One minute you’re dining on a six-course lunch in a grand cellar door, the next you’re walking through a viticulturist’s own home. Welcome to Margaret River.
Tim Quinlan’s phone number is on the Grace Farm Wines sign for all to see. If the viticulturist is out in the vineyards when a passer-by calls up to drop in, Tim will stop what he’s doing if he can and meet them at his house onsite. There, he will pour the four stellar wines in the Grace Farm Wines range and share their story in his endearingly laidback way. It is an incredibly authentic ‘cellar door’ experience and if it doesn’t leave you with a lifelong affection for the brand, there may well be something wrong with you.
The Grace Farm Wines experience flies in the face of many perceptions of Western Australia’s Margaret River. While there are certainly bigger, more established wineries across the region, there are smaller, emerging ones too. The common thread though is quality. As last year’s Margaret River Wine Show chair Corrina Wright says, the wine region is a “triple threat”. “They have amazing chardonnays and cabernets, and their sauvignon blanc semillon blends are pretty bloody good too,” says the Oliver’s Taranga winemaker from McLaren Vale. “And they’re really killing it in rosé. It made me a bit depressed!”
All this becomes clear on a tour of the region. Sample the wines from any of the 100-odd cellar doors and it’s impossible to ignore the consistency across the board. Just don’t underestimate the distances across this vast wine region. As one of Australia’s largest, it stretches around 100km from north to south and about 27km wide in parts. Designated drivers have a job on their hands here, particularly as each cellar door warrants a visit in its own right.
Taking a tour
Margaret River may be one of the most geographically isolated wine regions in the world, but that doesn’t deter visitors. Voyager Estate’s cellar door manager Janine Carter says they see around 100,000 visitors each year. The winery now offers paid tastings, pouring everything from its Estate and Project ranges, including the bright, new Sparkling Chenin Blanc, to museum releases and the top-tier Tom Price wines. The grand, Cape Dutch-style cellar door has a high-end restaurant offering three- and six-course set lunches (hot tip: the truffle butter is worth the meal alone), while cheese and charcuterie can be enjoyed with the tasting flights in the Wine Room. The stunning grounds and kitchen garden leave no doubt as to the level of care in the vineyards.
The experience is in contrast to the likes of Ashbrook Estate, which is housed in the same mud-brick cottage the Devitt family built in the late 1970s, surrounded by the original vines. It oozes history. A third-generation family business, Ashbrook uses all estate-grown fruit, which is handpicked. Winemaker Cath Edwards is responsible for the range and they proudly retain full control of the winemaking process from start to finish, complete with their own bottling line onsite.
Included in the Ashbrook range is a bright, crisp and floral riesling – an uncommon varietal for the region – and the recently released inaugural 2013 Ashbrook Estate Reserve Chardonnay. It stands alongside the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which incorporates small amounts of merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot.
Also in Wilyabrup is Clairault-Streicker, which provides yet another stunning outlook. Take a seat on the deck, order some share plates and sample from their two ranges of wines – Clairault and Streicker. Founded in 1976, Clairault has since been acquired by John Streicker and both wine labels comprise a range of varietals, all made by the talented, prolific winemaker Bruce Dukes. In addition to the regional hero varietals, there is a 2012 Clairault Cellar Release Petit Verdot, a debut sparkling with the 2013 Streicker Blanc de Blancs and even a barrel-fermented chenin blanc, due for release later this year.
Things get even quirkier south of the region with Stuart Pym at Flowstone. The long-time winemaker has been quietly working on his own label for some time, catching the attention of James Halliday who named Flowstone the Best New Winery of 2015. Stuart also happens to make the wine for Arlewood Estate, which was named last year’s Dark Horse Winery.
Despite the success, Flowstone remains small, with Stuart making everything in his shed at home. “If I ever get to the stage where I have to employ someone, I’ve screwed up,” he says. Among his range is a shiraz grenache blend, a gewurztraminer and a cabernet touriga blend – the touriga chosen for its juicy mid-palate, length and persistence. So enamoured with touriga’s qualities, Stuart is now growing his own. And just to keep things interesting, he has also released Moonmilk, a blend of savagnin, gewurztraminer and sauvignon blanc.
The prize for the region’s most leftfield wines, however, has to go to Mark Warren at Marq Wines. After a career spent producing wines for others, he is clearly in his element making his own decisions. Think vermentino, fiano, a wild ferment chardonnay and even a petit manseng, while his reds include a gamay, malbec, tempranillo and his DNA Cabernet Sauvignon. This new wine blends fruit from four subregions to showcase what Margaret River does best. Don’t miss Marq’s brand new cellar door in Dunsborough so you can taste the wines for yourself.
As one of the most successful wine stories in recent times, Deep Woods Estate has barely missed a trophy at the major shows of the past few years. With Julian Langworthy at the helm, Deep Woods last year sealed their run with Wine of Show at the Royal Adelaide Wine Show and the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show; both for the 2014 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s an incredible feat, especially considering Julian only joined the winery in 2011. So what does he make of it all?
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