Regional Discovery: Explore Margaret River

Written by
Vintage Cellars
November 13, 2018
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Could Margaret River be the perfect wine region? Influential University of Western Australia agronomist Dr John Gladstones thought so. It was his 1960s research into the viability of the region for wine-grape growing that first ignited the spark leading to the development of vineyards. Today, the Margaret River name is celebrated not only around the country but across the wine world. The perfect wine region? Gladstones was so right.

Time to read: 5 minutes

Blessed with a benign Mediterranean climate and a close proximity to the Indian Ocean and its associated moderating breezes, Margaret River can grow almost any grape variety and make an excellent job of it — none better than cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet is the principal red grape of the region, the first to be planted in the 1960s and the enduring signature statement that any serious wine producer in the area hangs its hat on.

The style became a fully recognised phenomenon when Cape Mentelle won consecutive Jimmy Watson Trophies in 1982 and ’83 with wines that favoured elegance over unabashed power. It was embraced as refreshing and revelatory by drinkers around Australia, and so Margaret River cabernet was launched.

The region’s hallmark white grape variety is chardonnay. It offers a highly individual and stylised example, the result of a historic preference for the Gin Gin clone — which has, until recently, dominated plantings — and the region’s sunny, maritime climate. The style displays a highly complex scent and palate mix of white flowers, white-fleshed stone fruits and citrus, with fruit intensity and generosity to burn. It goes without saying that Margaret River structure (those cool nights help) aids ageing.

Interestingly, neither cabernet sauvignon nor chardonnay dominates vineyard plantings in the region. That title goes to sauvignon blanc, followed by semillon, the Bordeaux white tag team that you will sometimes see labelled as "classic white" or "SSB". Increasingly, wineries are looking to produce a complex wine style, often with some stylish oak thrown into the mix.

So, are you ready to explore the Margaret River wine region? You'll need a car, a sun hat (most of the time) and a sense of adventure. Off you go!

Where to stay

Cullen Wines Homestead
Experiences in Margaret River don’t come more authentic than a stay in Cullen Wines Homestead, the original house owned by the region's wine pioneers, Kevin and Di Cullen.

This is where they lived while establishing their highly acclaimed vineyard. Made of local rock and timber, the large, six-bedroom homestead is a short stroll from the winery and Gracetown beach.

Hilltop Studios
From their remote hilltop position, the seductive Hilltop Studios offer a superb Margaret River view — and the promise of trekking, amazing caves to explore and beaches to walk. Not sedentary enough? You can always chill out on the deck with a glass of something local. This is the place for those wanting to get away from it all while maintaining a modicum of luxury

Cape Lodge
Cape Lodge is where you go to be spoilt with some of the best food in the region (share its secrets by taking a cooking class) and by special cultural events. Located in Yallingup, The Lodge offers exceptional country house accommodation with rooms overlooking the sprawling garden or lake. And a bonus for wine lovers? Cape Lodge organises private winery tours in the region.

Where to eat

Settlers Tavern
A regular winner in the annual Wine List of the Year Awards, Settlers Tavern is the place to go for the full Margaret River wine experience, with 500 wines listed, 25 by the glass. The bar blackboard offers alternative wine styles and special aged releases by the glass. Go for the hearty pub food and stay for the fab local wine.

Voyager Estate
Your greatest challenge at Voyager Estate is deciding between the four-course or seven-course discovery menu, where local ingredients such as scallops, marron and venison shine with the addition of the odd foraged floral. Standout wine dish: shiraz, chestnut, speculoos (spiced biscuit), berries, chocolate and grape-skin ice cream.

Rustico at Hay Shed Hill
Relaxed dining with a tapas twist awaits at Rustico. A lunch of jamón serrano, smoked chorizo and torn burrata is a good place to start. Or perhaps freshly shucked oysters with a glass of Kerrigan + Berry Riesling. The region’s Mediterranean-style climate is beautifully reflected in the food: we highly recommend the jamón pizza

Wineries to visit

Cape Mentelle
The influence of Cape Mentelle founder David Hohnen can be seen in its rustic, mudbrick winery and low-key tasting area. His work with key varieties helped set regional benchmarks, and he also helped pioneer the white blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc, and individual vineyard wines.

Star Wine: Cape Mentelle Trinders Cabernet Merlot.

Howard Park
One of the more stylish cellar doors in the region, Howard Park offers a bright, airy tasting room in a peaceful setting under the River’s signature marri trees. Newly installed GT Wine Winemaker of the Year Janice McDonald is a formidable presence in the winery.

Star Wine:
Howard Park Margaret River Chardonnay.

Deep Woods Estate
Deep Woods soared into contention as one of Australia’s great wine producers in just 31 years. Its owners, the Fogarty family, have a secret weapon in Chief Winemaker Julian Langworthy, who won James Halliday's Winemaker of the Year 2018. The cellar door is incredibly intimate, and what a view!

Star Wine:
Deep Woods Estate Chardonnay.