When it comes to the family business, the new generation often either decides to join right away, or to branch out and do something different.
Winemaker Freya Hohnen experienced both sides of this journey when it came to her family’s business in wine, which is far reaching and influential in the Margaret River region. For example, her father David Hohnen was a founder of Cape Mentelle Vineyards, and set up McHenry Hohnen Vintners with her uncle Murray McHenry.
Although now well established in the wine industry with her own label Once & Well, and also the Walsh & Sons label alongside partner Ryan Walsh, Freya said she initially didn’t think she wanted to get into wine, as she told National Liquor News about growing up in a winery.
“The backdrop is Margaret River back in the 70s and 80s which was quite a small country town, quite humble, not what it is today. It was very exciting to be at a winery, as a young kid it felt like just a massive playground,” Freya said.
“And then as you get older, you’re the cool kid, cause your dad’s got a winery, so all round it was great… I just had this incredibly privileged upbringing.
“The only downside was my dad worked very, very hard, as all the wine pioneers here did, because they were kind of making it up for themselves as they went, with humble equipment and without the tourists. It was a hard slog, and so he was often away traveling and selling the wine, so we kind of missed out on him being around a lot. That was the payoff.”
Throughout her upbringing, Freya said she, like most people, took what was around her for granted. However, one of the big things that stuck with her was an interest in the environment and a desire to live in the country, rather than the city. Then when she left school, she booked a one-way ticket to France.
“I said, I’m going to France, I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m going. And I went there thinking, the last thing I would ever do would be the wine industry,” Freya said.
It was in France and seeing the French approach to wine connected to and complementing a meal, that Freya began to appreciate wine from a different perspective. After working a vintage in Provence, she decided that the wine industry was for her, and returned to Australia to study winemaking in Adelaide.
“I think a lot of [the passion for wine] was built through some very inspiring people. At university, we had a particularly good year group of very passionate people and we formed a wine club. We used to have a lot of events in the wine club, and really challenged ourselves with trying wines,” Freya said.
The first vintage Freya worked in Australia was at Brokenwood, before she moved back west for the first vintage at family endeavour, McHenry Hohnen. But after having children, she found it too difficult to continue winemaking while also being there for her young kids.
Freya was able to step back into winemaking when her children became a bit older, thanks to a new opportunity with Pinnacle Drinks, which saw her create the label Once & Well in collaboration with a South Australian team. She also still spends a lot of time with her father and continues to learn from him and the rest of the family. One of the biggest things she’s learned relates to the Once & Well name, and the mindset – ‘if you’re going to do something, do it well the first time.’
“One of the big ones for our family, and my mum’s on board with this too, is that at the end of the day, the most important thing is the texture of the wine and how it feels, more than how it smells and tastes… It’s really the feel of it,” Freya explained.
“While it’s important to have a wine that smells great and tastes great, if it doesn’t feel right or if it doesn’t roll around in your mouth to leave a fabulous sensation afterwards, you haven’t quite made it… It’s like when you make sparkling wine – they’re salivating wines that make you want to go back for another glass. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve, a wine that gets you thinking, ‘wow, that was a really lovely experience, I want to go back for another glass.”
The approach to winemaking that Freya has to get this end result starts in the vineyard. She said: “For me the most important thing is the picking decision, because when you pick fruit, everything else flows from there. If you can pick it at the optimum time, you can just really nurture what you’ve captured in the fruit. If you can capture it in the vineyard, then that experience will be there.”
Wine in Western Australia
The Hohnen family has an extensive connection to the wine industry in Western Australia, with David Hohnen being one of the influential building forces behind the Margaret River region.
Growing up throughout this time, and experiencing wine across Australia and the world, Freya sees the unique things that both Margaret River and Western Australia as a whole has to offer.
“One thing that just blows me away is how we’re just so heavily influenced by water here in Margaret River. We’ve got the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean, we have a river – everything about our region is about the influence of these bodies of water and how they affect our climates, and I think you can really see that in the wines from Margaret River. There’s a real power, freshness and purity about our wines that I think comes from the heavy influence of water bodies that surround us,” she said.
“When you mention the WA wine industry, I immediately just think, oh my gosh, it’s so exciting because we’ve got the Great Southern which just produces extraordinary wines, and things we can’t do a Margaret River. It’s a four hour drive to get down there and there’s Chardonnays that are beautiful but so different to ours, plus the Shiraz and the Riesling that are super exciting from down that way.
“And then you’ve got the Swan Valley doing super cool, interesting things with Chenin Blanc and they’ve got their own thing going on while Margaret River’s got its own thing going on, then there’s all these little sub regions in between. I get so excited by the diversity between our regions, and the delicious wines that you can find in each of them.”