By Ken Gargett
Tony Mann was a more than decent cricketer, a leg spinner, who played several Tests for Australia back in the 70s. He was the first (or second, depending on how one views Pakistani, Nasim-ul-Ghani, who is supposedly the first but was always considered well above tail-ender/nightwatchman status and who got his ton many years before Tony) to score a century in a test match, batting as a nightwatchman.
Tony’s father, Jack, was one of the true pioneers of the Western Australian wine industry, working at Houghton’s in the Swan Valley from 1922 to 1973 – perhaps only D’arry Osborn from d’Arenberg has more vintages under his belt. Wine was always in his blood. His father worked at Chateau Tanunda in the Barossa and his mother came from the well-known Sobels winemaking family. Jack joined Houghton’s to work with his father, George, who was chief winemaker. When George retired in 1930, Jack took over. He brought in numerous innovations, many adopted around the industry.
Jack was responsible for the ubiquitous, in its day, Houghton’s White Burgundy, one of Australia’s best-loved whites, and in 1964, he was awarded the MBE for his services to the West Australian wine industry. Jack passed away in 1989. He was also a highly respected cricketer himself, though not reaching quite the level of his son. Jack’s other son, Dorham, is another well respected winemaker, as is grandson, Robert, who was chief winemaker at Cape Mentelle for a period. Granddaughter Kate Lamont is a well-known chef and author.
Not surprisingly, Houghton’s have named their flagship wine, the ‘Jack Mann’. The latest, the 17th in the line, is a Cabernet Sauvignon from 2017 ($175), from the Frankland River region. It comes from the Justin Vineyard, where the soils, some of the oldest on the planet, are degraded granite gravels. The vines were 46 years of age, at the time the grapes for this wine were harvested (by hand). The clone of Cabernet is actually an original Houghton clone, one that was selected by Jack himself.
2017 was warm and dry with several rain events scattered throughout the season. The preceding winter had seen “healthy rainfall”, closer to what had been the norm. The spring was wet and cool. Ripening and harvest was around three weeks later than the short term average. In other words, an excellent vintage.
The grapes were handsorted and then de-stemmed before going into small open-top fermenters. Indigenous yeasts were allowed to rule and hand plunging continued for ten days before pressing. The wine then went to French oak barriques for 17 months. The blend is 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with just 2% of Malbec, with an alcohol level of 14%. It was made by their Senior Winemaker, Ross Pamment, just the 13th winemaker (Jack was the fourth) in Houghton’s 180-year history.
For me, there is some toasty oak immediately noticeable, but it is well integrated and does not intrude on the overall balance. Lots of chocolate here, cedar, tobacco leaf, plums, licorice, prunes and cassis. There is a pleasing richness, but the wine maintains finesse and balance throughout. It really does persist impressively but never loses its intensity. The texture is delightfully supple and the tannins, abundant tannins, are like melting silk. A wine with excellent potential, ten years plus. This is a really good wine. 96