On the Trail

The Continued Mastery of Howard Park

Ryan Woodhouse

Margaret River in Western Australia is one of my favorite places on the face of the earth. It’s a stunningly beautiful place with a near perfect climate, crystal clear ocean, and ancient Karri forests reaching high to the blue skies. During the 1970’s a young man named Jeff Burch travelled to this remote, rugged, costal region in search of great waves to surf; he found them. After many return trips, in the 1980’s Jeff bought a house and some land in the Wilyabrup Valley. Around this time Margaret River quickly became known as the ultra premium wine producing region in Australia. Even today this region that accounts for only 3% of Australia’s total wine production holds 20+% of the ultra premium market share! In 1993 Jeff’s passion for wine became more than a hobby when he became a partner in Howard Park, a winery originally founded in 1986. From this point forward the Burch family never looked back, today they have multiple generations involved in just about every aspect of the business. They have some of the most mature vineyards in the region, a winemaker (Janice McDonald) that has worked in the industry for over twenty-five years and have been rated as a top, five star winery for seventeen consecutive years by renowned Australia critic James Halliday.

More recently the Burch family has built a partnership with Pascal Marchand of Burgundy (former winemaker / manager of Comte Armand and Domaine de la Vougeraie) under the “Marchand & Burch” label. Pascal works with them closely consulting on viticulture and winemaking decisions. The Marchand & Burch wines are biodynamically produced and many of Howard Park’s other vineyards are under organic farming regimes. At a recent tasting of these wines I was simply blown away by the quality of the range and the exceptional values that they represented (values that are accentuated even further by our direct import relationship cutting out the middlemen). The wines are very classically styled and whilst not lacking in fruit or power, they are wines of balance and structure, not “fruit bombs”. They speak very clearly of their varietal content and place of origin. I honestly couldn’t find a bad wine amongst their huge range of releases, so upon returning home from my last trip I decided to focus on my five favorite Howard Park wines plus the Marchand & Burch Chardonnay for our initial shipment.

To briefly summarize their range wines:

The Cabernet based wines tread the middle ground perfectly between modern fruit driven Cab and classic Bordeaux. There is great weight and richness to the fruit but the flavors retain some of those classic Cabernet varietal characters of tobacco, mint, and cedar wood that can be lost in some over-ripe “jammy” expressions of this noble grape. While very accessible and delicious now, I am confident these wines will age for a decade plus no problem. Howard Park’s Shiraz is certainly rich and fruit driven but once again retains elements of smoked meat, earth, pepper and some of those wild, gamey elements that make Shiraz/Syrah so complex as a varietal. The Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc is a fantastically fresh, fruit driven, lush wine with lovely fruit, mouth watering acidity and rich palate texture. I was very impressed by the concentration of flavor here.

The Howard Park Chardonnay is a powerful wine, stunning concentration and flavor without being overweight or over-oaked. Just incredible fruit purity, energy and long, long persistence. Flavor spectrum is more yellow stone fruit with citrus highlights and some lovely almond, baked bread lees nuances. The Marchand & Burch Chard is in a similar vein but perhaps a little more chiseled linear and mineral intensive. The wine, being biodynamic and wild yeast fermented, has a little wilder side with lees/yeast notes, granite, struck flint. Very persistent, textural and full of dynamic energy and drive. Fantastic Chard in a very Burgundian ilk. 

Howard Park has been making masterful wines down under for almost two decades. Now it's about time our customers got a taste of that brilliance here in the U.S.

-Ryan Woodhouse