Behind the global brand of Sandalford Wines lies a rich and fascinating history. Sandalford’s establishing estate at Caversham, Swan Valley, had its genesis in 1840 and coincided with both European settlement in the burgeoning colony of Perth and the birth of Western Australia’s world famous wine industry.
Queen Victoria granted John Septimus Roe, Western Australia’s first Surveyor General, 4,000 acres of land on the riverbanks at West Swan in honor of his 57 years of service to the Commonwealth. He named the property Sandalford after a priory in Berkshire, England. - his original home. Among J S Roe’s significant legacy was the setting aside of Kings Park, and laying out the towns of Perth and Fremantle.
Roe and his wife Matilda had 13 children, and Sandalford was left to his eldest son James Broun Roe. Upon J.B. Roe’s death, Sandalford passed to his son John Frederick Roe, who took a keen interest in the fertile lands of the estate.
A fascinating memoir by Frederick Logue, the son of Sandalford Estate’s manager in the early 1900s, illustrates this significant era. Sandalford was the Swan Valley’s pioneering agrarian estate with cropping, cattle grazing, vegetables and extensive vineyards and fruit orchards. The property hummed to seasonal rhythms – Summer stone fruit picking was followed by harvesting grapes until late Autumn when the currants, sultanas and raisins were dried on wire netting racks and the yearly task of seducing the soil into producing the next crop began all over.
An early emphasis was on table grapes for the local market. John Septimus had experimented with all the varieties that found their way to the new colony – many from South Africa – and the most suited to the estate’s terroir thrived. Muscats, Malagas, Frontignacs, Chasselas and Ohanez, a thick-skinned Spanish grape which proved highly suitable for export, were harvested by hand in what young Logue described as ‘a pursuit of excellence where bunches were handled in such a way as to not disturb the grape’s natural bloom’.
A horse drawn lorry collecting the full cases supported the labour of picking. Table grapes positioned in open, overflowing jarrah boxes were carted to metropolitan markets the evening of the day they were packed.
Sandalford’s export grapes were the ‘aristocrats of the vineyard.’ J.F. Roe was the first of the Swan Valley vignerons to engage overseas markets and pioneered the use of cork dust as a means of preserving grapes during the long sea transits.
The picking of the wine grapes – Shiraz, Verdelho, Cabernet Sauvignon and Frontignac – was a relatively easy matter; the bunches were left on the vines until a simple test revealed they had reached their desired sugar content. The grapes were transferred, by horse lorry and later a very impressive Chevrolet truck, to the nearby winery where Roe oversaw pressing and bottling.
The estate survived the Depression because it was both well diversified and well managed. Commercial winemaking accelerated during the 1940s after World War II. Migrants – particularly Croatians and Italians – had began to come to the Swan Valley after the first war, and the second wave was particularly auspicious for the wine industry as the immigrants brought new knowledge and techniques.
The estate flourished and wines produced from its vines satisfied the requirements of the local community and indeed further afield as the region’s reputation grew.
The winemaker at Sandalford Wines from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s was Dorham Mann - son of famed wine-making pioneer Jack Mann. Under Dorham's advice, the Roe family evaluated expanding into the Margaret River region in South Western Australia.
This area had earlier been assessed by University of WA viticultural scientist Dr John Gladstones as being an ideal climate and terrior for growing premium wine grapes, with its general conditions likened to the famed region of Bordeaux in France. Based on this, the Roe family purchased a 300 hectare property at Wilyabrup, planted vines in 1970, and joined a handful of others in pioneering Western Australia’s second classic wine region – a destination now recognised on the world stage for amazing Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay with a developing reputation for Shiraz.
The 1990s heralded a new era for Sandalford Wines. WA’s Prendiville family was already immersed in tourism and hospitality when they identified Sandalford Wines as a perfect fit for their growing portfolio of iconic businesses. In 1992, the Prendivilles successfully acquired Sandalford and devised a plan to revitalise the 160 year old Western Australian brand. After spending $6 million dollars redeveloping the company’s facilities, their vision of a business that not only produces wines of distinction but also has the perfect synergy of wine and tourism has come to fruition.
With a declared passion for creating excellent wines, Debra and Peter Prendiville and their family continue to bring innovations from around the world to Sandalford. Their travels broaden distribution to dozens of countries where wine was uncommon such as China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Norway as well as expanding traditional markets into Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai.
In one of Australia’s most sustainable wineries at Caversham, Swan Valley, Sandalford creates today’s collection of Prendiville, Estate Reserve, Margaret River Range and Element award-winning wines from its two fertile vineyards. With advanced viticultural practices and a progressive winemaking team, the Sandalford brand enjoys a long-standing reputation for quality and exceeding expectations at every price point.
John Septimus Roe would have been amazed – and very likely proud – to know today wines from his founding estate are exported to over 40 countries around the globe.