Issue #144, February 2021

 

A warm welcome to our new Margaret River agency, House of Cards

House of Cards is owned and operated by Elizabeth and Travis Wray out of Margaret River. We sat down with Elizabeth to find out what makes their wines so unique.

About House of Cards and the Margaret River

It’s nearly ten years since you established House of Cards, how has the past decade treated the Wray family? Have all your initial plans now come to fruition? Any unexpected developments or surprises over the years?

Wow it really has been that long! We are just about to harvest our eleventh Vintage, crazy how time flies! 

I think most of our initial plans have changed and evolved quite considerably over the past decade. We were pretty fresh back in 2011, coming back to WA after living and working in New Zealand and Canada. We had also travelled throughout the US wine regions of Oregon and Napa. Vintage 2011, our first for House of Cards, the wines from these regions played heavily on our minds and these were the styles we chased. Over the last decade we’ve learnt about our particular site and the flavours of the grapes grown and how this translates into the wines we make. Trav’s winemaking gets better and better each vintage and I’m so proud of where he’s taken the wines.

In the vineyard we have grafted over vines to Petit Verdot, Malbec, and superior clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When we first started, the vineyard was conventionally farmed and lacked a lot of soil health so we have worked super hard to improve this, practising organic farming increasingly over the last 10 years and now we are fully certified by ACO. 

As a brand we focussed on improving the quality of each wine with all wines in our range taking on their own identity to match their unique flavour and personality. 

Oh yeah we’ve also managed to get married, build a house and have 3 little boys too, we’ve been a bit busy! 

Travis studied Viticulture and Oenology after spending five years in the Royal Australian Navy as a Clearance Diver, which has to be one of the most extreme career changes we’ve heard to date!  What inspired this drastic career change or had winemaking always been a secret passion? 

Haha it’s quite the change isn’t it?! Food and wine have always been of interest to Trav, he grew up near the famous Coonawarra wine region in South Australia but wine really became a focal point when he moved to Western Australia. 

After Trav had partial hearing loss from diving he was given a medical discharge and decided he never wanted to be cold, sleep deprived and physically exhausted ever again so decided to study Viticulture and Oenology. Now he’s just sleep deprived and physically exhausted! 

You’ve mentioned ‘no plans to get bigger, only better’ which we cannot wait to see!  What new developments do you foresee for the next ten years for House of Cards?  Will we see new wines from you in the future?

Our vineyard gets healthier and healthier each year with organic soil inputs and the nutrition of our vines along with vine age which keeps improving the fruit that we’re seeing. We will continue to explore the best clones of each varietal and each year keep refining winemaking techniques in small batch winemaking. Each year we learn some pretty valuable lessons in terms of winemaking and currently we are talking about length of maturation in French oak so this will play a pretty important role in how the wines are made. Winemaking is such a perfect balance of art and science and individual taste so we will continue to experiment and make decisions on what we believe makes the best wine. 

You also have a restaurant located a few metres from your cellar door which specialises in Chinese/Malay cuisine.  What are the current highlights on the menu?  Do you get involved with the food yourself? 

Yes Chow’s Table opened about two and a half years ago now, Chef Mal Chow is director and head chef and is in full control of what happens in the restaurant. Mal recently was awarded a Hat in the Australian Good Food Guide. His food is absolutely delicious and totally moreish…we eat here weekly and crave it daily! We host wine tastings with other winemaking friends and wine dinners. We’ve also had a couple of parties to launch new wines in this space.

You were recently fully certified as an organic vineyard, huge congratulations!  What changes did you have to make for this?  Can you tell us about your organic practices and how you feel these positively impact your wines?

Thanks heaps, we are so proud of this achievement, it has taken a lot of time…and paperwork! We are now certified with ACO (Australian Certified Organics). For three years prior to full certification we were certified ‘In-Conversion’, meaning all vineyard inputs have to be organic. 

Our focus has been on first improving soil health by increasing the amounts of bacteria, fungi and protozoa. We achieve this with the use of planting mid row cover crops which increase nitrogen and other key elements to the vines. We make our own composts using a mixture of organic mulch, hay and recycled grape Marc from vintage. We have guinea fowl which roam the vineyard scratching undervine and eating bugs. We use dacron bands to stop the weevils walking into the vine canopy. We spray fish and seaweed onto the foliage and we make our own compost teas by aerating a blend of worm castings, molasses, lucerne, seaweed, fish and humates. This is then sprayed throughout the vineyard. Our belief is to give the vines enough beneficials so they themselves can effectively fight pathogens rather than us try to kill the pathogens directly and in turn inadvertently impact vine health.

We believe the flavours are so much better in organic fruit and this translates into better wine. To make the best wine you need the best fruit.

Can you invoke huge amounts of envy during our long British winter by describing your little patch in the Margaret River?  What makes it such a paradise in which to live and work? 

Our family lives on our 12Ha vineyard in Yallingup, the Northern end of the Margaret River Wine Region. It’s currently the middle of January, about 29 degrees and I have just returned from taking my three little boys to Meelup Beach, the same spot Trav and I got married about 9 years ago. We live about 5km from the beach about 20km to the nearest town and have no neighbours.

Margaret River as a region has about 200 wine producers, the region makes only about 4% of Australia’s total wine production but about 25% of its premium market. The region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Tonight, our family plus two Golden Retrievers will head back to the beach for a picnic where we’ll definitely have a bottle of Chardy and watch the sunset, the hardest decision we’ll make is choosing which beach to go to!

House of Cards wines

“Our wines change each year depending on vintage conditions and different winemaking trials that Travis conducts in the winery. Being single vineyard wines however they all have a remarkable sense of place which can be seen from year to year.”

Q: Our friends across the pond love to talk ‘terroir’ and of course, we do see vintage variation. Many UK customers reject (given the climate) that Australia can produce the same level of vintage variation. What would you say to them?

Margaret River is pretty lucky, probably the luckiest region in Australia in terms of consistent weather conditions, nearly all our rainfall happens in Winter and Spring and the heat of Summer is moderated by cooling sea breezes. This is great for the consumer as most of our vintages are pretty consistent. Saying that we definitely do have vintage variation, maybe not as much as in France but I assure you it does happen! Some years are definitely warmer than others and others are more nerve racking with rain events.

We were hugely impressed with your Cabernet Sauvignon, and we understand you have three different clones in your vineyard.  Can you describe the differences between the two cabernets (The Royals and Ace of Spades) which we are bringing to the UK?  Would you describe these as ‘classic Margaret River Cabernet’?

Thanks heaps! Yes, we utilise three different clones of Cab Sauv; Clone 126, Clone 5 (Haughtons) and Clone 337 (Margaux). Each grown to add to the depth of flavour and interest of the final wine.

Each year before we bottle The Royals Cab Sauv and The Ace we go through and earmark the best barrels. The very best 8 barrels will go into our Ace. This is usually a blend of Bordeaux varietals; Cab Sauv, Malbec and Petit Verdot in varying proportions. In 2018 our barrels of Cab Sauv just stood out so much that we couldn’t look past these so our final blend was 100% Cab Sauv, a mixture of Clone 337 and Clone 5. We grow Clone 337 and Clone 5 for their beautiful cassis and blue fruit characters as well as their texture. Our 2018 Royals Cab Sauv utilises majority Clone 126 and some clone 337. The Ace of Spades has a higher percentage of new French oak and we believe will age more beautifully. Both are beautiful examples of Margaret River Cab Sauv which typically have characters of blue fruits, cassis, eucalypt and mint, nice soft tannin and good structure.  

The Royals Chardonnay, which recently won a Gold Award from James Halliday, was another huge hit with the team here.  What can our customers expect from the 2019 vintage of this wine?

Trav’s greatest love is his Chardonnay, and each year he makes it in a slightly different style depending on the hand we’re dealt from Mother Nature. Our 2019 is generous with fruit, white peach and citrus characters and well balanced with oak. It is succulent and moreish!

Getting to know you

What are your opinions on the big Aussie wine critics?  Do you spend much time and effort courting the critics and who do you focus on?  Do you think, in general, that the critics get it right? (We promise not to tell them if you don’t!)

At House of Cards we sell the majority of wine through our cellar door where our customers have the option of trying before they buy so the opinion of critics doesn’t really affect the choices made by our customers. In saying that if a customer is lineball about buying a particular bottle and they see a critic score or review this can help secure the sale.

Each year we send our wines to James Halliday, Ray Jordan and Mike Bennie. We also send wines to some social media bloggers and enter some of our wines into some National Wine Shows. For us it is an important exercise in benchmarking your wines against other producers. When they write glowing reviews we know they’ve got it right! Haha joking! 

There’s always the issue of a few of the ‘big boys’ in the wine industry taking all of the limelight… in your opinion, is this deserved?  Do you think customers miss out on great wines from smaller producers because of this?  Any ideas how we can change this?

The big guys deserve their spot in helping to promote a wine region. They will often make wines to suit a certain market and sometimes they might lack a bit of personality in style. Smaller producers in my experience often don’t make ‘safe’ wines that will suit every palate but the wines have a uniqueness. Whenever Trav and I visit a wine region we will visit one or two of the big guys but then head towards the smaller producers or we ask local opinions on the best producers in a region. For us experience plays a big part in how good a wine tastes and usually our best experiences are from these smaller producers.

How big is your home cellar collection and what gems do you have hidden away in there?

We have about 500 bottles in a cellar under our staircase. Made up with lots of Champagne, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cab Sauv. Our most treasured selection is from our trip to France in 2019 where we visited Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace and Bordeaux.

We have a 2007 vintage Ruinart, 2016 Chassagne Montrachet 2017 Morey Saint Denis that we’re waiting to drink but we’re trying to be patient!

We like to think we have a tempting selection of wines from your Aussie neighbours. Aside from your own wines, which wines from our range would you pop into your basket?

Ooh where do I start, what a great list, we’re honoured to be part of it! This question makes me thirsty but here we go!

Hoddles Creek Chardonnay
Pooley Wines Pinot Noir
Standish Shiraz
Clarendon Hills Syrah
Domaine Simha Amphora Pinot Noir
Eastern Peake Chardonnay

 
 

"Captivating symmetry and
precision which I find irresistible"

2018  House of Cards
Ace of Spades Cabernet Sauvignon

98 Points - Stuart McCloskey “A lovely, super-pure Margaret River bouquet revealing sweet blackcurrant, lavender, violets, a beautiful floral lift which works a treat with the herbal undertones and touches of iodine. For me, this wine is all about ‘texture’ which is wonderful, but let’s start from the beginning. ‘The Ace’ is their flagship creation blended from two clones, one an isolate of the Houghton’s clone and one a descendent from Margaux in Bordeaux (70% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 5, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337). There is a captivating symmetry and precision which I find irresistible. The fruit exudes an almost exotic quality but is entirely unforced. I love the touch of graphite on the finish. The wine flows effortlessly supported by velvet tannins (just a touch of dusty grip which creeps in). Satin-like in texture with an opulence and luxuriousness which are kept on a tight leash. It fans out perfectly on the finish. This is a deeply impressive wine and one which would benefit from 10-15 years in a cellar however, this delivers so much pleasure today. An amazing wine regardless of whether you decide to drink today or store… Decanted for five hours and served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”

98 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “A beautifully pure perfume offering an abundance of ripe blueberry and blackcurrant together with a good dusting of exotic spice, briar, lead pencil and a touch of menthol. The palate is where this wine really shines. Complex yet refined, there is an underlying power in the layered flavours which strike with their focus and balance. Everything I love about Cabernet Sauvignon is here without the slightest shadow of austerity. Generous fruit is delectable while the supporting structure of savoury and mineral elements adds another dimension of delight. What a wonderful wine and a great example of how charming a good Cabernet can be even when young. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glass following 5 hours of decanting.”

Technical: A mixture of open top and barrel fermentation which is hand plunged three times daily. The wine is manually basket pressed then is matured in 50% new French oak for 18 months.

£37.95 per bottle

 
 

"I want to don my swimming trunks and jump in...
This is truly outstanding – it genuinely is."

 

2018 House of Cards
The Black Jack Malbec

97 - 97+ Points - Stuart McCloskey “I love the beetroot black colour – it’s so appealing I want to don my swimming trunks and jump in. This is unlike any young Malbec I have sampled and certainly the finest Aussie example I have ever tasted. The nose is wonderfully broody with pen ink, charcoal, iron ore, cold steel and dark, fruity chocolate. If I dare say, I draw similarities to Standish wines, albeit in a cool-climate vein (I support this by the depth, complexity and similar aromatics).  The palate is beautifully textured, which is a clear hallmark. The tannins are plush, velvety and the acidity fine. There’s plenty to appreciate and respect. The black fruits are graphite tinged and remain forever on the palate – I detect a little verve from blood orange. This is truly outstanding – it genuinely is. Decanted for 5 hours and served with Zalto Bordeaux glassware. Drink now and / or cellar for 10+ years”. 

97+ Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “Deep colour and oozing perfume filled with dark fruit, graphite and pen ink. I love the aromatic lift of plums and mocha, while its rich minerality is simply intoxicating. The palate is broad and expansive, awash with dark fruit and mineral intensity. Tannins are remarkably silky smooth. There is a cheeky zing of citrus on the super long finish, which completes the wine beautifully. So much charisma. The Black Jack Malbec is deeply impressive wine which I expect will continue to evolve beautifully in a bottle for at least a decade. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glass following 5 hours of decanting.”

Technical: The grapes were hand-picked and hand sorted. After crushing the juice underwent a 10% drain off to concentrate tannin content. It was then fermented and hand plunged in barrel. Following fermentation the wine was basket pressed and returned to French oak, 25% new, where it matured for 18 months. This wine is unfiltered.

£28.95 per bottle

 

"Unmistakably from the Margaret River with screaming aromatics of blackcurrant"

2018 House of Cards
The Royals Cabernet Sauvignon

96++ Points - Stuart McCloskey “Another wine which I sampled over two days with day two showing a blossoming beauty. Unmistakably from the Margaret River with screaming aromatics of blackcurrant, leather, black olive, cedar, mint, dark chocolate. The palate is ripe and packed with flavour. As you would expect, it lacks some of the depth of Ace of Spades, but it is a stellar effort nonetheless, and one which richly deserves to be enjoyed by us all. There’s a lovely freshness which underlines the wine’s character. Tannins are svelte with the merest smidgeon of dust / dried herb, which adds character. Wait a few minutes and a tang from orange peel emerges along with savoury, earthy notes. Lots of bright acidity which lifts the wine. A belter and one that can be enjoyed now through to 2028. Decant for 2-3 hours. Served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”

97+ Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “Elegant aromas of dark berries, fruity chocolate and roasted coffee intermixed with pencil lead, graphite and violets. There is a faint whiff of menthol and the bouquet gracefully departs with a delicate, floral lift. The palate is noticeably more savoury with dark chocolate, cedar, redcurrants, an abundance of minerals and lingering chalky tannins. It’s elegant without being too serious. The redcurrant character provides a crunch of refreshing acidity. This is a well made, classy expression of Cabernet with the hallmark of elegance and purity of Margaret River. Decanting is key to unveiling its savoury complexities – a sign The Royals will evolve beautifully in the cellar for 6-8 years. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glassware following 5 hours of decanting.”

Technical: Optimal growing conditions in 2018 lead to a vintage of high yields and sensational fruit quality. The fruit was handpicked, crushed and transferred to open top ferment bins where it was hand plunged. Extended skin contact for 28 days post ferment to add to the tannin structure. Basket pressed to French oak, 40% new, where it matured for 18 months. 40% Clone 337 from our new Clonal block for the first time for our 2018 vintage.

£26.50 per bottle

"The bouquet is veracious and provides layers of creamy raspberry, dark plum and mulberry compote"

 

2018 House of Cards
Kings in the Corner Cabernet Merlot

96+ Points - Stuart McCloskey “Adorable and sampled without decanting. The bouquet is veracious and provides layers of creamy raspberry, dark plum, and mulberry compote. Warming spices (white pepper) develop with more aeration and a touch of toasty French oak and cedar. The palate is vivid, fun and provides a smorgasbord of red and black fruits with a soupçon of dried mint. I appreciate the cooling feel / acidity. Dark chocolate / cocoa interplay with a little tart cranberry. Flavours build and change the more you taste (at five-minute mark, I pick-up woodsmoke). This is a wine full of honest, good intentions which is admirable. Serve now or cellar to 2028. Decant for 2-3 hours. Served with Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”

96-97 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “Cabernet Sauvignon leads the way with expressive aromas of ripe red berries, blackcurrants and plenty of beautifully leafy notes. Lots of herbs with bay leaf, mint, rosemary and sage jumping to the forefront. Darker notes of tar emerge with aeration. Its complex structure surpassed my expectations for an entry level wine. Full of flavour with the addition of Merlot (20%) adding to its deeply textural feel. The palate is awash with ripe red berries, blueberries, dried herbs, black olive tapenade and iron. A touch of dark chocolate and warming spices lead to an impressive finish. This must be one of the best value Cabernet blends to come out of Margaret River. Sampled over two days using Zalto Bordeaux glassware, which brings out more savoury complexities I find.”

Technical: The team used traditional winemaking processes including open top fermentation, hand plunging and a manual basket press to make this a beautifully complex wine. Aged in seasoned French oak barriques for 12 months.

£22.95 per bottle

 
 

"A magnificent wine and
one which offers astonishing value."

2019  House of Cards
The Royals Chardonnay

97+ - 98 Points - Stuart McCloskey “This is blessed with such a wonderful bouquet, all pervading with razor sharp accuracy. The nose has developed gloriously, I initially sampled yesterday. Mineralité, limestone, and a little marine influence works wonders with yuzu (there’s a tropical character emerging), orange blossom and heavenly scents of jasmine. Simply amazing! The palate provides saline on the entry, bottomless layers of minerals, citrus with razor sharp acidity. The defining act being the balletic balance which is a marvel. Minutes later, traces of warming, fresh ginger, fennel and lime zest creep in. Extraordinary length. This is a magnificent wine and one which offers astonishing value. Do not overchill and decant for an hour. Drink now to 2030. I believe this will be hitting its full stride in 5 years. Served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware.”

97-98 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “I am super excited with this Chardonnay. At first, it shows wonderful purity and an ineffable connection to its marine environment – it screams of its Margaret River roots, which run deep. Lots of sea spray, oyster shell and citrus combined with crystalline minerality. Resist for 30 minutes and you’ll discover aromas of ripe peaches, salted caramel and a whiff of elderflower. The palate is beautifully composed with a cascade of delicately sweet orchard fruit, a gentle bite of bitter orange zest and plenty of supporting citrus and minerals. Such a wonderful weight and texture. Full of energy and superb focus. This is utterly scrummy today, but has the structure and quality to evolve over the next 10 years. Sampled using Zalto Bordeaux glassware following 1 hour of decanting.”

Technical: The Chardonnay grapes were handpicked and sorted before being whole-bunch pressed and barrel fermented in 50% new French oak. This vintage was 100% wild yeast fermented. 30% wild malolactic fermentation and maturated in French oak for 12 months.

£28.50 per bottle 

 

" Reminds me of an expensive Bordeaux... 
This is an outstanding wine. Brilliant."

2018 House of Cards
Three Monte Sauvignon Blanc

 

96++ Points - Stuart McCloskey “The bouquet is fascinating and far from your bog-standard Aussie Sauvignon Blanc – Fresh cut garden mint, lime zest, lemongrass, warmth from freshly grated ginger are wrapped in a floral embrace (a touch of the French oak on the finish). Minutes later, ginger and orange marmalade which is heavenly. The palate feel reminds me of an expensive Bordeaux wine as there’s a lovely weightiness (slightly waxy). This is a very expressive wines, one which delivers depth, complexity and deserve some bottle age to truly shine. A rare, sophisticated new world Sauvignon Blancs which begs the question – why are there so few? This is an outstanding wine. Brilliant. Do not overchill and decant for an hour. Serve with Zalto Bordeaux glassware. Drink now to 2026…” 

96+ Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz “Expressive perfume filled with gooseberry, mandarin oil, lemongrass and a lovely lift from citrus blossom. Minerals and spices emerge with aeration. I love the mouthcoating texture of the Three Card Monte which is incredibly satisfying. Rich flavours of grapefruit, lemon, lime and cantaloupe melon linger on the palate with impressive intensity. The finish is super long, filled with more citrus, minerals and warming spices. Deeply savoury sensations linger for minutes. This is a serious Sauvignon Blanc with power and sophistication. Sampled without decanting and using Zalto Bordeaux glassware, which brings out more savoury complexities I find.”

Technical: 50% of the grapes were fermented on skins for three days with wild yeast and the other 50% fermented on skins for seven days with wild yeast. Racked to French oak, 20% new, for 11 months.

£20.55 per bottle

 

Watch this informative 5 minute video from House of Cards. (Video will open in a new window.)

 

After an agonising wait, Utopos Shiraz and MSG are back in stock and available by the bottle.

 
 

"For team Shadowfax, Macedon Chardonnay is often their go-to wine. “It displays all the good things in ultra-cool climate Chardonnay; flavour, poise, acid structure and purity. A staple of the Shadowfax brand.” says Alister."

 
 

2016 ‘Helichrysum’ – 98 Points, James Suckling

2016 Brunello di Montalcino – 97 Points, James Suckling

 
 

Is Biodynamic winemaking a load of bull?

Who better to ask than Mike and Melissa from Gemtree who have provided a fascinating insight into their world of biodynamic winemaking…