Margaret River - Western Australia
“The closest thing to paradise of any wine region” Jancis Robinson
For years I have been yearning to travel to Western Australia and visit the wineries in the Margaret River region. At last I got my opportunity when my wife and I decided to visit Perth to see the opening performance of La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer) ballet. Why ballet? Well, turns out the West Australia Symphony Orchestra was being conducted by our good friend, and fellow Guelphite, Judith Yan. We arrived in time for opening night and were overjoyed to see the choreography of Greg Horsman and enjoy the music of Ludwig Minkus presented by the orchestra with Judith wielding the baton. We enjoyed the performance so much that we decided to attend the second night!
After our brush with the behind the scenes of the artistic life and spending a few days with Judith, and exploring Perth, including Rottnest Island (with its cute little marsupials called ‘Quokkas’) we decided to head down to Yallingup on the Indian Ocean and checked into the reasonably priced Chandlers Smiths Beach Villas (firstname.lastname@example.org) for four nights. We gathered up some brochures from the hotel lobby and started planning out our itinerary.
On our first day we decided to head straight for Vasse Felix. This winery was the first in the region, which now has over two hundred wineries! There had been some experimental grape plantings in other areas further north but careful scientific analysis pointed to a micro-region near Cowaramup. Dr. Tom Cullity was the person who founded this trail blazing winery. His purpose was not simply based upon economics. In his words:
“The motive of the first planting near Margaret River
was not commercial. It was a doubtful proposition
without back-up. The only aim was to make the best
One must admire pioneers like Dr. Tom. Thanks to his vision, and perseverance, the world has a wine region that Jancis Robinson, the leading wine critic on the planet, considers pretty much the closest thing to a perfectly situated wine region compared to everywhere she’s travelled...which is just about every wine region in the world. This assessment of Margaret River, coming from this knowledgeable woman, is about the highest praise one could hope for.
Personally, I was very impressed with their different levels of Chardonnays at Vasse but fell in love with their Cabernet Sauvignons. Even though it’s a pain in the ass to transport wine these days, I still bought a bottle of their Premier Cab. Sauv., and packed it carefully in my suitcase… luckily it survived the flight home. Our hostess, Jess, at Vasse Felix was very knowledgeable and well trained as a tasting guide.
From Vasse we moved next door to Cullen Wines which was also founded by a doctor. This winery also excelled in Chardonnays but I was intrigued by their Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend (classic Bordeaux white wine cuvee) which had been aged nine months in oak. Our host Nicolas did an excellent job taking us through some of their offerings. They are also a biodynamic winery and carbon neutral which appealed to my sensibility. And, the wines are delicious.
Next stop was McHenry Hohnen which was a winery devoted to single-vineyard Chardonnays. Their focus on one grape is unusual for the region but I admire this approach. Too often I see wineries producing wines from 8-10 grape varieties and doing none well. McHenry has got the Chardonnay nailed. Our hostess Shaleen was from our country, Alberta province. She too knew her stuff…she wasn’t the end of our coincidental Canadian connections we encountered in Margaret River.
Our host at Leeuwin Estate was Will, a young fellow from Oakville, Ontario (less than an hour from our home). Leeuwin is many people’s first choice for rating wineries in the region. They deservedly have an international reputation and a fine appreciation of art – they even commission paintings for their “Art Series”(reminiscent of Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux). One thing you’ll notice while touring Margaret River, and many wineries around the world, people who love wine love art. Most of the wineries in this region featured sculptures throughout their properties.
Art isn’t only visual at these wineries. Leeuwin also features amazing live music concerts each year. Artists have included people like Sting, Ray Charles, James Taylor and Carole King. Our Canadian connections continued here as I noticed that our very own KD Lang performed in 2013, while Diana Krall was there in 2014!
On day two we only visited two wineries. First we stopped at Aravina Estate as a result of Kim, the front desk employee at our hotel, recommending it as a must visit. We toured their on-site WA Surf Gallery and tasted wine presented by our hostess Tracey (who was very hospitable). I enjoyed their single vineyard Shiraz which was more like a French Syrah (same grape, different style) and had lunch of venison and Berkshire port ragout on fresh pasta. Delicious!
Our second winery was Robert Oatley. Again there were many sculptures throughout the property. I was surprised to learn that Robert Oatley was the first winery in the world to use the acronym “GSM”, which stands for a blended red wine made from the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grape varieties. This blend echoes that which we often see in Chateauneuf du Pape. Of course, I bought one and added it to my suitcase stash. At this point we’d had enough of our winery tours so we had a lazy afternoon walking one of the wonderful beaches in Western Australia.
The next morning we woke up to four kangaroos on the lawn in front of our hotel room (along with a bunch of galahs flying around). For us kangaroos are cute, to local farmers they are a pest. Anyway, we couldn’t help ourselves photographing them as they hopped around the property.
After confirming Margaret River will meet any wine lovers’ expectations we decided to concentrate on local tourist sites. We hiked in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and visited the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. Then we ventured underground into the Ngilgi Cave…this adventure is not for the faint of heart as we descended the equivalent of 37 stories! Despite being a little claustrophobic, it was worth it as the cave is magical with a long history. Reportedly, fairies live down there with Ngilgi, the benevolent god of the ocean.
Overall Western Australia is a great place to visit…especially if you love sunsets, seafood, wine, surfing, wild landscapes and unusual animals…and hospitable locals. Fair dinkum mate!
WEBSITES & EMAILS
Chandlers Smiths Beach Villas www.chandlerssmithsbeach.com.au
Vasse Felix Winery email@example.com
Aravina Estate firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Oatley www.robertoatley.com.au
Leeuwin Estate www.leeuwinestate.com.au
Cullen Wines www.cullenwines.com.au
Caves House Hotel* www.caveshousehotelyallingup.com.au
*we did not stay here but enjoyed an evening of jazz piano and the décor which had some fine Art Deco pieces.