A TASTY DETOUR
SOMETIMES A WRONG TURN IS THE RIGHT ONE, ESPECIALLY WHEN DRIVING THROUGH WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S RENOWNED MARGARET RIVER WINE REGION
MENTION the name Margaret River and people immediately think of the surf beaches… and the wine. Half-way down the south-western coastline of Western Australia, between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, is this ruggedly beautiful area. Rolling country is kissed by the temperate breezes of the Indian Ocean. It’s far enough south of the state capital city of Perth to be country yet close enough to enjoy the benefits. What was predominantly grazing and wheat country beyond the coastal strip of national parks has been transformed through the years to be one of Australia’s great wine-producing areas. Having first visited the region half a lifetime ago, I always knew I would be back… it was just the distance from home in the eastern states that had been stopping me – about a six-hour flight or a six-day road trip. And that’s just one way. On this trip, I had wanted to see the other secrets of the Great South West. Yet you cannot ignore Margaret River. You virtually have to drive through it on that magnificent route down to Augusta, Denmark, Albany and Esperance, then back inland through Kalgoorlie and into Perth. Try as I might to not get caught up in the popularity of wines from the region, it trapped me quite innocuously. Drawn into the web like a spider does the fly. I was adamant not to spend time trying to see everything the region offered. They have some great wineries – Vasse Felix, Capel
Vale, Evans & Tate, Sandalwood. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of individual wineries and the quality. While looking for Margaret River Chocolates along Harmans Hill Rd, I turned into the driveway of Hay Shed Hill Wines. Innocent enough. Catchy name. Pleasant surrounds. A quick stop, try some wines, maybe a coffee and continue on to the chocolate factory. What could possibly go wrong? But it got me at the first bend of the tree-lined drive. A picturesque, undulating property in the heart of the Wilyabrup Valley, it is about 18.6ha with almost 17ha under vines. Established as a group settlement farm for returned soldiers from World War I, the property was originally a dairy farm known as Sussex Vale. The renovated homestead still has much of the original group settlement look and feel. The tasting rooms and cellar door sit on the ridge, with the Rustico restaurant overlooking the vines. The tasting room is well set up with plenty of recognition of the quality of the wines on show. Gaurav offers to give a history of the winery and the style of wines. Originally from India, he learnt his craft in the US before settling here in the Great South West. Margaret River is a relatively small producer of Australian wine, but is big on quality. It produces 20 per cent of the country’s premium wine. The pristine environment and the many micro climates ensure that every wine is special and not one is the same as another. With the ocean on three sides, the resulting maritime influence lends itself to ideal growing conditions. And it’s one of the most isolated and pure grape-growing regions in the world. The weather travels thousands of kilometres across open ocean to reach Margaret River. Africa is 8500km to the west and the South Pole is 5000km away. Only 5km from the Indian Ocean with an elevated aspect, the vineyard enjoys the benefit of the “Doctor” – the world-famous sea breeze that comes off the ocean each afternoon and cools down the vineyard. This gives the fruit a much cooler climate character than the latitude of the vineyard might suggest. Vines were first planted at the property in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s, the vineyard was bought by the Morrison family and the wine brand Hay Shed Hill was established, taking its name from the local reference to the hay shed on the property. Mike Kerrigan, former winemaker at Howard Park, acquired the business in late 2006 with co-ownership by the West Cape Howe syndicate. Their Kerrigan and Berry (K+B) label is a collaboration with West Cape Howe winemaker Gavin Berry. Berry had been at Plantagenet at Mt Barker before that. “And what else do you find in a hayshed?” Guarav asks. “A pitchfork.” The winery also produces the sister label Pitchfork that was developed to complement the single vineyard Hay Shed Hill label. Wine writer, critic and judge James Halliday reports that the five wines in the vineyard’s White Label and Block series are all made from estate-grown grapes. The Block series is the ultimate site-specific wine, made from separate blocks within the vineyard. They consist of Block 1 semillon sauvignon blanc, Block 6 chardonnay, Block 8 cabernet franc and Block 2 cabernet sauvignon. The Pitchfork wines are made from contract-grown grapes in the region. The beauty of the Margaret River region is the climate, Guarav says. “We do not get frost. The Indian Ocean brings the sunshine during the day while the Southern Ocean brings the cool of night,” he adds. “We are thankful to the climate. You cannot pick and choose. Cellaring is warm and dry.” Kerrigan and Berry are known for classic cabernets and shiraz. The pinot berries are harvested further south at Mt Barker. “It’s an area underrated for pinots,” Guarav says. “People talk about Tasmania and Victoria. “The cabernet sauvignon 2014 from Block 2, it’s the oldest on the property… it’s what defines us. The world of wine is so subjective. “It’s one of the only arts where you, as a creator and consumer, can utilise all five senses. It’s one of most precise as well as one of most complex forms of art to create.”
DRINK IT IN: Hay Shed Hill Wines in Margaret River, WA, and some of its drops at the cellar door.