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Discovering The Wine Heaven of Australia's Margaret River

Images Credit Wineries/ Margaret River

Australia is a country known for kangaroos, the Great Barrier Reef, the unspoiled nature the Outback as well as their bustling cosmopolitan cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Australia is also renowned for two other definitive attributes. Australia is known for its tough and defiant people; mavericks who, as a result of being cut off from the rest of the world by geography and endless oceans, forged an independent and self-sufficient country. Australia’s second notable feature is a gift to the oenophiles of the world with its world-class wines such as the Chardonnay and Cab Savs produced in Margaret River. 


That “never say die” attitude of those early pioneers is exactly what led to Australia’s wine industry, which is now recognized as one of the top new world wine producers along with South Africa, Chile, Argentina and the U.S.  Those pioneers were immigrants from Europe who found similar terroir and growing conditions in the clay and rocky soil, long dry days, cool winters with little frost, and salty sea winds similar to what they knew back home and thus the wine industry began as an alternative to importing expensive wines from Europe. Australia’s wine industry is home to some of the best wine producers in the world in the Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, and the famed Barossa Valley. 


Fast forward to just 50 years ago, those same maverick minded winemakers decided to “let’s give it a go” and to plant vines in Western Australia a few hours south of Perth. In 1967 the first Chardonnay clones were planted and the Margaret River wine industry was born. In fact, Margaret River, in less than a half century, consistently produces some of the top award-winning Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon wines even besting those storied wine producers of old-world Europe.   


Margaret River has become a consistent producer of award-winning wines due to the geology of well-draining gravelly soil, and maritime microclimate creating ideal conditions for ultra-premium Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Those early pioneers literally paved the way to what is now one of the top wine regions in the world with over 100 wineries producing some of Australia’s best wines. Four wineries that are a must on the visit list for the connoisseur are Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate, Xanadu and Voyager Estates.  


Vasse Felix    

The wine industry in Margaret River began with one and within a few years there were several founding wineries. The matriarch of the Western Australia wine industry was founded in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity who was the first to plant his Cabernet, Shiraz, and Riesling clones and named his 20 acre plot Vasse Felix. His first production was in 1971 from four-year-old Riesling vines which did not fare well as the production was marred by disease and other issues. However, his second vintage in 1972 fared much better winning several regional awards. And with that, the proof was in the pudding and the wine industry in Margaret River never looked back. 


Vasse Felix has never rested on its laurels and has continued to create wines heralded for excellence around the world as well as an exceptional winery experience for visitors. Today there are four vineyard blocks, including the original, that produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon wines.   


The Tom Cullity labels are the pinnacle of Vasse Felix wines and made in homage to the label’s founder and are also produced from the original block and vines. This red is a blend of Cabernet and Malbec and is known for its full-bodied flavors, maritime acidity and tannins which, make it ideal for cellar aging for several years or more.  

The Heytesbury Chardonnays are perennially recognized as among the finest of ultra-premium international wines. Heytesbury Chardonnays are aged in new French oak barrels with a good amount of acidity making it refreshing without the overpowering buttery notes from the oak. This wine is ideal for food pairing or without.  


Vasse Felix has created an experience for the seasoned oenophile as well as the wine novice. On a sunny day, it’s a wine lover’s nirvana to stroll through the vineyards, sipping a crisp glass of Chardy as sunlight dapples through the redgum forest. Ultimately visitors have little choice but to surrender to a degustation lunch al fresco on the terrace prepared by their award-winning restaurant. The experience has not gone unnoticed beyond Australia’s shores and Vasse Felix was recently named as one of the ‘Top 100 Wineries ‘in the world by USA Magazine Wine & Spirits’.  


And with good cause. The entrance through the rolling wine fields leads to their contemporary-designed cellar door surrounded by local outdoor art and manicured lawns and gardens.  From the second-floor terrace, the views are exquisite overlooking the sweeping view of the redgums, babbling brooks, and the natural surrounds of the estate.  Indoors the style is rustic, industrial, and contemporary. There is an exceptional art gallery as well as a cosy wine lounge with an inviting fireplace to gather around during the cooler months. Vasse Felix offers several ways to enjoy the winery experience from vineyard walks, to touring the production facility and of course wine tastings. 


The supporting cast to Vasse Felix’s world renown wines and winery experiences is their restaurant. The Vasse Felix Restaurant has also earned a long list of accolades from West Australian Good Food Guide Awards to the Australian Good Food Guide Awards. The restaurant is helmed by the young and effervescent Head Chef Brendan Pratt, who has created his own version of haute Australian cuisine focusing on the use of regional, fresh and seasonal ingredients. The cuisine is imaginative, delicious and with a flair of the dramatic in its presentation and textures. All of which, needless to say, pair perfectly with the Vasse Felix’s selection of wine.  


Leeuwin Estate   

If Vasse Felix could be said to be the Grande Dame or the elder statesman of Margaret River, then The Leeuwin Estate would be noted as the bold and feisty second child. The Leeuwin Estate was one of the original six Margaret River wineries and over the years has created a wine lover’s lifestyle that put Margaret River on the map. Beyond creating some of the world finest drops sold in 30 countries, the Leeuwin Estate has created a winery experience that rivals the finest wineries anywhere in the world. 


The Leeuwin Estate flagship Art Series wines feature their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc wines and have distinguished themselves in wine competitions internationally and with wine aficionados around the world. US Wine & Spirits Magazine has recognized Leeuwin Estate four times among the top wineries in the world, the winery has been listed in the French magazine, 100 Vins De Legende and has been recognized by Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines lists on several occasions.  Australia’s most acclaimed wine critic is James Halliday who, along with bestowing the Leeuwin Estate with his highest rating, went on to state: “The Art Series Chardonnay is, in my opinion, Australia’s finest example, based on the wines of the last 30 vintages.”


When it comes to the winery and cellar door, this is the big leagues and rivals the wineries and cellar doors that one would find in the finest estates in Tuscany, Bordeaux, Napa or Stellenbosch. Leeuwin Estate has created a destination and gathering place for wine lovers and receives visitors from around the world. Beyond the winery, the experiences feature extensive wine tasting and immersion experiences, as well as one of the top restaurants in the region. 


The Leeuwin Estate is recognized across the country for their contributions to the arts and commissioning contemporary Australian artists for their Art Series wine labels whose works adorn the walls of their intriguing art gallery. Leeuwin Estate is also known for their summer concert series which have featured a cadre of A-List performers from Sting, Ray Charles, Dianna Ross, James Taylor, and Diana Krall. 


The accolades continue with the Leeuwin Estate restaurant which is perennially voted among the top restaurants in Western Australia. The fine dining experience is set on the veranda as an eclectic mix of worldly guests dine al fresco on the veranda while overlooking the gorgeous grounds of the estate. Expect to spend a few pleasurable hours of dining on a decadent seven-course tasting menu created from locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The menu is avant-garde Australian cuisine that is inspired by and then perfectly matched with their current released premium wines.    


Xanadu Wines  

Australia is a land of immigrants and Margaret River and their wine industry is no different. One of the early wineries began in 1977 when an Irishman, Dr. John Lagan, planted his first clones. Fast forward to today and Xanadu is known for producing some of the region’s finest Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.


The winery is set on 85 hectares in an ideal environment for viticulture and a beautiful setting for their first-class winery, cellar door, and restaurant. The wine tasting experience is exceptional as well with their talented wine ambassadors available to share the characteristics and nuances of their range of premium wines. 


The James Halliday Wine Companion rated Xanadu a 5 Red Star winery rating and bestowed several accolades for their 2016 Xanadu Stevens Road Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay, and 2017 Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The restaurant is perennially rated among the top in Western Australia and renowned for their wide-ranging European influenced menu. The restaurant is helmed by head chef Mel Kokoti’s and has been awarded a Chef Hat by the Australian Good Food Guide, 2019 Chef Hat Awards.


Voyager Estate 

Wine enthusiasts who have been to Franshoek, Stellenbosch or Constantia will immediately see the similarities between the Voyager Estate and the Dutch Colonial Estates that dot the farmsteads across South Africa. The estate is a mix of brilliant white stucco walls, iconic Cape Dutch construction, and gorgeous rose bushes bursting with color and fragrance in gardens and walkways.  

 


The Voyager Estate was one of the founding wineries, establishing their vineyards in 1978, and today is recognized as among the finest producers in the region. This is after all Margaret River, so their strength is of course the Chardonnay and Cab Sav as well as exceptional Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc. The Voyager Estate has a keen focus on the environment and sustainability and in accordance with this philosophy the entire winery is moving toward organic production and will be fully converted by 2023. 


The Voyager Estate offers guests an indulgent wine experience in their warm and inviting interiors with big fire hearths, farmhouse furnishings and lofty ceilings which create the ideal space for wine tasting as well and their acclaimed restaurant. Wine experiences range from counter tastings to an immersive tour of the vineyards and winery and a visit to the largest underground wine cellar in Australia with wine tasting straight from the barrel. Nothing could be finer for the discerning epicurean than to follow the wine tour with a seven-course degustation menu perfectly paired with their exquisite wines.  


Margaret River is a destination unto itself for wine aficionados as well as the wine illiterate. To think that in less than 50 years, this small corner of Australia has become one of the world’s top producers acclaimed Chardies and Cab Savs is an amazing feat. The wine world indeed owes a debt of gratitude to those earlier pioneers and their vision, beyond the odds, for what Margaret River has become today.  

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)

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