The 203-hectare estate known as Pemberley, and the Radomiljac family who have been its custodians for more than sixty years, both have a rich tradition within the local food and agriculture industries. In the 1960s, Charlie and Joan Radomiljac purchased the original property. Over the years they raised eight children as well as growing legumes, potatoes and fruit; they ran livestock and operated a dairy; and operated catering businesses and a restaurant in the nearby town of Pemberton. In the 1990s as the couple looked to retire, and their son David and his wife Monica began considering the future. They decided to take a gamble on an emerging product – wine.
“The first thing we did when we purchased the farm was plant grapes,” says Monica. “We’d been spending time investigating the nascent wine industry, visiting existing vineyards and collecting vine stock from the blocks that were producing wines that we admired. We believed the science that said we were in a region that was extremely well suited to wine grapes and we were friends with other early adopters in the area. And it also came down to the fact that we just liked wine!”
Sixteen years later after planting these first vines, David Radomiljac was recognised as Western Australia’s Viticulturist of the Year by Wines of Western Australia. Today, Pemberley enjoys a reputation as one of the state’s leading small producers of high-quality wines that perfectly express a sense of Pemberton’s exemplary terroir. The wines have garnered more than a few accolades too, with their creamy, toasted-nut influenced Chardonnay, elegant Pinot Noir and zesty sparkling red and white wines, such as the Pemberley Lustre NV, being regularly pinned with gold medals and trophies at Western Australia’s premier wine shows.
“Our philosophy is, you can’t make great wines from bad grapes,” explains Monica. In line with this, the pair focus their attention on growing the highest quality fruit they can, and leave the finessing of the wine down a group of the best contract winemakers in the industry. Their longstanding partnership with Rob Bowen, one of the state’s most decorated winemaker with more than 47 years of experience, has been particularly fortuitous. In 2014 Rob was awarded Winemaker of the Year by Ray Jordan for the fine wines produced for Pemberley (and his own personal label), and the Jack Mann Medal for Outstanding Services to the WA Wine Industry in 2017.
“Andrew Cherry, Colby Quirk, Michael Ng, Ross Pamment and Janice McDonald are some of the other incredibly talented people we have to thank for our wines,” says Monica. “We tell them what our dreams are, and they conjure wonderful wines out of our great grapes.”
Visitors to the region are invited to come and taste these wines by appointment. By hosting groups of between four and twelve people at a time, the couple can provide an experience that goes far beyond pouring a few glasses. “We clear our schedule to give people our full attention,” Monica says. “People learn a bit about wine, a lot about vineyards and farming, and a vast amount about country hospitality and the amazing produce of this region.”
The huge variety of produce available in the wider Southern Forests region, and the enterprising nature of its residents, is represented by Pemberley’s multi-faceted microcosm. In addition to grapes, today Monica and David also farm marron, beef cattle and several varieties of potatoes. The gentle sloping terrain is also home to a truffiére of more than one thousand oak and hazelnut trees inoculated with the region’s famous Black Truffles (it’s hoped the first of these will be ready to harvest in 2021). Alongside this, Monica breeds pedigree Labrador Retrievers, crossing Australia’s top show dogs with world-class detection blood lines from Firefield Labradors, with the aim to produce sharp-nosed truffle hunters.
“It’s a challenge to keep on top of all of the facets of the business, but this diversity allows us protection,” Monica explains. “A bad vintage can be balanced by a good year of potatoes, or poor cattle prices can be countered by extra effort with marron sales.” The business is helped along by the efforts of their son, Jordan, and Lisa, his partner. Jordan studied both viticulture and molecular biology, and has been applying this expert knowledge to the farm since his return. Lisa lends a hand with the PR side of things, working on the wine label’s online presence; in addition to raising the first Pemberley grandchildren (and future spud pickers).
Monica is passionate about helping other local producers to succeed in their ventures too; she’s a past chair of the Southern Forest Food Council, which aims to raise the profile of the region as food producer and culinary destination. Currently, she’s a commissioner with the Agricultural Produce Commission, a government organisation that encourages growers and producers to form committees in order to drive initiatives, growth and security for their respective industries. She has also been a member of the Pemberton Wine Region Association for more than 23 years, representing the region on the Board of Wine of WA for several terms.
Monica says she’s driven to dedicate time to these various roles as it’s her civic duty to support the area that supports her. And by helping to raise recognition of the region, she adds, more jobs are created which assists the town to thrive. “We love the opportunities that our business brings us, and our local community. So we do what we can to support the region by attracting tourists, who then discover how wonderful our area is and how much there is to see and do.” In line with this, the couple host various events through the year at Pemberley, including an annual Sculpture in the Vines exhibition.
For Monica and her family, the region offers a chance to do what they love to do – grow amazing produce in a “fresh, clean, green and uncrowded” environment. “And we love to share what we do with others,” says Monica. “We’re extremely proud of our products.”
Photographs by Victoria Baker for Southern Forests Wine Regions.
Article produced for Southern Forests Wine Regions website by Amy Richardson.