The Margaret River From Surfing to Semillon–Why This Wine Region Has It All
By Franck Moreau, Head Sommelier, Est., Sydney
With more than 120 wine producers and around 80 winegrowers, Margaret River represents just 3% of Australian wine production.
So what makes the Margaret River such a popular destination for wine lovers and foodies alike?
Throughout my working career to date, I've had the opportunity to work at several Michelin-starred restaurants, both in my country of birth (France) as well as in the U.K., at establishments including La Tour d’Argent in Paris, Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, and Marcus Wareing at the Savoy Grill in London. Since September 2005, I've been based in Sydney, and now work for The Merivale Group, as Group Sommelier for a range of different restaurants, bars, and nightclubs including Establishment, Hemmesphere, Lotus, and the three-hatted Est. Restaurant.
Yet it is only in recent years that I have become acquainted with the truly exciting and high quality range of wines being produced in the Margaret River in Australia. Whether you prefer your Shiraz to Tempranillo or Sauvignon Blanc to Chenin Blanc, you'll find it in the Margaret River, along with several bronzed Aussies and a range of terrific surf beaches, boutique hotels, and restaurants to boot!
Most of the vineyards located in the Margaret River are situated between three–seven kilometres from the coast, at an elevation between sea level and 200m. This offers the perfect condition for growing grapes; the region is best characterised by mild to wet winters and summers which are warm to hot and dry. Margaret River’s coastal location also contributes to cooler evening temperatures.
The first significant planting of vines took place in 1967. Cape Mentelle was created by David and Mark Honnen, who were also one of the first producers to develop and implement the famous classic blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (otherwise known as the classic Bordeaux white blend). Now this blend is one of the benchmarks of this region and enjoys a growing popularity worldwide. After spending some years in California, David and Mark returned to Australia, bringing with them the technique to produce some terrific Zinfandel. They are also the people who created Cloudy Bay in New Zealand.
Of course, a visit to the Margaret River would not be complete without a trip to Vasse Felix. Started in 1967, this vineyard is producing some truly fantastic good value wines, not to mention their Premium Heytesbury labels, which taste even better washed down with a serve of freshly pan-fried marron as you watch the sun set over Surfers Point Beach.
Chardonnay is another grape variety produced in the Margaret River, and Leeuwin Estate winery may be the most synonymous with its prestige “Art Series” labels. These are beautiful, well-structured wines, with some buttery and toasty characters, and age very well. Talking about Chardonnay, Dr. Michael Peterkin from Pierro Winery is also producing some outstanding wines and are well worth a visit.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most prestigious red grape variety, and several wineries in the Margaret River are producing some of the world's best varieties, including Cullen or Moss Wood. These wines are quite full bodied and express some great flavours. Their tannins are always finer and more elegant than many other red wines originating from Australia.
To all avid travellers considering a stop in the Margaret River as part of your Antipodean voyage Down Under: this region is so terrific because it represents all which is essential to the Aussie “way of life.” It represents and offers a wine industry that is respectful of tradition but not afraid to challenge it through new techniques and blends, a natural environment that is truly stunning, and a burgeoning restaurant industry with accessibility to incredibly fresh produce and exciting new ideas.
Or, if you can't make it over the 9,000 miles to Australia, consider a bottle of Margaret River wine on your next visit to the liquor store. You won't be disappointed.