INTO THE UNKNOWN
FROM MINES TO WINES, MICHAEL WRIGHT HAD A TALENT FOR GETTING GOOD THINGS OUT OF THE GROUND.
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 CHARDONNAYMade 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 byspicy, 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 andgenerous.