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.
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.
Carlton City Hotel Singapore
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.