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The Brilliance of Flametree Wines

Cliff Royle, Flametree Wines’ chief winemaker, on what makes the Margaret River region such a great place to produce amazing wines.

The Margaret River region in Australia is home to many wineries, all of whom have played their part in bringing international acclaim to the region. One of the newbies who has brought glory to the Margaret River wine region is Flametree Wines, owned by the Towner family. Established in 2007, the winery has quickly become renowned for its range of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons. 

Compared to some of the pioneering wineries from the Margaret River industry, Flametree is a relatively young player. However, their wines have achieved acclaim well beyond their age. The Flametree name comes from the famous Illawarra Flame Tree and their property features a number of these trees along the driveway and their bright red flowers and berries stand out amongst their peers, just as we hope our wine does.

The winery is committed to producing consistently great wines, all of which champion the fruit of the Margaret River region. At the core of their day to day routine is a team of dedicated individuals who are proud of the place and the wines they make. Heading this team is Cliff Royle, the Chief Winemaker and General Manager. Cliff talks about his time producing quality wines, being a loyal employee of Flametree Wines and how he sees the Australian wine culture progressing in the years to come. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I have had the pleasure of working in the wine industry for most of my working life, after an initial stint in hospitality. I suppose you'd call me a loyal employee, as I've been at Flametree Wines for 12 years. Before that, I was at Voyager Estate for 12 years. My love for wine has been further enhanced by my travels over the years, and my absolute favourites are Barolos and Burgundies. After vintage, I love nothing more than to head up north, find some sunshine, put some beer on ice and go fishing with old schoolmates. At home in Margaret River, I love that wine brings a family together for meals filled with music, great food and lots of laughter.

According to you, what makes a great wine?

Making great wines starts with great fruit, fruit that can then allow the house style to shine. I follow great producers, not great vintages. Almost everyone can make a great wine in an outstanding vintage. However, the best winemakers always find a way to make quality wines in the context of what the vintage throws at them. I enjoy the challenge of lesser vintages in which you have to pull together all your resources as there is nowhere to hide. This is when your ability to manipulate the fruit and bring its positive features to the forefront count, as do years of experience. I believe that great wines must have perfume, elegance and structure, all integrated into perfect harmony. Most of all, my guide for a great wine is the surprise at how quickly the bottle is emptied!

What would be your typical day at work?

I’m very fortunate that I am employed at Flametree, both as a General Manager and Chief Winemaker. As such, my day to day role is quite complex. At the moment, I’m securing fruit for next year, talking to distributors about allocations, getting wines ready for bottling, and working on a spring release. I am also getting repairs and maintenance completed for the change of season and mapping out the next 6-12 months. Sometimes I’ll be in the winery, tasting and doing allocations all day and on others, I’ll be on a Zoom wine dinner in Singapore. The range of tasks and complexities is endless. Checking in and catching up with our small but very talented team on what’s happening in our backyard and abroad is always fun.

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Cliff with Winery Manager Julian Scott, Source Website

What excites you the most about Flametree Wines?

Our brand takes a very youthful approach. We don't get bogged down by traditions or get trapped by a particular winemaking methodology. The preference is to continue evolving while keeping a core philosophy and retaining a set style guide for just a few of our wines; the rest are always up for review. The fortunate thing is that our customers have come to expect and respect this. They come back for the wines they know and love and to try new styles that we are experimenting with. This flexibility gives us a fresh story and a competitive edge.

What do you consider your flagship wine and why?

Our flagship wine would be the Flametree S.R.S. Wallcliffe Chardonnay. The wine is modern in style and pushes the boundaries on minerality and complexity whilst retaining the underlying Margaret River fruit power that has made the region famous. The wine style is respectful of fruit purity, works well with food, and has the potential to age well. This wine has had huge national and international success and has firmly put Margaret River in the top international Chardonnay conversation. We use hand-picked fruit and large format oak with little to no MLF or lees stirring, looking for an ultimate site and clone purity.

Chardonnay is back in a big way and so it should. There are no greater wines than the white wines made from the Chardonnay grape. 

What are some wine trends you're expecting to see?

I can't speak for global trends, but in Australia, there is a growing trend towards 'alternate varietals' (i.e. not the usual big players such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc etc) as well as lighter-style reds. As I mentioned previously, some of these big players are also seeing a shift in style; with Chardonnay becoming more refined and Cabernet less heavily oaked and more fruit-forward.

Are you working on a new product right now? 

Yes, we are very excited to soon be releasing a new range called Pivot. These wines are in answer to the interest in alternate grape varietals and wine styles. Our first two wines will be a Marsanne and a Graciano, both of which are made using some unique vinification techniques and will be bottled unfiltered. The idea of Pivot is to turn things on their head; instead of moulding the fruit into a pre-decided wine specification, the fruit becomes the fulcrum around which the winemakers pivot. We're calling it "responsive winemaking" - we wait until the fruit arrives at the winery and let it dictate what we make from it. These wines will be available only on the domestic on-premise trade and our customers can't wait to try them.

Where can we find your products? 

We work with Jess and Mark at Vindependents to get our products to our member stores. Check out their website for a full list of suppliers: www.vindependents.co.uk. You can also find our products on our online store

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Wine tasting tours at Flametree, Source Facebook

Do you have a winery tour/tasting room experience for visitors?

Yes, we have a spacious, Hamptons-style Cellar Door which is close to the coast. We promote the experience as "fine wines in laid-back luxury". Our staff is trained not to reel off wine tasting notes as they are there to guide visitors towards their wine preferences. Although we make bloody good wine, there is no snobbery at Flametree.

Lastly, what are you drinking right now?

At the moment I’m pretty obsessed with 2016 Barolo’s, 2018/19 Burgundies, 2019 German Rieslings and the 2018 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is the best vintage in my 25 years as a winemaker in the Margaret River region.

Header Image- Flametree Wines, Source Facebook

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