Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine ever made by Howard Park and it remains our flagship to this very day under the iconic Abercrombie label. Since 1986, Abercrombie has changed and evolved, yet its uncompromising commitment to quality and excellence has remained the same. This can be seen first and foremost in the many coveted accolades and glowing reviews it has accumulated over the decades. However, nothing can quite compare to the outpouring of praise for the 2018 vintage.
The superb conditions of 2018 amplified all the best characteristics of Abercrombie reaffirming its place in the top echelon of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. As Tyson Stelzer writes, “This textbook vintage has given birth to an Abercrombie that will go down among the greats…” Tyson’s sentiments were further reinforced when it received a Double Gold at the 2022 Global Fine Wine Challenge, an invitation-only competition restricted to the top 120 wines of each country included, but the accolades did not stop there.
In late 2022 Abercrombie was also awarded ‘Three Merits’ in The Real Review’s Wine Classification of Australia. This tier is described as ‘iconic wines of the country, wines of true provenance and exemplary track record’ with fewer than 0.5% of wines produced achieving this status. It was one of only six 100% Cabernet Sauvignons to achieve this level of recognition.
Great Southern – beginnings
The story of Abercrombie is interwoven into the very history of Howard Park Wines itself. The journey began in the far reaches of the Great Southern on a wedge of leased farmland halfway between Denmark and Mount Barker. In 1975, this prized patch of earth was among the first plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Great Southern. Planted to the Houghton clone, these vines would become the backbone of the wine we know today as Abercrombie.
The vines were originally planted without the aid of irrigation. This decision was most likely driven by utility at the time, but it would prove crucial to the ultimate success of the vineyard and the subsequent wine it produced. The vine cuttings were required to develop dense and deep root systems to extract the nourishment required to bear fruit, while lower yields allowed for greater purity, concentration and intensity of flavour in the grape bunches.
In 1986, winemaker John Wade purchased his first parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon from the vineyard for the fledgling Howard Park label. This rare and special site provided the foundation upon which the tradition of Abercrombie has been built. From the beginning, John’s goal was to craft powerful yet supple, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon from the cool climate and unique soils of Mount Barker. Through the years different winemakers have had a hand in the production of this wine, yet the vision has remained steadfastly the same: to honour its heritage and provenance while simultaneously striving to make the best Cabernet Sauvignon possible.
After carefully tending and improving these vines for over 20 years, Burch Family Wines purchased the vineyard outright in 2012. The site was then named the Abercrombie Vineyard after Walter Abercrombie, the much-loved Great Grandfather and mentor of owner Jeff Burch.
Margaret River – evolution
With the emergence of Margaret River as a preeminent area for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, it seemed only natural for Abercrombie to evolve to incorporate fruit from this region. The opportunity for this evolution presented itself in 1997 when the Burch Family established the Leston Vineyard. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Abercrombie.
With exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon from both Margaret River and Great Southern at their fingertips, the Burch Family were presented with the possibility of multi-regional blending. By using the absolute best fruit from both locations, they could add significantly to the complexity of the wine while still respecting its legacy. This change repositioned Abercrombie as a distinctly ‘West Australian’ Cabernet Sauvignon that could draw from two prized vineyards to reflect the absolute finest fruit the state has to offer.
Now with two mature, expressive and nuanced Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards to draw from, winemaker at the time, Michael Kerrigan, made the bold decision to make Abercrombie 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with no blending varieties added. That was in 2005 and ever since that vintage, this direction has been maintained. This also happened to be the year that the Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon was given the name Abercrombie.
It was at this point that the Burch Family embraced a thoughtful and uncompromising approach to viticulture at the Leston Vineyard. 2007 saw the planting of Block 29, with the aim of producing exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon as its sole guiding principle. Using the Abercrombie Vineyard as its precedent, Block 29 was established without the aid of irrigation encouraging vine resilience and fruit concentration. This forethought and dedication saw Block 29 excel, its fruit becoming a cornerstone of Abercrombie for the foreseeable future.
The Leston vineyard improvements did not end there. First planted in 1997, Block 8 underwent a radical makeover in 2010 as the pruning and trellising practices were completely changed and yields markedly decreased. The immediate increase in fruit quality as a result of this work was quickly noticed by former Senior Winemaker Janice McDonald. Now both blocks continue to make valuable and significant contributions to Abercrombie year after year.
2018 Vintage – definitive
Angus Hughson from Wine Pilot recently awarded the Abercrombie 97 points, writing that “the 2018 vintage go(es) down as one of the best in recent memory.” 2018 was one of, if not the best, Cabernet Sauvignon vintages of the decade in Western Australia. This excellent year showcased Abercrombie’s absolute best characteristics, from its fruit intensity, purity, and elegance to its structure and balance.
Heavy winter rains provided ample replenishment of the water tables, which meant the dry-grown blocks had sufficient soil moisture to flourish. A gentle, temperate spring led into a warm, extended summer, a textbook progression of seasons for the ideal vintage. Then right around veraison, there was a ‘mega blossom’ of Marri trees, the most blossoms in living memory, which kept native resident birds well away from the ripening grape bunches.
A long, dry and warm autumn, almost like a second summer, preceded with minor rain events providing a much-needed drink for the red vines. Vintage arrived right on schedule and saw optimum Cabernet Sauvignon fruit arrive at the winery. With ultra-fine, perfectly ripe tannins, moderate sugars, good natural acidity, vibrant colours and complex, lifted aromas, the 2018 Abercrombie reflects the highs of what can be achieved in a superb Cabernet Sauvignon vintage.
The winemaking of Abercrombie is centred around the art of the blend and as such it requires immense skill. By drawing from two exceptional vineyards in two different premium wine regions, the winemakers are tasked with crafting a uniquely ‘West Australian’ Cabernet Sauvignon that reflects the absolute best fruit the state has to offer. Each vintage and vineyard has its own individual strengths. The winemakers blend the different parcels of fruit in such a way that it showcases the strengths of each site and season to create a harmonious, complex, and elegant whole.
2018 vintage was a winemaker’s dream, the only challenge being how best to complement and amplify the superb quality of the fruit. The 2018 blend was led by Margaret River which made up 78% of the wine while Great Southern accounted for 22%.
Small parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon were hand-picked, sorted and destemmed to remove matter other than grapes before fermentation. Fermentation occurred in headed-down closed stainless and small open vat steel fermenters. Selected parcels remained on skins post-fermentation to further enhance the tannin profile, while others were pressed at dryness to capture fruit vibrancy. Each batch was matured separately in order to build a wine history over time. The wine spent 22 months in 60% new and 40% older French oak barriques before a final blend was assembled and allowed to harmonise in tank prior to bottling.