The first time you visit the Margaret River Region you are struck by the expansive beauty of the coastal beaches and inlets. With many different wineries and as many surf breaks the region unveils itself slowly to the new visitor. Great galleries , forests and food along with the rolling beauty of grazing cattle and vineyard country interspersed between Karri and Marri forests.
My first visit to the region was back in the early days working for Houghton's a winery in the Swan valley which garners grapes from all over the state. I was lucky to get an invitation to a tasting at Cullen's called 21 great chardonnay's of the world because the winemakers at the time couldn't go. It was a great introduction to the quality of wines from the region. With the Cullen"s Chardonnay at the time being the pick of the wines.
Some years later I have returned to do a vintage at Vasse Felix and working in the region gave me plenty of time to absorb the culture and get around to the many wineries of the region.
Margaret river lies on the far south western corner of Australia it is surrounded on three sides with Ocean. The Ocean and its breezes and the direction of air drainage play an important role in determining the warmth of each vineyard site with sub-regions being warmer if the ocean influence air drainage and breezes are from the north versus cooler if southerly influences dominate. The area varies quite a lot in terms of temperature with the more southerly influenced sites being up to two degrees cooler during the day and with a higher annual rainfall than the northern part of the region.
The region has a Mediterranean climate with only around one hundred and fifty to two hundred milimetres (150-200mm) falling during the growing season. The ocean influences give the region a maritime climate with the temperature range from day to night being quite mild compared to many other Southern Australian regions. It has similarities to Bordeaux in regards to temperature but is slightly warmer particularly in the traditional northern sections of Willyabrup. The rainfall is however much lower than Bordeaux (500mm) but the average seasonal afternoon relative humidities are similar.
The many wineries in the region cater for all manner of visitor.
If you want to seek out Quality smaller producers that make great wine the following are a great way to start Windance, Woodlands, Flametree and Brown Hill estate.
For medium to larger producers that give a great experience with very high quality wine try the following Chateau Xanadu, Cape Mentelle, Howard Park, Vasse Felix and Voyager Estate.
For traditional styles and founding producers try Cullens , Leeuwin Estate and Pierro.
For large commercial cheap and cheerful where you just are out for a good day and are not looking for anything to complicated try 3 Oceans, Watershed and Swings and Roundabouts.
What they do well:
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends, Petit Verdot and Semillion Sauvignon blanc both in the grassy style and the more complex barrel lees style.
What they claim to do well:
Everything. If you meet a local you will soon realise that all things Margaret River are the best in the world. Surf, people the wine and anything else from the region. According to them anyway. They claim to live in the best place on earth even the people who have not ventured outside Western Australia hold this view. The reality is close to this, it is a pretty good place to visit, but there are great wines elsewhere great beaches and surf elsewhere although not many together (Chile, Southwest France , New Zealand and Portugal come to mind). The small town syndrome is far outweighed by the positives with great food wine and surf. If your visiting you get to taste and experience the best it has to offer. Just avoid the winter wet season.
Mosswood, Ashbrook estate, Mchenry Hohnen, Cape Grace
What only the select few do well in the region
Shiraz (Windance,Brown Hill Estate, Churchview)
Favourite: Brown Hill
Best maker of
Big full malo style: Leeuwin estate; Pierro
Elegant style: Fraser Gallop and Vasse Felix,
Fruit lift between big and elegant: Woodlands.
Favorite: Woodlands Chloe.
Sauvignon Blanc Semillion blends
fresh grassy style: just about everyone,
textured style : Stella Bella Suckfizzle and Vasse Felix
Flametree, Woodlands,Mosswood, Houghtons Gladstones
Tassell Park, Chateau Xanadu and Cape Clairault
Favourite: Chateau Xanadu
Mchenry Hohnen, Cullens, Cape Mentelle
Food and Beer
Food:The Studio Bistro, The Margaret River Bakery (Breakfast), The Common bistro, Cafe Boranup , Blue Ginger Fine Foods(coffee, deli),Bunker bay
There are about seven breweries in the region with quite different styles catering to families or more about food. Most look over the rolling cattle grazing country and are a welcome palate change to the wine.
The Studio Gallery, Boranup and Yallingup Galleries
I liked surfing around Gracetown and some of the small beachy's off Margarets as well as some power waves at Margarets, Yallingup has some great breaks. Depending on conditions you will find a wave that suits unless the winds have picked up. The choice for waves is prodigious and other than surfing near seal populations in the north its wise to surf in numbers. Every local has a shark story, and with the big waves coming from deep water to shallow it also brings in the great whites. I was lucky but a few weeks after I left the region there was an attack right at the break I regularly surfed.If your brave enough head out to the Cow bombie for some of the biggest waves you are ever likely to see.
Mammoth jewel or lake cave are all worth a visit these ancient hidden gems are scattered below the Karri and Marri forests in the local national parks
On the southern end of the region south of the Margaret River township around Boranup there are small stretches of local karri trees climbing up to 60m above the forest floor take a nice drive south along caves road and you will stumble across them. The remaining forests are made up of mostly the Marri trees.
Contos or Hamelin Bay are great places to camp and can be serene not attracting the same crowds as the more northerly sections of the region.
TASTE:roasted nibs of cocoa beans before the chocolate is made at one of the local chocolaterrias
SIGHT: Watch armies of kite surfers do their aerobatics when the wind and the waves reach epic proportions at Margarets.