Good oil on the Mar­garet River

There’s much more to the re­gion than fine wine and dining

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - ROB WOODBURN

I sense im­me­di­ately I’m onto some­thing spe­cial. Two rows of stately pep­per gums make a ma­jes­tic en­trance to Vasse Vir­gin. The olive oil fac­tory at the end of the drive is built of cor­ru­gated tin, white gum and re­cy­cled tim­ber sal­vaged from the his­toric jetty at Bus­sel­ton, 40km away.

Work­ers are busy pro­cess­ing a com­pre­hen­sive range of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil-based skin care prod­ucts for dis­play in the Vasse Vir­gin gift shop. Creams, soaps, lo­tions and po­tions can be sam­pled at a large ta­ble with built-in wash basins, which also serves to sep­a­rate body care prod­ucts from a dis­play of ex­tra vir­gin oils, ex­otic spices, mus­tards, salts, pep­pers and colour­ful table­ware. Olay meets Jamie Oliver un­der one roof.

Vasse Vir­gin owner Louis Scherini has an un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in the bound­less ef­fi­cacy of olive oil. Years ago, he says, it helped cure his kids of eczema, and on­go­ing re­search into the ben­e­fi­cial prop­er­ties of this “good oil” has cre­ated the busi­ness of to­day. Scherini con­fides that he and wife Ed­wina are both blessed with “the nose”. Each year they travel to France to sniff out the lat­est trends among the per­fumeries of Grasse, knowl­edge and skills they are ea­ger to im­part at their small, thriv­ing Mar­garet River out­let in West­ern Australia.

The hall­mark of this re­gion is wine tourism, so the chance to dab­ble in the art of per­fumery of­fers an in­trigu­ing ol­fac­tory al­ter­na­tive to “nos­ing” the par­tic­u­lar mer­its of a chardon­nay or caber­net sau­vi­gnon. Why not be equally se­duced by the fragrance of del­i­cate scents? In Ed­wina’s one­hour work­shops vis­i­tors may choose to make a lip balm us­ing or­ganic honey, beeswax and pure es­sen­tial oil or learn how to blend a room aroma spray. Later this year she’ll in­tro­duce a two-hour per­fumery work­shop in which par­tic­i­pants will cre­ate a per­sonal scent.

An abun­dance of take-home treats can sup­ple­ment the re­gion’s prin­ci­pal tourism diet of wines and fine dining. At The Mar­garet River Choco­late Com­pany, which boasts “the best brown­ies in the coun­try”, I pe­ruse a Willy Wonka as­sort­ment of rich cakes, fon­dues and truf­fles, choco­late-smoth­ered hon­ey­comb and gin­ger. Bou­tique pro­ducer Gabriel Choco­late at Yallingup claims to be the first “bean to bar” choco­late maker in West­ern Australia. The staff dis­pense tast­ing morsels gen­er­ously as they ex­plain the win­now­ing, re­fin­ing and conch­ing re­quired to trans­form a glob­ally sourced range of ca­cao beans into small batches of dense, prized in­dul­gence.

My foray into Mar­garet River temp­ta­tions is con­ducted from the vir­tual cock­pit of a new-gen­er­a­tion Audi TT, in which the usual driver’s fas­cia is re­placed by a wide-screen dig­i­tal dis­play in­te­grat­ing GPS map, speedo and rev counter. Us­ing one fin­ger like a pen I spell my next des­ti­na­tion on a touch-sen­si­tive pad and the route pops up on screen. It’s an ex­am­ple of how this car’s smart­tech is ac­cessed via fin­ger­tip con­trol and it defi-

since opened a cel­lar door and fine dining restau­rant, a craft brew­ery with tapas bar and beer gar­den and there are plans for vine­yard ac­com­mo­da­tion. More: man­doon­es­

If tour­ing the area drop in at Yonga Bood­jah, one of three Abo­rig­i­nal Gal­leries in the Swan Val­ley. You’ll likely meet own­ers Phil Narkle and De­nis “Noon­gali” Kick­ett, be in­spired by their paint­ings and, if lucky, also hear Phil play the didgeri­doo. More: yonga­bood­

Snacks for the road are read­ily avail­able at Mondo Nougat and the lo­cal branch of Mor­ish Nuts.

Ya­hava Kof­fee­works is a popular “re­fu­elling” sta­tion with its daily menu of spe­cial brews and plethora of cof­fee-re­lated prod­ucts. More: ya­


nitely adds a new di­men­sion to tour­ing. The last time I had such fun be­hind the wheel I was play­ing an ar­cade game.

I dial in Vasse Felix. It’s the re­gion’s old­est wine es­tate, founded in the late 1960s and now owned by the Holmes a Court fam­ily. Sev­eral large sculp­tures grace the man­i­cured gar­dens and rows of grape vines sur­round a glam­orous cel­lar door out­let that in­cludes a gallery of paint­ings from Janet Holmes a Court’s pri­vate col­lec­tion. Chef Aaron Carr has run the es­tate’s restau­rant for the past 20 years. Stay­ing put, he says, has al­lowed him “the chance to surf morn­ing and af­ter­noon and then cook in be­tween”. With an early au­tumn sun warm­ing the vines and a glass of the es­tate’s new pre­mium chardon­nay to ac­com­pany a plate of Aaron’s char­cu­terie, I’m eas­ily se­duced by his vi­sion splen­did.

The Mar­garet River re­gion extends the length of the state’s south­west coast, book­marked north and south by the Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin light­houses. In the 300km be­tween Bus­sel­ton and Al­bany lies an abun­dance of raw na­ture to de­light the soul, be it wild coast­line and un­tamed sands, na­ture re­serve or na­tional park, mys­te­ri­ous caves or the en­chant­ment felt in mag­nif­i­cent karri forests. To this you can add world­class surf­ing, hik­ing and cy­cling trails, golf, wa­ter sports and sea­sonal whale-watch­ing. “There’s sim­ply no other re­gion like it,” says Carr, with con­fi­dence. “Where else in Australia do you find this com­plete pack­age?”

Vasse Felix’s neigh­bour, Cullen Wines, is a sev­enth of the size pro­duc­tion-wise but is a unique pocket of high-in­ten­sity, strictly bio­dy­namic ac­tiv­ity. As such, it’s the per­fect re­but­tal to any­one jaded enough to posit that one win­ery visit is much like any other. Jaimie Orkon, who helps owner-wine­maker Vanya Cullen op­ti­mise bio­dy­namic pro­ce­dures, gives me a quick 101 on the prac­tice, which in­cludes moon-phase plant­ing and bury­ing cow dung in cow horns to cre­ate a fab­u­lous fer­tiliser (or at least I think that’s how it works).

The re­sults speak loud. Cullen’s two flag­ship la­bels, Kevin John Chardon­nay and Diana Madeleine Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, named af­ter Vanya’s par­ents, are among Australia’s most cel­e­brated wines. Im­pres­sive statis­tics lend this re­gion its ca­chet. Although the Mar­garet River counts for just four per cent of Aus­tralian pro­duc­tion, it pro­duces 26-27 per cent of the coun­try’s top-rated wines and con­trib­utes five per cent of the in­ter­na­tional pre­mium wine mar­ket.

But it’s not only about grapes; craft brew­ing bub­bles away mer­rily along­side the vines. There are now 10 small pro­duc­ers. The old­est, Boot­leg Brew­ery in Wilyabrup, orig­i­nally styled it­self as “an oa­sis of beer in a desert of wine”. Patently that’s no longer the case. The new­est is in­ter­state up­start Young Henry’s from Syd­ney’s New­town, now brew­ing small batches on a farm at Met­ricup. At the fam­ily-run Ea­gle Bay Brew­ing I taste a flight of six beers and ad­mire the restau­rant’s ex­pan­sive view of Bunker Bay. My pre­ferred beer is the crisp, am­ber Vi­enna lager.

There’s not enough time to visit all the lo­cal brew­ers but the name of one, Cheeky Monkey, sums up the ef­fer­ves­cent at­ti­tude I sense ev­ery­where I go in this de­light­ful cor­ner of the coun­try.

Rob Woodburn was a guest of Qan­tas, Audi and Ac­cor.

Bunker Bay, Mar­garet River, above; an Audi TT at Vasse Vir­gin, far left; the gift shop at Vasse Vir­gin, left

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