The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

It is just six months shy of 40 years since Keith Mug­ford first rolled up at the gates of Moss Wood. It was very early days for Mar­garet River as the lo­cal tim­ber and dairy in­dus­tries be­gan their ter­mi­nal de­cline and the lo­cals first saw the odd vine­yard planted in the sur­round­ing and pic­turesque rolling hills. No doubt the many surfers did not know what to make of the in­flux of vi­gnerons buy­ing up parcels of land with dreams of craft­ing world-class wines.

Lo­cal vi­sion­ar­ies Bill and San­dra Pan­nell had started plant­ing Moss Wood in 1969 and 10 years later Bill be­gan the search for a qual­i­fied viti­cul­tur­ist and wine­maker to as­sist. He made in­quiries among his friends, in­clud­ing Bill Hardy of the fa­mous Hardy wine­mak­ing clan, look­ing for some tal­ent – and the young Hardy knew of a lo­cal doc­tor’s son who he thought might fit the bill.

Mug­ford had grown up in McLaren Vale, sur­rounded by wine­mak­ing fam­i­lies, which no doubt led him on to the wine­mak­ing path: first into for­mal wine study at Rose­wor­thy, and then into a job at Moss Wood with the Pan­nells. Mug­ford and Bill Pan­nell worked closely to­gether and formed a strong bond craft­ing wines that still drink well to this day. Clare and Keith Mug­ford first leased and then pur­chased Moss Wood in 1985 from the Pan­nells; that bond forged be­tween the two fam­i­lies as they laid the foun­da­tions for Moss Wood re­mains strong to this day.

Mug­ford timed his move to Mar­garet River exquisitely, and as one of the first wine­mak­ers in the re­gion who had ac­tu­ally trained in viti­cul­ture he was at a dis­tinct ad­van­tage. The re­gion had al­ready at­tracted a group of pas­sion­ate and skil­ful en­thu­si­asts who would be­tween them set Mar­garet River on its me­te­oric rise from hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion to the global su­per­star wine re­gion it is to­day.

“It was a won­der­ful time to be part of,” Clare Mug­ford says. “Ev­ery­body prick­led and sparkled with en­thu­si­asm for a new shiny pro­duce that was in­ter­est­ing, cool, ex­cit­ing to grow, steeped in his­tory, but so, so new for this area. All the early wine pi­o­neers were ide­al­ists, per­fec­tion­ists in their own ca­reers and de­ter­mined to bring that re­solve and those high stan­dards to what that they chose to pur­sue in their spare time. Keith and I were priv­i­leged to be swept along with them.”

They may have been swept along at first but it was not long be­fore the wines of Moss Wood were also con­sid­ered among the re­gion’s finest – par­tic­u­larly the Es­tate caber­net sauvi­gnon. And to­day, while many of the re­gion’s pi­o­neers have stepped away from the day-to-day man­age­ment of their winer­ies and vine­yards, Keith and Clare re­main in­ti­mately in­volved in all steps of the wine­mak­ing process at Moss Wood, with sons Tris­tan and Hugh keen to fol­low.

It was not only the skill and hard work of its first vi­gnerons that drove the re­gion’s suc­cess – Mar­garet River also en­joyed a spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral ad­van­tage in terms of its cli­mate and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Close to the coast­line, with the moder­at­ing in­flu­ences of wa­ter to the north, west and south, the wines from Mar­garet River man­age to re­tain a sense of el­e­gance in even the warm­est vin­tages and from a wide range of grape va­ri­eties. Moss Wood, 3km from the sea, also en­joys grav­elly loam soils that pro­vide an el­e­gant savoury style for the Es­tate caber­net sauvi­gnon, a blend of caber­net sauvi­gnon, caber­net franc, and 4 per cent pe­tit ver­dot when vin­tages per­mit, along with a gen­tle hand in the win­ery.

While red wines from the orig­i­nal es­tate plant­ings have long been the stars at the win­ery, re­cent vin­tages have seen the rise of new vine­yards, par­tic­u­larly Rib­bon Vale, and white wines in the Moss Wood sta­ble. Rib­bon Vale is planted close to and on sim­i­lar soils to the Moss Wood Es­tate and cre­ates su­perb reds, if in an ear­lier drink­ing style than the Es­tate vine­yard. The Moss Wood chardon­nay, grown on the orig­i­nal es­tate, also ap­pears to be gain­ing re­fine­ment and del­i­cacy with ev­ery vin­tage.

The wines from Moss Wood, much like their pro­pri­etors, are never flashy and brash; they never jump out of the glass and de­mand at­ten­tion. But what they in­vari­ably do is show un­der­stated strength and power in a re­served and el­e­gant style. That combination of might and fi­nesse is at the core of what makes the Moss Wood Es­tate caber­net sauvi­gnon, es­pe­cially in ex­cep­tional vin­tages such as 2015, worth seek­ing out.

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