Howard Park and the Burch family

The pursuit of Western Australia’s finest terroir
5 minutes

Pedigree. It’s a word that can be overused in the wine world; one that’s often bandied around by marketers and added to the back labels of wines dreamt up in focus groups. For some, however, it’s part of what makes them so special.

Pedigree and the pursuit of exceptional terroir has been with Howard Park from the very beginning. John Wade left his role as winemaker at Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate, one of the most sought-after winemaking jobs in Australia, to explore new frontiers for fine Australian wine in Western Australia. John was one of the pioneers of the Great Southern, today recognised as one of our most exciting regions.

John crafted a range of exceptional wines with a true sense of place from Great Southern. The baton was passed to the Burch family in the late 1990s and one of the great modern Australian wine dynasties was born. Since then the family have expanded to new regions, enjoyed an enviable track record of success and forged a winemaking partnership with renowned Burgundian winemaker, Pascal Marchand.

Today, Howard Park is part of Western Australia’s largest family-owned wineries and a proud member of Australia’s First Family of Wine. The Burch family is led by the CEO Jeff and General Manager/Marketing Director, Amy. The husband and wife team are just the beginning of this truly family affair. Daughter Natalie looks after operations in Margaret River while sons David and Richard look after online sales and marketing and sales for the East Coast of Australia respectively. A testament to the family’s unwavering commitment to quality, every year the family seek to build every on the pedigree they originally brought to Great Southern in the 1980s.

‘We have a simple philosophy; premium wine can only come from excellent fruit. Simply, we go to wherever the fruit grows best.’

Jeff Burch, CEO, Burch Family Wines

Great Southern – The original home of Howard Park

Great Southern is aptly named, as it is pounded by the Southern Ocean and is renowned for its dramatic cliffs, white sandy beaches and bays in Western Australia. This is country that is dominated by the magnificent stands of the veteran hardwoods of the region – karri, marri, jarrah and other eucalypts. The diverse landscape provides an ideal environment for creating distinctive regional wines. 

This is an area that is as vast as it is diverse. The regional boundary extends 150 kilometres north to south and 100 kilometres east to west. As you move north and inland from the strongly maritime-influenced climate of Denmark, the continental influence and temperature variability increases significantly. Elevation, aspect and sites vary widely, but in general terms the climate towards the north in Mount Barker is slightly warmer on the higher sites.

Though rainfall is greater and relative humidity increases in the south around Denmark, heat summation and sunshine hours do not change greatly, so careful site selection allows for the production of virtually every wine style. The region is capable of producing excellent Riesling, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Are two wine regions better than one?

If Howard Park only had the Great Southern region to call on they’d still be famed as one of the top wineries in Western Australia. Since 1986 they’ve built a loyal following for their long-lived and elegant Riesling from Mount Barker. Today the Burch family craft exquisite Chardonnay from the Porongurup and Mount Barker sub regions for their collaboration with Pascal Marchand, Marchand and Burch.

From the very beginning of their tenure as custodians, the Burch family have been ambitious. This ambition led them to build on their success in Great Southern in the most renowned region in Western Australia, Margaret River.

One of the secrets of the Burch’s and Howard Park’s success is that they don’t do things by halves. If they believe in something they will give it everything to ensure it triumphs. The expansion into Margaret River is a perfect example of this. Jeff and Amy purchased land for the vineyard in 1988 and since then the old sheep farm has been turned into one of the region’s viticultural gems.

A sheep farm becomes exceptional Australian terroir 

It will come as no surprise that the design and development of the vineyard was taken care of by another Burch family member. Jeff’s brother David is an absolute perfectionist. From 16 years as a leading member of the renowned Australian Ballet Company to his work in creating their Leston vineyard, if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing superbly. The vineyard is named after Jeff’s father and mentor, Leston Burch. Extensive soil mapping ensures that the right varieties are planted in the right sections, taking advantage of the exceptional terroir that the Margaret River is famous for.

‘It all starts in the vineyard. We’ve identified prime sections in our vineyards in the two Western Australian regions we are in, Great Southern and Margaret River. We are constantly trying improve there. While in the winery, in every single vintage we refine our craft…’

Richard Burch, Howard Park

The future for the Burch family and Howard Park

The Burch family’s commitment to the region goes further than just the vineyard. In 2000 they completed their acclaimed cellar door and winery. The buildings combine modern Australian with traditional feng shui principles promoting good chi, the flow of positive spirit and feeling. For a family, well-used to winning awards for their wines, it was probably a surprise to find themselves winning awards for architecture. But anyone lucky enough to visit the estate will be impressed by the way the buildings resonate with the iconic Margaret River landscape and the pedigree of the wines from Howard Park.

In a relatively short space of time the Burch’s have built the wonderful legacy of John Wade into a beacon for Western Australian wine around the world. Whether it’s thanks to good chi, continual improvement in the vineyards and the wines or a little bit of everything, there’s no argument that the Burch family have grown Howard Park into one of Australia’s great family wineries. Today, the next generation are ready to build on Jeff and Amy’s work, ensuring there’s a very, very bright future for Howard Park and for Australian wine. 

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