Australia has few landscapes as green or forests as splendid as the soaring karri and jarrah woods of Western Australia’s most famous wine region, dotted with brilliantly colored birds and lolloping kangaroos. Surf reliably breaks on the rocky, deserted coastline and the introduction of vineyards surely tilted the whole package slap-bang into paradise. Today, tourists can choose from no fewer than 80 cellar doors to encourage the illusion.
The first wines here emerged in the early 1970s, from Vasse Felix, followed by Moss Wood and then Cullen – all of them, true to Australian wine history form, created by doctors. Critics immediately recognized a quite remarkable quality in the wines, particularly in the Cabernets. Sandalford, Houghton’s neighbor and rival in the Swan Valley, rapidly moved in with a large plantation. Robert Mondavi of California became enthused and encouraged Denis Horgan to develop the ambitious Leeuwin Estate, which rapidly became as famous for its creamily authoritative Chardonnay as for its world-class outdoor concerts.
Today, Margaret River has more than 150 producers, on wildly varying soils, of which free-draining ironstone gravels are most prized for the region’s exceptionally fine reds. Spring can be so windy as to affect flowering and reduce the crop, especially of the millerandage-prone Gingin clone of Chardonnay that predominates here. Yet, this is one of the reasons for the concentration of flavor in many wines from the heartland of Margaret River. Summers are dry and warm and, because the region is less than 19 miles (30km) wide, it is tempered by winds off the Indian Ocean. Grapes may be picked as early as January.
The Cabernet heartland of the Wilyabrup Valley is most heavily planted, but the vine extends the whole length of the region – from milder Yalltugup in the north (which benefits from the tempering influence of (Geographe Bay) all the way to Augusta on the Southern Ocean coast. Here, the dominant influence in Antarctica rather than the Indian Ocean. This is a classic white wine country, although Suckfizzle. McHenry Hohnen and others have demonstrated that fine reds can also be produced in the southern half of this map.
Margaret River’s reputation has been built on Cabernet Sauvignon. It joins such other west coast wine regions as Bordeaux, Bolgheri, Napa Valley, and the Limestone Coast in its propensity to turn the rays of the selling sun into some of the most satisfying, and age-worthy, red wine in the world. There is both finesse and ripeness in Margaret River’s best Cabernets, although most producers also make a Bordeaux blend, usually Cabernet/Merlot (of which Cullen is the prime exponent). Malbec and Petit Verdot an: increasingly grown, too.
Not has the region’s obvious affinity with Cabernet hindered plantings of Shiraz, which is almost as important and typically reaches an appetizing halfway house of ripeness between Barossa heft and white pepper. Chardonnay shines here too, not just at Leeuwin Estate but notably Perm, Voyage г Estate, Cape Mentcllc, Xanadu, Cullen, and others. The region has also established a national if not international reputation for its very own vibrant, tropical fruit-flavored blend of Seitiil Umand Sauvignon Blanc. The range of grape varieties planted and taken seriously has been expanding as rapidly in Margaret River as elsewhere.
NORTHERN AND CENTRAL MARGARET RIVER
Must of Margaret River’s finest wines have so far been produced in a remarkably small area m the north of live region but the southern sector is being developed by increasingly ambitious producers.