It is a very long way from the rolling green hills of Kent, in the South-Eastern corner England, to the dramatic rugged coastline of Western Australia’s Great Southern. And for James Kellie of Apricus Hill he was surprised as anyone to find himself on the other side of the globe from his birth and in one of the world’s most remote wine regions.
James first arrived in Australia at the age of 19, straight out of school with a foray in the wine industry far from his mind. After a flirtation with Zoology and Veterinary Sciences he found himself importing and selling high-end gifts to Sydney’s elite. This world quickly gave him an introduction to top class wine and not long after James and his wife Careena starting to take a serious interest, frequently travelling up to the Hunter Valley to sample its wares.
Slowly the wine bug took over and having always wanted to go back to study James upended his new family, including two young children, and moved to Wagga Wagga to begin his winemaker training. Along the way a student trip took him to meet John Wade – a man whom did much to uncover the Great Southern region. Two years later, and with his studies done, James dragged his family once again, this time over the Nullabor Plain to the small town of Denmark where he scored his dream job of Assistant Winemaker under John at one of the area’s founding wineries – Howard Park.
At the time James comforted his wife and their now three children that it would only be five years in this most remote of regions and they would be returning to civilization in the not too distant future. 17 years later and with two significant vineyards under the family name it seems unlikely that they will be going anywhere in a hurry.
James’ move to the Great Southern coincided with exciting times for the region as it was just starting to emerge on the national scene and its potential was being unfurled by a handful of pioneers. As assistant winemaker under the highly regarded John Wade, James helped out with many contract winemaking gigs – assisting small local growers to make the very best with what nature had given them. James had the pleasure of driving around this vast region, meeting the grapegrowers while making and tasting their wines, and occasionally discovering great vineyard resources, which would certainly come in handy some years later.
One of these vineyards was Harewood Estate. And in 2003 with its owners moving on James made this his first winery purchase, this Estate now turning out a fantastic range, both in terms of value and quality. While Harewood Estate includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling vines he added wines made with growers fruit from the Porongurups, Mount Barker, Frankland River and Denmark, all bottled under Harewood Estate.
The Denmark fruit has always been some of James’ favourite, used primarily for the Reserve Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends, sourced from the Apricus Hill vineyard. One of the most Southerly vineyards in Western Australia, just off the coast, and also the highest in the region, this vineyard has long been regarded as one of the best sources of Great Southern fruit. Recently the property came up for sale and as James could not bear to see the fruit go elsewhere, he purchased it.
Recent years have been a little nerve wracking in the Kellie house – as the first releases under the new label went on sale. But they should never have feared as all the wines are exceptional – the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in particular marking high benchmarks that compete with the best from around the country. Understated and generous the wines reflect not only the site but also the man behind them.