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The River Wine Trail

Our Trails

The River Wine Trail

You may have noticed that the Premier Mill Hotel, and its home, Katanning, is in the centre of a vast territory. Each of our trails take you on a journey through a unique part of that territory, connecting you, through different stories, to a landscape, and to the people who’ve made their lives there. Each journey has a sweep that feels epic, and it’s our hope that you’ll finish each day pleasantly tired and satisfied, knowing you’ve wandered among a living history that you can see and touch. And having been forever changed by the experience.

However, if your idea of “epic” is a relaxing morning or afternoon drive, tasting some award-winning wines, some good coffee, a nice lunch and maybe a siesta, then the river wine trail may be more to your liking. This trail crosses some beautiful country and distinctly different landforms, but on a more compact scale. Plus, there’s wine.

We start by driving across to Katanning’s closest neighbour to the west, Kojonup. We are heading for lush pastures and rich soils today, and you’ll notice the subtle change in the country as we begin to roll over the steeper hills of the south-west corner of the State. Our route takes us down the main street of Kojonup. At the bottom of the hill, just past the town centre, you’ll see a giant replica wool wagon where the Albany Highway crosses the creek. This is a little precinct that will reward you if you stop to stretch your legs. If you haven’t already seen it in your travels, take some time to wander through the award-winning Kodja Place, and see the Arnold Potts memorial in Apex Park. Then just a little way down the street is the 1907 train station that still functions as the Kojonup Tourist Railway. In a few blocks, you can take in the history of the area in one sweep: from the Kaneang Noongar heritage, through early European settlement, to the region becoming known for its prized blue merino wool.

Next time you are in the Cordial Bar, ask to sample some of the Frankland River wines on the menu and see if you can taste where you have been.

In 1955, visiting Californian professor Dr Harold Olmo, asked to report on the suitability for viticulture across Western Australia, selected Mount Barker and Frankland River in particular. He noted the similarity of the area’s climate to France’s Bordeaux region, especially the cool summers that allow the best ripening conditions for vines and their berries. Encouraged by this and some follow-up research supported by the Western Australian Grape Industry Committee, one hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Shiraz and Malbec were planted. ‘Plus, the arse had fallen out of the wool industry,’ one old-timer has been quoted as saying. ‘We had to try something.’ We are glad they did. Alkoomi is usually open for cellar sales and tastings, which can be enjoyed overlooking their vineyards to the south.

Part of the fascination with wine is seeing first-hand that connection from soil, through to cultivation, harvest, fermentation, pressing, ageing, bottling, and finally tasting. The marri loam soils of this region have their origin in weathered granite outcrops and are typically a rich red in colour. A thin layer of ironstone-based gravel lines the valleys and hills around here, and it’s this that gives Frankland River wines their unique flavour.

Just around the corner, after turning south on Ferngrove Road, you’ll find the impressive Ferngrove winery. They have mid-week cellar sales by appointment only, but even if just driving through, you can begin to appreciate the scale of wine production in the region as you pass row upon row of vines.

We then continue south and turn to follow what the locals call Jarrah Road: one that changes its name a few times but is essentially the same road. It runs through the Quindinup Nature Reserve, which is another place to enjoy a brief pause to soak up the sounds of the bush before continuing on to the Muir Highway, and taking a left turn back towards the east and the small town of Rocky Gully. This town (like Jerramungup in the east) was established after the war service land settlement schemes of the 1950s. It has a classic country pub if it’s that time of day and you are in the mood for a quiet one and a yarn with a few locals.

Turning for home, we head north on the Rocky Gully-Frankland Road, past another large winemaker, Frankland Estate, established in 1988. Its cellar sales are by appointment only, so call ahead when you are planning the trip if you’d like to do some tasting.

For the return trip, we’ll take a slightly more inland route, via Shamrock Road, to get another view of this abundant and diverse farming country, before connecting with Albany Highway just south of Kojonup and retracing our steps back to Katanning from there.