INTO THE UN­KNOWN

FROM MINES TO WINES, MICHAEL WRIGHT HAD A TAL­ENT FOR GET­TING GOOD THINGS OUT OF THE GROUND.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

There’s an old adage in the wine game: the best way to make a small for­tune is to start with a large one. While the ro­mance of a vine­yard life­style and of bot­tling a wine un­der your own la­bel is strong, there are many who have been burnt by this bu­colic dream. Put sim­ply: to make a vi­able wine busi­ness can take decades, if you are lucky, and the pay­off is of­ten more aes­thetic in the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of con­sumers rather than mon­e­tary. Which makes those who dare to dream, and then suc­ceed, wor­thy of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

In 1991 min­ing mag­nate and renowned tee­to­taller Michael Wright bought a small es­tab­lished es­tate in Western Aus­tralia’s Mar­garet River with a vi­sion to cre­ate one of the area’s stars. The Mar­garet River has al­ways had its fair share of out­siders and the in­flux of a miner of Wright’s fame prob­a­bly raised plenty of eye­brows — as in any wine re­gion, com­pe­ti­tion among near neigh­bours is fierce. The vine­yard was not new, hav­ing been first planted in 1978, and over the fol­low­ing years Michael built a grand win­ery and cel­lar door while greatly ex­pand­ing the area un­der vine.

Soon it be­came ap­par­ent that Voy­ager Es­tate was not an­other rich man’s folly in the wine game, of which there are many, but built to im­press. When the grand cel­lar door arose, with its Cape Dutch-styled ar­chi­tec­ture and white­washed walls, sur­rounded by ex­ten­sive man­i­cured gar­dens, the owner’s in­tent was clear. Far from Mar­garet River’s un­der­stated, re­laxed hol­i­day town style, this was slick. The ques­tion that re­mained for many was whether the wines could ever match such a grandiose vi­sion, or was this just an­other showy, tourist at­trac­tion?

At Mar­garet River, as in ev­ery wine re­gion, there is a clear hi­er­ar­chy, with pedi­gree and longevity at the top. In the early days Voy­ager Es­tate had nei­ther, and it would take plenty of time and ef­fort to get the es­tate to be con­sid­ered among the re­gion’s greats.

While Voy­ager Es­tate was tak­ing its first steps to great­ness, Mar­garet River it­self was un­der­go­ing its own meta­mor­pho­sis. The re­gion had burst on to the in­ter­na­tional wine scene in the early 90s, driven by chardon­nays with uniquely pow­er­ful fruit and caber­net sauvi­gnons that showed more than a tinge of the more fan­cied Bordeaux about them. The chardon­nays had huge flavour im­pact in a but­tery, gen­er­ous style but also ma­tured quickly in com­par­i­son to other fine chardon­nays from around the world.

The stylis­tic evo­lu­tion brought reds and whites with greater sub­tlety and com­plex­ity. While Voy­ager Es­tate was a rel­a­tive new­comer, its wine­maker at the time, Cliff Royle, was at the fore­front of that change. Voy­ager Es­tate wines re­main among the re­gion’s most mod­ern styles that, while fully ripe, res­onate with their el­e­gance and un­der­stated power.

At Voy­ager there was no lack of fo­cus nor funds to sup­port its owner’s as­pi­ra­tions. One of the key de­ci­sions at this early time was the clonal choice for the new plant­ings. Ev­ery grape va­ri­ety has a range of clones, each with spe­cific char­ac­ters. Typ­i­cally Mar­garet River chardon­nay plant­ings have been the widely planted Men­doza clone, lo­cally known as Gin Gin, im­ported to Western Aus­tralia by Houghton in 1957, re­sult­ing in wines with ro­bust trop­i­cal flavours.

Voy­ager’s late start to plant­ing of new vine­yards gave it the ad­van­tage of hind­sight, and ac­cess to the revered Bur­gundy clones 76, 95 and 96. Each and ev­ery clone brings with it a slightly dif­fer­ent flavour pro­file so that a wine made from a range of clones can show en­hanced com­plex­ity, as is seen in the Es­tate Chardon­nay from Voy­ager. To show­case the ef­fect of th­ese clones on Mar­garet River chardon­nay, Voy­ager Es­tate has re­cently re­leased two Lim­ited Edi­tion Pro­ject chardon­nays, one made wholly from Gin Gin fruit, the other from the Bur­gun­dian clone 95. The lat­ter shows its more pris­tine and acid driven style com­pared to the richer and fuller Gin Gin.

In 2012, 21 years af­ter found­ing Voy­ager Es­tate, Michael Wright passed away. None of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to make Voy­ager great has been lost, how­ever, his daugh­ter Alex hav­ing long held the win­ery reins. If any­thing, the vigour has in­ten­si­fied.

2012 VOY­AGER ES­TATE PRO­JECT 95 CHARDON­NAY Quite re­served in style with honey­dew melon, blossom and cit­rus aromatics plus a touch of stoni­ness. Light-bod­ied, acid-driven and dry with an an­gu­lar palate and pra­line com­plex­ity. Fin­ishes long, clean and bright with beau­ti­fully han­dled oak,

but needs time to blossom.

2012 VOY­AGER ES­TATE CHARDON­NAY

Made from a blend of 95, 96, 76 and Gin Gin clones, this is a com­plete wine show­ing both power and com­plex­ity of fruit. Peach, but­ter and hazel­nut-scented fruit are un­der­pinned by

spicy, in­te­grated oak fin­ish­ing with con­sid­er­able length and bright acid­ity.

2012 VOY­AGER ES­TATE PRO­JECT GIN GIN CHARDON­NAY A fuller-bod­ied chardon­nay but still in the mod­ern Voy­ager style, with creamy white peach and guava fruits in­ter­twined with sub­tle oak. Rounded with bal­anc­ing acid­ity it fin­ishes long and

gen­er­ous.

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