inspired by the warm dappled shady lawns for which the historic site is famous. Conceptually, this wine has been made specifically for drinking on the grass under the jacarandas and ancient Norfolk pines, but it could just as easily be enjoyed at the Cottesloe beach terraces or beneath the Moreton Bay figs of Hyde Park. Alas, I don’t think it will get much further because there isn’t much made and it’s very good.
The Estate label wines at $25 are exceptionally well priced too and worth checking out. The Chenin Blanc, for example, which was my stand-out, is made from only the free-run juice from estate-grown fruit, off 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
Purple hues are evident through the clear glass bottle. (Clear glass is a minefield, so please remember to drink it in the sunshine, don’t store it in the sunshine). Tasted chilled — black cherry, mulberry, and piquant herbs lead a complex aromatic signature. The body and flavours are light yet plush: a moreish combination. Flavours include red berries, more black cherries, sage, liquorice and delicate spice. A pleasantly chalky mouthfeel and vibrant freshness persist throughout.
Nikola Estate 2022 “Estate” Chenin Blanc, Swan Valley, $25
A wonderful example of clean, crisp, simply made, deliciously moreish chenin. This should be the go-to wine style for all West Aussies. Fragrant with lemon zest, talcy florals, candle wax and a little honeydew, it follows through with a freshness, vibrancy and mealy texture on the palate, worthy of a 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
Sourced from a couple of exceptional Frankland River vineyards, this is a suave and poised example of shiraz and typical of the region. Flavours are detailed with core of pepper, spice, damson, blackberry and an iron-rich mineral, meaty feel. Subtle oak is integrated and savoury. For a wine with such pedigree, it has a playful juiciness, too, which makes it very palatable as a drink now style.