MURRAY Gomm is crazy for apples.
Not the everyday varieties found in the over-stacked bins at Coles and Woolies, but the rare and curious versions that only to grow in the well-tendered gardens of old country homes and long-forgotten orchards.
It’s this love of apples, a passion the Albany winemaker can trace back to childhood, which inspired Murray to plant 30 heirloom apple trees in the garden at his bucolic south-coast vineyard.
“I have 30 apple trees, one each from 30 different varieties, which I bought from an 80-year-old man in Harvey who has 70 varieties growing in his backyard,” Murray says, carefully slicing a perfect maygold in the Oranje Tractor Wines’ rustic cellar door.
“He bought his trees from an old guy in Denmark who has 300 varieties growing on his property and now I have enough fruit in my orchard to sell some, poach some to freeze, and serve some on the platters here at Oranje Tractor Wines.
“My mum grew up in Mount Barker, where she worked in an apple packing shed, and I can remember her talking about these varieties when I was a kid.
“We have heirlooms like sundowner, twenty ounce cooker and nickerjack which are the best names for apples, vista bella which ripen in December making it a summer apple, Anna and Dorset golden which are also summer apples and need to be eaten the day they come off the tree, and red gem.”
While apples are still just a hobby it’s grape growing and wine making that are his passion and profession with Murray and partner Pam Lincoln creating thoughtful cool-climate wine on their 3ha estate in the peaceful paddocks a stone’s throw from Albany.
“We are really small, we’re certified organic and it’s because we’re small we can do that, we were rated five stars by (James) Halliday which puts us in the top 11 per cent of Australian wineries, and we hand pick everything which means we guarantee only the very best fruit goes into our wine.” Murray explains.
“We moved to Albany in 1993, planted the vines in 1998, had our first vintage in 2003, and now we make four different rieslings with the sparking a runaway success because it had an incredible depth of flavour.
“We also do a half-dry riesling which is popular because the dry riesling can be a bit hard on the palate so, to soften that blow, the half-dry has a bit of sugar but a dry finish that makes it a perfect match for spicy food.”
Oranje Tractor Wines – named after the property’s vintage Fiat tractor, with the unusual spelling adopted as a tribute to the working travellers that have pitched in on the property – occupies a corner of the Gomm family farm with Murray and Pam planting vines in Albany when they couldn’t afford land in Western Australia’s other wine regions.
“We decided we wanted to grow grapes and make wine but most of the properties we looked at were out of our price range,” Pam says while arranging the slices of a mandarin from her garden on a lunch platter packed with local goodies.
“Murray’s dad said there were some good wines produced in Albany, asked us to consider planting our vineyard here, and gave us part of the family farm to allow us to do this.
“The Albany wine region is a sub-region of the Great Southern, along with places like Denmark and Mount Barker, but each is climactically very different.
“Because Albany is on the coast we have even temperatures, we don’t get the really cold temperatures at night and the grapes don’t get cooked by the heat with the days here a little gentler on the vines.
“Our sauvignon blanc tends to be more interesting so we don’t blend it with semillon because it seems to stand alone with an intense flavour, and the pinot goes really well in the cooler climate, but Albany is all about the riesling.”
The writer was a guest of Tourism WA and Amazing Albany.
Albany is 400km from Perth, a journey that takes a little over four hours via the Albany Highway, with Virgin Australia flying to the destination from the West Australian capital several times a day. See www.amazingalbany.com.au
Oranje Tractor Wines’ Enoteca 513R cellar door and cafe opens from 11am to 5pm Saturday to Monday, as well as public holidays and during WA school holidays, with the estate closed from July to September. See www.oranjetractor.com
For more information on Albany and Western Australia’s beautiful southern coast visit the region’s tourism website. See www.australiassouthwest.com
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE COURIER MAIL ON SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014