A marriage with real fizz

Danella BevisThe West Australian

It may be packed with some of the tastiest wine grapes the South West has to offer but newlyweds Alana and Paul Starkie's sparkling is not your average tipple.

This summer, the entrepreneurial young couple embarked on selling their second vintage of Sally's Lane sparkling grape juice, produced from premium local wine grapes from Alana's family vineyard, Shedley Wines at Bridgetown, and also Pemberley Estate.

The idea for the carbonated non-alcoholic juice was borne out of the couple's yearning to be self-sufficient and to create an alternative product for grapes normally destined for the wine market. Unlike traditional grape juices however, Sally's Lane juice varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Taminga, are a multi-faceted taste sensation.

"These juices have quite a distinct taste, the Sauvignon Blanc is quite floral with passionfruit flavours and the cabernet has strong blackcurrant tastes," Alana said.

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Alana, a sustainable agriculture project manager at the South West Catchment Council, and Paul, a teacher at Manjimup, began selling their sparkling juice at the Manjimup Farmers Market in December 2011 and sold out four months later.

"It's a niche market, it's an offshoot from wine really but when you're starting out it's important to get traction, to start selling it and getting it out there and the local markets are a good starting point," he said.

"The markets are significant for us, as the primary producers we need to change the way people think - we want locals to look at the markets as their first port of call."

The name Sally's Lane is a tribute to Paul's great grandmother, Sally Starkie, who was one of the original settlers of the area.

Alana and Paul, who grew up in Bridgetown and Middlesex respectively, have been surrounded by top-quality local produce for most of their lives and their latest venture capitalises on this advantage.

The couple, who married in December on their property in Middlesex, do much of the picking themselves, but sometimes call on local labour to help get the job done.

All of the grapes are hand-picked at a lower sugar level than if they were to be used in wine and are carbonated.

They use about 10 tonnes of grapes to produce a batch and use a secret variation of varieties to intensify the flavour.

The sparkling juice is bottled in March using a bottling plant Alana and Paul purchased themselves, with the entire process from picking to bottling taking a mere three weeks from start to finish.

"In order to stop the juice from fermenting it has to be very fast and very cold, and in the absence of oxygen," Alana said.

"We get it to as close to 0C as it gets without freezing it, then we bottle it at 2 to 5C.

"We try to pick premium fruit, it is important for the quality of the juice and for next year's vintage.

"Last year (2011) was the first year of commercial production but we had been playing around with the idea for a few years before."

Alana said the sparkling juice had been more popular than she had expected, with a big learning curve for the couple who approached many local small business owners for advice.

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