Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS: ERLE LEVEY

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.


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