THE NEW WILD WEST

Call­ing Mar­garet River the crown jewel of West­ern Aus­tralia is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Jes­sica Chan fol­lows the trail of or­ganic winer­ies and sus­tain­able restau­rants, and dis­cov­ers the be­witch­ing nat­u­ral land­scape unique to the re­gion.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Dis­cover all that Mar­garet River has to of­fer

It’s strange be­ing in Mar­garet River. One mo­ment you’re within lush forests, sur­rounded by tow­er­ing jar­rah trees and shrubs as tall as your­self, and the next, you’re jaunt­ing through sandy-white beaches and gear­ing up for a surf along­side sun-kissed lo­cals. Some­where in be­tween, you’re swirling glasses of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon or Chardon­nay – the re­gion’s flag­ship va­ri­etals – and notic­ing how sub­tle changes in cli­mate and soil, be it the side of the hill the vines are planted on or which sea­side gale has wafted by, come to­gether to de­velop the distinc­tive char­ac­ters in each vin­tage. Even the flora and fauna that pep­per its 130km long coast­line varies within an hour’s walk.

When stand­ing atop the Cape Leeuwin Light­house, it is easy to see why Mar­garet River has been blessed with such a bustling bio­di­ver­sity and ex­traor­di­nary ter­roir. It’s sand­wiched by two oceans. The Great South­ern Ocean brings in a cool breeze, in con­trast to the warmer tem­per­a­tures of the In­dian Ocean. To­gether, it gen­er­ates a Mediter­ranean cli­mate of cool, wet win­ters and dry sum­mers. Vast, con­tin­u­ally in­hab­ited ar­eas fur­ther bol­ster the re­gion. It comes as no sur­prise that it has earned an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as Aus­tralia’s pre­mium wine re­gion, pro­duc­ing 20 per­cent of its pre­mium wines from just three per­cent of the to­tal crush.

It has un­de­ni­ably evolved from its iden­tity as an early Euro­pean set­tle­ment en­gaged only in agri­cul­ture and forestry. Throw in over 50,000 years of abo­rig­i­nal his­tory, pris­tine na­ture and the prospect of sip­ping some fine wines and Mar­garet River be­comes a very tempt­ing road trip op­tion.

Have a wine time

The lo­cals eat, sleep and breathe wine. When asked the stan­dard time for hav­ing a drink, they’d most likely say, “10 in the morn­ing”. Or, at least that’s what Liz Men­cel of Flame­tree Wines (7 Chain Av­enue, Duns­bor­ough, WA 6281. Tel: + 61 8 9756 8577) jok­ingly re­vealed in be­tween glasses of their award-win­ning Sub Re­gional Se­ries.

Start with a taster of the re­gion’s vini­cul­ture ori­gins with pi­o­neer viog­niers. In 1971, Dr. Kevin and Dian Cullen es­tab­lished their name­sake win­ery, Cullen Wines, (4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup, WA 6280. Tel: +61 8 9755 5277) in Wilyabrup (which con­tin­ues to op­er­ate to­day). It of­fers an in-depth look into bio­dy­namic wines, where moon rhythms and its po­si­tion to plan­ets are crit­i­cal. Tast­ing is be­liev­ing so go for their Flower Day Chardon­nay se­ries and be sur­prised by the ro­bust bou­quet of daisies and cit­rus; it’s a per­fect spring day in a glass. Down the road is Wood­lands Wines (948

Caves Road, Wilyabrup, WA 6280. Tel: +61 8 9755 6226). Es­tab­lished in 1973 with one Car­ber­net Sau­vi­gnon block on the gen­tle slopes of Wilyabrup Val­ley, it has since ex­panded to two vine­yards within 2km of each other and many other va­ri­etals, in­clud­ing Chardon­nay and Mal­bec. Sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion wine­maker, Stu­art and An­drew Wat­son, has since taken over and con­tinue to pro­duce the es­teemed Fam­ily Col­lec­tion.

A quick drive away is Pierro

(4051 Caves Road, Wilyabrup, WA 6280. Tel: +61 8 9755 6220) where Dr. Mike Peterkin ush­ered in a new age of wine­mak­ing. He planted north­south ori­en­tated vine rows, halved the width be­tween them and, most im­por­tantly, in­tro­duced the Semil­lon Sau­vi­gnon Blanc blend to Aus­tralia back in 1979. (Back then, blended wines were frowned upon.) To­day, the blend comes with L.T.C. – their term for a Lit­tle Touch of Chardon­nay – and presents a gor­geous bou­quet of cit­rus, herbs and wild flow­ers. Each vin­tage even comes with a sug­gested clas­si­cal mu­sic pair­ing; the 2017 vin­tage is a, sup­pos­edly, dar­ling with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

Watch­ing hus­band-and-wife duo, Chris and Jo Davies of

Win­dows Es­tate, (4 Quin­inup Road, Yallingup, WA 6282.

Tel: +61 8 9756 6655) at work is awe-in­spir­ing. Chris per­son­ally tends to the task of cane prun­ing and de­cides when to har­vest based on in­stinct. “It’s be­ing among the vines, un­der­stand­ing and re­spond­ing to them. When there’s life on the land, the land re­sponds to it, favourably,” ex­plains Jo. They’ve also skipped the usual cellar door tast­ings and brought it out next to the vines – del­i­cate Zalto Denk’art wine glasses pro­vided. The 2017 Petit Lot Fume Blanc (Sau­vi­gnon Blanc) im­pressed with its palate of wild lemon­grass flow­ers, honey and min­er­als, plus a por­trait of their pet Scot­tish high­land cow, An­gus, on the cover.

A mod­ern Aus­tralian feast

The spec­tac­u­lar bush­land set­ting, with a seem­ingly end­less for­est on one side, and a ter­race con­structed from wood and re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als give you an inkling of Arimia Es­tate’s (242 Quin­inup

Road, Wilyabrup, WA 6280. Tel: +61 8 9755 2605) no-waste ap­proach. A short walk away from the restau­rant is a small en­clave where its own pigs feed on Arum lilies. (The herd had just given birth to 12 adorable piglets in Oc­to­ber.) Con­tin­u­ing on, you’ll find a plot of or­gan­i­cally grown veg­eta­bles and a lake teem­ing with rain­bow trout. Chef Evan Hayter not only tends to them him­self but also trans­form them into inim­itable plates of sea­sonal, mod­ern Aus­tralian fare to go along with es­tate viti­cul­tur­ist Dan Stocker’s el­e­gant wines.

Vasse Fe­lix (Caves Road and Tom Cul­lity Drive, Mar­garet

River WA 6284. Tel: +61 8 9756 5050) needs no in­tro­duc­tion. While over­look­ing the gen­tle, rolling hills of vines, din­ers can in­dulge in head chef Bren­dan Pratt’s pro­duce-driven fare show­cas­ing the best of West­ern Aus­tralia with a de­cid­edly Asian in­flu­ence. He suc­ceeds chef Aaron Carr, who pre­vi­ously helmed its kitchens for 21 years. Carr now op­er­ates the Duns­bor­ough hippest din­ing spot, Yarri (6/16 Cyril­lean Way, Duns­bor­ough, WA 6281.

Tel: +61 8 9786 5030). Fast gain­ing favour since its open­ing in Fe­bru­ary, Yarri uses sus­tain­ably pro­duced in­gre­di­ents from small pro­duc­ers. The multi-faceted wine list is pop­u­lated by “rebel” wine­mak­ers Tony Davis and Red Sweeny’s Snake + Her­ring. Grab a seat at the Chef’s Ta­ble – if you’re lucky – and savour Carr’s culi­nary cre­ations us­ing pigs raised by the afore­men­tioned Arimia, Arkady lamb from wine­maker-turned-farmer David Hohnen and, an all­time favourite, Black­wood Val­ley Beef.

The grass is al­ways greener

You don’t have to head far to get the best out of Mar­garet River’s sprawl­ing na­ture. Make a date with Walk in Lux­ury (walk­in­tolux­ury. com.au) for their Cape to Cape Track. The one-day itin­er­ary (7km, three hours) is the ideal taster. A pri­vate guide will lead you through the un­spoiled beauty of In­jidup beach, past vi­brant gran­ite for­ma­tions and lime­stone cliffs, be­fore a tran­quil pic­nic set against the panoramic coast­line. And if that’s not enough to sat­isfy the na­ture buff in you, head over to Cape Nat­u­ral­iste Light­house (1267 Cape Nat­u­ral­iste Road, Nat­u­ral­iste, WA 6281. Tel: +61 8 9780 5911). The top bal­cony re­mains opened to vis­i­tors and of­fers a for­mi­da­ble view of the south­ern coast­line. Keep your eyes peeled for sight­ings of mi­grat­ing dol­phins and whales.

Of course, noth­ing beats get­ting up close with the gen­tle gi­ants. And Peter Kalbfell of Jet Ad­ven­tures (je­tad­ven­tures.com. au) knows how to do it right. Kalbfell has cus­tomised a 12-seater jet boat for thrilling ad­ven­tures with the likes of the South­ern Right, Blue or the Hump­back Whale (Aud99/adult; Aud59/child). What im­presses isn’t so much the hy­drophone that al­lows guests to lis­ten in on the whale calls, but how Kalbfell at­tracts these beau­ties with a sur­pris­ingly care­free at­ti­tude. He’d play coun­try mu­sic to en­tice them, and to great re­sults. It sets off into the In­dian Ocean, daily, be­tween Septem­ber and De­cem­ber.

Even if you’re pressed for time, it’d be a pity not to visit Ngilgi

Cave (76 Yallingup, Caves Road, Yallingup WA 6282.

Tel: +61 8 9780 5911). The semi-guided tour (Aud22.50/adult; Aud12.50/child) not only in­cludes an ex­hil­a­rat­ing retelling of the Abo­rig­i­nal leg­end be­tween Ngilgi and an­tag­o­nis­tic Wol­gine, but also brings you into the stun­ning amal­ga­ma­tion of sta­lac­tite, he­lic­tite and shawl for­ma­tions.

A cham­pion of sus­tain­able fare, Arimia Es­tate has its own farm, a lake teem­ing with rain­bow trout and pigs. The lat­ter are fed au­rum lilies and kitchen scraps, and are also supplied to known restau­rants in the area.

The spe­cially pre­pared com­post that’s used in tan­dem with ni­tro­ge­nen­hanc­ing cover crops for the or­ganic, bio­dy­namic wines at Cullen Wines. A tour of Flame­tree Wines brought us to a pri­vate sam­pling ses­sion of their up­com­ing S.r.s.wall­cliffe Chardon­nay vin­tage. Wood­lands Wines flag­ship Chloe Chardon­nay is part of their sto­ried Fam­ily col­lec­tion. Win­dows Es­tate of­fers wine tast­ings next to the vines that pro­duced them.

Vasse Fe­lix’s restau­rant of­fers a fab­u­lous view of their vine­yard. Chef Bren­dan Pratt of Vasse Fe­lix’s restau­rant presents the daily catch of Ha­puka with pipis, cauliflower and ba­con.

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