Just over 100 years ago, ancestors of David Radomiljac made the long journey from Split, Croatia, the Lakes District of England and from Victoria to settle in the region of Eastbrook, just north of Pemberton. Now, generations later, their grandson David along with his wife Monica are still farming the land.
David, born on the next hill over from Pemberley, was one of eight children of Charlie and Joan Radomiljac. Charlie and Joan, along with their brood, worked hard on the land to clear bush to create paddocks ready for horticulture. Utilising the rich karri loam soil to cultivate food crops like brassicas, beans, peas and potatoes, the farm was successful, so they were able to experiment in other areas of agriculture. They milked cows, grew peaches, you name it, David says they’ve done it. In their spare time, when others would rest, the Radomiljac family operated a catering business where they’d routinely roast a pig on a spit or serve up slow cooked lamb and gravy rolls.
When David’s parents began to wind down, David and Monica were ready to ramp up. They purchased the farm off Charlie and Joan and looked to diversify. After considering a few options, they felt like wine would be a good bet. They sought advice from many growers across Western Australia and were told to begin by planting some white and some red varieties, perhaps chardonnay and merlot. David recalls his reply was ‘Right, so which one of those is white and which is red?’.
Applying their experience across such a vast range of agricultural activities, David and Monica have worked steadily to improve the quality, maintenance, and yield of their vines. It didn’t take long to see the fruits of their labour, with their first vintage of wine in 1996. At that early stage, it was chardonnay and shiraz. They met winemaker Rob Bowen, and a partnership began, for nearly twenty years David and Rob together created some exceptional wines. Expanding the vineyard, David and Monica put in blocks of sauvignon blanc, and semillon, discovering the individuality and intricacies of each of the varieties.
Pemberley has been recognised with a few notable awards over the years. David was presented with Western Australia’s Viticulturalist of the Year by Wines of Western Australia in 2011, and in 2014 Rob was awarded Winemaker of the Year by Ray Jordan for the fine wines produced for Pemberley (and his own personal label), as well as the Diana Cullen, Ian Tyrer and Jack Mann awards for services to the WA Wine Industry. The Radomiljac’s have been proud to see a range of awards across their wines, notable mentions being their sparkling chardonnay pinot noir blend ‘Lustre’ receiving Best Sparkling at the Wine Show of Western Australia in 2018 and 2019, and just this week they were awarded trophies for their two sparkling wines at the Southern Forests and Valleys Wine Show.
The Radomiljac’s eldest son, Jordan, returned to the farm in 2016 after wrapping up his studies in viticulture and plant biology. He now oversees the personnel, and acts as David’s right-hand man. Across the year, staff levels fluctuate depending on the progression of the growth of the vines. After budburst in early September (the first signs of life after the winter dormancy), the vines are passed over several times with wire dropping, trunk rubbing, wire lifting and leaf plucking. With 300km of vines to manage, it’s a lot of on-foot work, and Jordan has the calluses to show for it.
The relationship with the Bowen family continues today, through close ties with Howard Park Wines. Rob’s son Nick Bowen, now head winemaker for Howard Park, crafts several of the wines in the Pemberley range. Other wines have been produced by Colby Quirk at Sittella in the Swan Valley (known for his sparkling wines), Andrew Cherry at Alkoomi in the Frankland River, and closer to home Michael Ng of Silkwood who crafts the Pemberley Pinot Noir. This diversity of winemakers allows strength across the range, drawing on the expertise from these specialists.
Beyond wine grapes, the Pemberley portfolio is diverse. Every September the fields are seeded with potatoes and irrigated until harvest comes in January. They fire up the tractors in the still of the night, and dig potatoes until dawn, relying on the cool of the morning to keep the produce fresh. Before 8am the one-tonne bins of spuds are heaved onto trucks and sent to be washed and packed, before landing on supermarket shelves that night. Other deliveries of potatoes head off to the WA Chip factory in Manjimup (WA’s last surviving hot chip factory) where they’re carved up and frozen. Some of Dave’s potatoes even head down to Ampersand Estates, where a complicated process of stilling transforms them into stunning alcohol bases for the Rainfall Vodka and Gin.
Along with potatoes, Pemberley runs about 90 head of Angus beef cattle, most of which go on to become breeding stock for other farms. Jordan’s mornings are spent pulling marron traps for wholesale and sales direct through the cellar door. The newest addition to the farm is the trufferie, with 2 hectares of inoculated hazelnut and oak trees. Clever Labrador Rey sniffed out the first Pemberley truffle in 2022, and the family are eager to production increase in the coming years.
Jordan’s wife Lisa has added her touch since joining the family, polishing the cellar door experience, expanding the marketing reach, and has developed a range of cellar door events. Open by appointment, the family offer a ‘Pemberley Wine Experience’ through their cellar door – a tasting like no other. Groups of 4 to 16 people can enjoy a personalised tasting with David and Lisa, where they’re taken through the wide range of estate-grown wines and farm produce tastes. Pemberley was recent awarded the 2022 Gourmet Traveller Magazine ‘Best Cellar Door Experience’ for the Southern Forests region.
A highlight of the event calendar, ‘Pass the Pinot’ is held soon after harvest concludes. This dinner event takes guests through a vertical tasting of Pinot Noir. Tasting back-vintages of the same wine side by side, the deep-dive into the wine’s history encourages a focus on the palate to pick up on nuances of taste and varying characteristics imprinted by changes in climate, harvest or wine making. For those unable to make it to the event, Lisa organises a ‘play along at home’ pack with opportunity to livestream the event to hear the commentary about each wine. It’s a jovial night filled with a lot of debate – with six Pinots to compare, the opinions are often split!
Monica splits her time between managing the farm accounts, coordinating the production of Pemberley wines across all the winemakers at five locations, and is a Commissioner on the Agricultural Produce Commission (APC). Monica’s involvement with the Commission helps her to have her finger on the pulse of the agricultural industry, as the APC provides for the development and security of horticultural and other agricultural industries through producer committees. All the producer’s committees together work towards a healthy agriculture industry which ultimately provides a sustainable living for producers. Almost all of the horticultural industries in the Southern Forests region are supported by an APC committee for their crop.
Holidays to her favourite place, Rottnest Island, allow her a few moments of peace and quiet to scheme up the next big plan. Like most farmers, David gets into a tizzy ahead of the impending holiday, as he rushes about the farm to ensure all loose ends are tied up. Thankfully, the Radomiljac’s can rely on a trusted team of staff to keep the wheels turning in their absence. Their yearly pilgrimage to Broome allows David and Monica to reconnect with their northern distributers, who move large quantities of the Broome themed ‘Pemberley Estate’ range wines. The colourful labels depict classic scenes of the Kimberley, which tickle the fancy of the masses of tourists who visit the region during the dry season.
What will come of the next few years? There are a few new releases in the pipeline, an expansion of the vineyard to increase the volume of produced Prosecco, and the continuation of the yearly calendar of events at the cellar door. The Paddock to Plate dinner is back in December, a collaboration with Ryan’s Quality Meats and Tall Timbers brewery showcasing the incredible produce grown in the Southern Forests. Planning sessions with the Pemberton Arts Group have begun for 2023’s Sculpture in the Vines, an outdoor exhibition amongst the vines displaying work by talented 3D makers from across the state. There’s definitely no slowing down for this industrious family.
You can find Pemberley of Pemberton wines for sale extensively within the Southern Forests region and metro Perth. Check the website for a full list of stockists to find seller near you. Book an appointment to visit them at their cellar door here.
Photography by Frances Aldrijdch, Victoria Baker, High Tide and Pemberley of Pemberton.
Published September 2022 on the Southern Forests Food website.