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The heart and soul of Margaret River

Publish Date: 13 Apr 2018

Authored by: Ned Goodwin

Margaret River is defined as much by its surf culture and artistic bent as it is by its wine. Progressively, far from disparate entities, these dynamics have become effortlessly symbiotic. Once the more corporate side of town with few exceptions, the region’s wines are increasingly distinguished by a strong thrust of place and gentler style of winemaking. 

Margaret River’s wines are marked by the indelible stamp of its maritime climate and soils (alluvial rock over a shifting strata of loam to clay), conferring varying shades of ripeness, intensity and structural authority to cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, which are the region’s signature.

Led by Vanya Cullen and her holistic approach from dirt to glass, optimal ripeness (at least for this drinker) at lower alcohol levels is melded into a joyous drinkability and the structural mettle for ageability among top-drawer wines at Si Vintners, Dormilona, Blue Poles and Cloudburst

At Cullen, strict biodynamic practices are tantamount to the cultural fabric. Yet these estates, too, adopt a ‘less is more’ approach to viticulture. Respect for the land parlays intuitively into the use of amphorae for certain cuvées, an amber wine here and there, a more judicious approach to new oak, and the eschewing of inoculated yeasts and other additives in the winery. 

Other top producers to note include Vasse Felix, Woodlands, Xanadu, Juniper Estate and Rosily, the latter a producer whose wines I have tasted for the Halliday Wine Companion guide over the last two editions to conclude that the range brims with detail and exceptional value.

The region’s chardonnays – peachy, mineral-clad, more opulent than those from cooler regions – can be outstanding. Vasse Felix and Xanadu’s wines are a case in point, with Vasse’s Heytesbury Chardonnay standing above others in most vintages. 

Blends of sauvignon blanc and semillon strike textural intrigue by working barrel into the equation. Grassy, perhaps, but examples such as Arlewood’s exude quince, white fig and lanolin, with a nettle spike across the finish. The less expensive La Bratta Bianco from Arlewood is also delicious: tempered across larger format oak with a dollop of chardonnay in the mix, it is dangerously easy to drink. More strait-laced, Stella Bella’s Suckfizzle is often majestic and, inspired by the long-lived whites of Graves, will reward patience in the cellar.   

Next article: Ned reflects on his process for reviewing wines for the Halliday guide.

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