Margaret River Wine Industry Association: www.margaretriverwine.org.au
Margaret River region
The maritime-influenced Margaret River, is one of Australia's most world famous wine regions, and also one of the most rapidly developing wine tourism areas.
The region is most famous for its Cabernet and Bordeaux red blends, rich Chardonnays and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends. There is plenty of medium bodied Shiraz and even some convincing Nebbiolo (Fermoy Estate) and Malbec (Woodlands).
The region runs along the coast from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin 40 km to the south and extends inland for about 25 km. It takes its name from the well forested Margaret River that flows through the middle of the region. Most of the land is gently undulating although there are a few hills that get up to around 100m. A lot of the vineyards and wineries are clustered around Wilyabrup, a few kilometres west of Cowaramup.
Famous names include Vasse Felix, Cullen, Brookland Estate, Moss Brothers, Evans and Tate and Howard Park, However, some of the big names (Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle, Xanadu and Voyager) lie 15 km to the south around the town of Margaret River. There is also a disperse smattering of wineries inland of the Bussell Highway (including Tassell Park, Brookwood Estate, Chalice Bridge, and Devils’ Lair).
There was significant viticultural activity in the 1890s around Busselton, Yallingup and Augusta. However, the Great Depression and fall off in the export market saw the wine-making fall into decline. Wine-making survived through to the 1960s due to some hardy Italian families who wanted an alternative to the Australian six o’clock beer swill.
The revival was precipitated by Dr John Gladstones and Professor Harold Olmo landmark studies that recommended the region for viticulture noting that its climate and the clay-gravelly soil was comparable to that of warmer Bordeaux regions of Pomerol and St. Emilon. The reports inspired a group of medical doctors and their partners to plant vines: Dr Bill and Sandra Parnell set up Moss Wood, Dr Tom Cullity established Vasse Felix, Di and Dr Kevin Cullen established Cullen Wines, and Drs Eithne and John Lagan founded Chateau Xanadu.
As vineyards matured the region began to realise its Bordeaux-like reputation, firstly for its Cabernet Sauvignons, and then later with some of Australia’s classiest Chardonnays and red blends. By 1986 there were 21 producers and about 400 hectares of vines.
A series of difficult vintages in the Bordeaux and Coonawarra in the early 1990s created a space for Margaret River to win world acclaim for its earthy tightly structured reds. Even its Shiraz came onto the world stage when Evans and Tate won the "best red in the world" at the 2000 London International Wine Challenge.
The high dollars that many overseas and national buyers are prepared to pay for Margaret River’a best has not surprisingly led to a glut of new boutique wineries. Currently there are over 120 producers, with 4,000 hectares of vines, and an annual crush of 35,000 tonnes. In the long term this probably isn’t sustainable and we suspect a lot of the new players won’t be around in a decade. The smarter small growers are getting together to form co-operatives such as those that supply the hip new Flying Fish Cove winery.
The impact of drought, severe budburst frosts, bushfires and floods on many eastern state regions in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 vintages has delayed this rationalisation. By contrast after the freakishly cold 2006 vintage the Margart River has had a series of good recent vintages.
Wine tourism has also developed considerably over the last decade. The serious wine tourism promotion dates back to 1985 when Tricia and Denis Horgan decided to bring the international stage to Leeuwin Estate by inviting the London Philharmonic Orchestra to their winery. The famous concert bowl set against the forest backdrop has hosted baby boomer stars such as Ray Charles and Shirley Bassey.
Many of cellar doors have been developed impressive restaurant facilities with wide-ranging international cuisines, extensive tourist facilities, two regional wine centres (in Cowaramup and Margaret River) and the renowned Margaret River Wine Region Festival held in November. top