Bakkheia in the Preston Valley (Geographe Wine Region WA) is a boutique winery started by ex-Navy Clearance Diver Michael and his wife Ilonka Edwards. To say that the winery is nestled into the side of a picturesque valley of rolling green hills and astounding beauty would be selling it short. Almost exactly 2 hours drive from Fremantle (a touch more if you prefer a more circuitous route via the South West Hwy and in and around the back roads, like I took) the drive down to Bakkheia is breathtaking, never more so than when I drove it on a cold, crisp, sunny Winter morning.
Bakkheia employs a relatively unique (I say ‘relatively’ to hedge my bets, but I cannot bring to mind any other winery that does this) business model in that the pricing is set each vintage by a group of twelve mixed consumers: the Cardinals. They give each wine a price bracket of $4 (eg $28-32) and then Mick and Ilonka go from there. The Cardinals also have input on release dates. The mailing list is the only way you can purchase these wines, and the membership is capped at 400 people. Unfortunately, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is already full, however there is the option of applying for the waiting list. Production each year is capped at 1000 dozen, ensuring that what is made is sold (although I was very pleased and relieved to learn that they are keeping wines back each year in the museum, for historical purposes and the potential opportunity in the future to look at the older wines alongside current vintages). Some of the wines are made in heartbreakingly tiny quantities – the United & Undaunted Mourvedre totals only 697 bottles (58 dozen), for example.
Having had careers prior to wine, Mick and Ilonka are not ‘cash flow driven’, meaning the quality of what they produce and the method in which they release it is focused only on the optimal vision for their brand. With zero compromise on quality (including free delivery – to anywhere) Bakkheia is understandably developing a reputation as a cult winery, and certainly for those who view ‘hard-to-get’ as a challenge, one that is to be energetically sought out and tasted.
The house style is present in all of the wines, both red and white. The chalky fine tannins are bound by a DNA that speaks of elegance and finesse. The reds are without exception medium bodied and sophisticated, multi-layered and textural. They are modern. The chardonnay is all lean/line/length and lingering acidity, with a richness that builds on the mid palate, leaving space through the finish to be spellbound by what is going on. Very different to the more famous expressions from Margaret River, and rightly so.
Finally, before we dive headlong into the wines, Mick and Ilonka enter the Bakkheia wines into wine shows in WA. They do very well indeed. In fact, the first time I tried a Bakkheia wine was on the dinner table at the Geographe Wine Show award night in 2016. I judged at the Geographe show in 2018 and was fortunate enough to see The Wonderful Miss Gerry – 100% Grenache grown 4k’s from the winery. A beautiful wine then, and now. They’re not just getting golds either, we’re talking trophies. Best in Show and all that…
2018 Reserve Chardonnay, Preston Valley, Geographe
1297 bottles, 100% chardonnay aged for 12 months in French oak, 13%, minimal additions.
A pale golden straw in the glass, the nose is fine and compact, grilled cashew, lightly toasted white stone fruit, salted preserved lemons. White flowers. The palate is where this really stands out – the wine enters and remains lowkey for some time, prompting you to wait. It builds on the mid-palate until it opens fully, revealing a highly sophisticated and intensely fine flavour profile. Texturally speaking, this has a polish and a viscosity that is a standout feature of the palate. Only Dijon clones go into this wine, setting it apart from the explosively powered Gin Gin clone that we are used to seeing in Margaret River chardonnays. This is feline, long, lingering… the acidity is bright and salty, providing a seam of excitement through the wine, suggesting a single glass will be grossly insufficient. This is all class. Yes.
2018 United and Undaunted, Preston Valley Geographe
697 bottles, 10 months in aged French oak, grown organically (home vineyard), 14.2%, minimal additions.
There are all too few single varietal bottlings of Mourvedre for my liking in Western Australia. The grape calls Spain home, and the best examples are regal wines of intensity, body, weight and beauty.
Mourvedre is not about precision – these are not fine wines (in the sense that they are defined by ‘finesse’), they speak only the languages of seduction, mood-setting texture and charm – they retain a rusticity even in the most careful hands. As is the case with all grapes, there is a way of making them that ultimately shapes their expression in the glass, and when handled delicately mourvedre can express an elegance not unlike pinot. The tannins could never be moulded into anything other than their natural shape and thank goodness for that, but the fruit gains a clarity that sends them into the stratosphere of flavour. My feelings on mourvedre are pretty clear. So… this wine. The nose is bursting with mulberry, summer heirloom tomatoes, pomegranate and suggestions of spiced raspberries. The palate is defined by the shape of the tannins – they are fine but have an attractive gravelly nature, not unlike high quality black tea. This is textural and pure, the clarity of fruit a talking point. I love this. I think it walks a tightrope between sweet fruit and savoury spice, the balancing act held together by those tannins… and fine cooling acid. What a glorious wine.
2017 Aequitas ‘Joven’, Preston Valley Geographe
1138 bottles, 100% Tempranillo, aged for 6 months, 14.3% alc
“I’ve got 7 bottles of this left… 6 now” says Mick, as he opens this bottle for tasting. Hailing from the cooler 2017 vintage this pretty, fine and layered little Temp is a calling card for tempranillo from the region. Aromatically laden with flowers and berries, toasted macadamias and suggestions of crispy bacon fat, the palate has fine, grippy tannins that claw you back for a second, and third mouthful. There is a savoury line of meatiness than traces its way across the tongue and remains as a lingering hint through the finish. As with all of the reds I tried this day, the Joven is elegant and mid-weight, and even though the fruit characters are ripe and bold, they are tempered by the cool natural acidity that comes from the cool night-time temperatures here.
2018 Aequitas, Preston Valley Geographe
2687 bottles produced, 100% Tempranillo aged for 12 months in French oak, grown organically (home vineyard), 14.3% alc, minimal additions.
Pure seduction on the nose. Blackcurrant pastille, fresh cut rose, violets, black pepper, sage, raspberry and pomegranate… I could go on and on. The palate is densely concentrated with flavour yet retains a brightness and lightness that I find utterly beguiling. The longer time in oak has an impact on this wine, but for all the right reasons. The length of flavour is very good indeed and draws out long into the finish. Overall this is plush, ripe, silky and beautiful. Multi-faceted and layered, this is complex, ever changing like the dappled light under a tree. If you haven’t clocked it yet, the Geographe does Mediterranean red varieties REALLY well. This is a good example of how.
Not released yet
2018 The Matelot, Preston Valley Geographe
848 bottles, 100% Malbec, aged for 15 months in French oak, 13.4% alc, minimal additions.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I often find Malbecs to be bruisers. While I love it as a blending component, I rarely, if ever, find myself thinking “I’d love a glass of Malbec”. The tannins can be wildly unresolved and flail all over the place, the fruit can be so extracted and so boisterous that it leaves no room for free thought. But the beauty about rules are the exceptions: Enter The Matelot.
Displaying the vibrant fuchsia colours that seems to only come with Malbec, the nose has an abundance of red berries, laced with peppery spice. There is clove and liquorice if I look closer, and layers of red liquorice, tea, raspberry and summer cherry tomato if I peer closer still. The palate is luxuriant in its fruit expression, balanced in its spice levels and the tannins frame it all in a chalky, fine and lingering kind of way. It’s pretty exciting stuff. I looked at the 2020 Malbec from barrel this day, and even as a desperately young pup (it still had another 12 months in oak to go) the tannins had this same fine quality about them, the fruit was buoyant and vibrant without being overblown. Exciting things to come.
2018 Tripartite, Preston Valley Geographe
3984 bottles, Grenache 50%, Shiraz 33%, Mourvedre 17%, 10 months in aged French oak, grown organically (home vineyard), 14.5% alc.
The largest production of all the wines on the table (still only a mere 332 dozen), this GSM blend has an attractive meatiness that sits up alongside the fruit on the nose. The beauty about blends done well, is the ‘greater than the sum of parts’ mantra. In this rendition, the fruit sweet grenache overlays the plumpness of the shiraz and is underpinned by the structure and tannins of the mourvedre. Interestingly, all three varieties have clear tannin profiles, but it is the mourvedre that proves most adaptable here; filling in the gaps (if any) left behind by the richly fruited grenache and shiraz. If the three varieties were represented by colour, the shiraz would be blue, the grenache is red and black, and the mourvedre is a dusty burgundy/purple.
2018 The Wonderful Miss Gerry, Preston Valley Geographe
2967 bottles, 100% grenache, 6 months in old French oak, 14.3% alc, minimal additions.
How can you go past Geographe grenache… can you, if you love grenache? I don’t think so. The fruit for this wine is grown 4k’s away on a vineyard leased by the Edwards. The wine was so named after their friend, ‘The Wonderful Miss Gerry’ who tended the vineyard, prior to her death from ovarian cancer. The wine is a fitting tribute. Elegant and fine (like I have said so many times up to now in this article), this grenache is a picture of pretty red and black berries, spiced raspberry and a salivating intensity of fruit sweetness on the palate. My goodness it is great. Still a little raw and loosely knit, but it is open and undeniably beautiful, the fruit quality evident. I love this wine because it portrays a fruit spectrum that hits the spot so hard – I am so often searching for this level of satisfaction in wine. I found it here.
2017 Priapus, Preston Valley Geographe
3884 bottles, 100% cabernet sauvignon, 18 months in French oak, grown organically (home vineyard), 14.3% alc, minimal additions.
Coming from a life of cabernet everywhere I look (no complaints from me) I was surprised to see a cabernet on the table. Not that it doesn’t grow well here, it does, it’s just that so many other things grow well here, too! Back in very familiar territory on the nose, this speaks clearly of cabernet – brambly cassis, tobacco, black pepper and ferrous. The palate is medium weighted, the length of flavour and balance are perfectly on point. Perhaps lacking a bit of mid-palate weight, this is a very elegant and well put together wine, more in a claret style than a ball-tearing new-world cabernet style.
Not released yet
2018 Command, Preston Valley Geographe
Cabernet Sauvignon, unlabelled at the time of writing.
This is heading much more in the direction of saturated, intense and brooding cabernet. The berries have a prickly thistle character to them, the fruit wandering into a much more intense spectrum. The palate is dark and powerful, exhibiting a drive and berry permeation that brings a smile to my face, the flavours lingering long after the wine is gone. Sarsaparilla, raspberry, salted black liquorice, mulberry, salted ripe strawberry, blood plum… the spices are of the liquorice root, clove persuasion. This has cohesion and graceful force, the palate shape almost rounded, silky, the tannins provide a sure structure from which the fruit can hang. A super smart example of Australian cabernet.
Not released yet
2018 Priapus Cane Pruned, Preston Valley Geographe
Cabernet Sauvignon, unlabelled at the time of writing
If the major difference between this and the Priapus is the pruning, then it is a fascinating exercise, because the wines are wildly different. This exhibits a stemmy, spice driven nose, leading with resin, coffee bean, tobacco, fresh strapped leather, and graphite. These things are then bolstered by cassis and blackberry fruit beyond. I am fairly sure I wouldn’t call this out as Australian in a blind tasting. The palate is fine, savoury, clean, extremely elegant and firm. Structurally this has all it needs to head into the future, and the fruit sweetness is there too. Statuesque is a word. The pricing is bang on… any less any it would fall into a different category of cabernet, and this is a vey serious wine.