Why It’s Worth Visiting Australia’s Margaret River Wine Region
Western Australia is Australia’s largest state, encompassing around a third of the country, yet due to formidable climatic and near desert conditions in areas to the north and inland, the vineyards are confined mainly to its remote southwestern edge. Visiting this isolated corner of the globe is well worth the trek. The surfer beaches are world class, the drives through kangaroo populated bush and karri forests are breathtakingly exotic. Plus, the incredible array of prized produce ranges from Manjimup truffles, to Denmark macadamias, to the blue manna crabs of Mandurah and the delicious local yabbies (crayfish). Western Australia accounts for only a tiny proportion of the wine production of Australia – roughly 3% – but much of what little is produced clearly demonstrates the general emphasis on quality over yields.
Although Houghton’s winery in the Swan Valley dates back to the 1830s, Western Australia’s wine-rush really started around Margaret River in the 1960s, many of the prospectors coincidentally or otherwise coming from medical professions. The sudden increase in wineries around Margaret River in the late 1960s / early 1970s followed Dr. John Gladstone’s advice in 1965 highlighting the area’s climatic similarity to Bordeaux. Pioneers such as Moss Wood, Cullen, Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Woodlands today remain amongst this region’s benchmarks. Many of the vineyards that are producing fruit for the major labels were planted in the 1970s or earlier, and there’s a good amount of respectable vine age knocking about Margaret River.
What is the Terroir of Margaret River Like? What Wines are Made Here?
Margaret River alone stretches over 100 km, so it’s quite varied in terms of climate not to mention the whole gamut of relatively free draining soil compositions, colors and textures. Generally speaking, it’s a maritime influenced climate that receives most of its rainfall in the winter and therefore is considered Mediterranean.
The region is home to some very serious Cabernet Sauvignons and pretty good Sauvignon / Semillon blends, though it’s the more recently established Chardonnays that regularly challenge the greatest examples in the world today. Along with the highlighting of single vineyards / blocks that excel, the selection of clones (the well-established Gin-Gin or Mendoza clone gives very interesting fruit here) and better vineyard management, Chardonnays are simply being made better than ever. There’s a concerted movement away from the old-school Aussie Chardy (big, oaky, buttery, high octane) towards a real sense of balance and elegance. Other less common grapes that can be found in Margaret River include Shiraz, Chenin and Zinfandel, all of which can be very good, but don’t truly measure-up to the caliber of the Cabernets and Chardonnays.