A MOST ISOLATED AND DELICIOUSLY MELLOW WINE REGION
With a temperate climate, ample sunshine and the expansive Indian Ocean at it's back door, Margaret River is now considered to be blessed with a climate and soil as good as that of Bordeaux, and similar to that of St. Emilion and Pomerol.
“If you view the length of life as the coastline, then the taste of it is like a cup of Cabernet Sauvignon". Western Australia is a must visit for wine enthusiasts. Despite the fact that it lies at the far western edge of the continent (requiring a five hour flight from my home in Sydney), the magnificent 12,500 kilometre long coastline of Western Australia effortlessly draws me back time and time again. When it comes to the serious business of drinking wine, Margaret River is a seriously good place to do it.
The wine industry in the region dates back to 1965 when Professor Harold Olmo from UC Davis (the most well known wine college in the world) and Professor John Gladstone (Australia's foremost viticultural research scientist at the time) together identified Margaret River as a highly promising wine production area. With a temperate climate, ample sunshine and the expansive Indian Ocean at it's back door, Margaret River is now considered to be blessed with a climate and soil as good as that of Bordeaux, and similar to that of St. Emilion and Pomerol. These conclusions are based on in depth investigations and tests carried out by leading experts in the field, and guaranty an exciting and prosperous future for local wine producers.
In 1967 Dr Tom Cullity, a cardiologist living in Perth, was inspired to set up the first winery in Margaret River — the famous Vass Felix — which led to the subsequent boom in planting and wine production in the area. In the relatively short time span since, Margaret River has come to be seen as the Bordeaux of the southern hemisphere.
Unlike Bordeaux, however, Margaret River is a relatively young wine producing area and therefore has a rather vigorous output. The region is the largest wine producer in Australia, stretching from Cape Leeuwin in the south to Cape Naturaliste in the north, covering more than 100 kilometres cape to cape and extending 30 kilometres inland. In this part of the world the grapes ripen later than in South Australia, with March being the busiest time for local growers. Despite it's relatively large area, only 3 per cent of grapes used in Australian wine manufacturing are produced in Margaret River. Despite this, more than 15 per cent of Australia's high grade wine come from here. As the old Chinese proverb goes, 'A thing is valued in proportion to its rarity'.
It was back in the 1970s that wine specialists and entrepreneurs began to invest in the development of the wine industry in Margaret River. Many of the wineries that started up back in those days are still around today and have come to be quite well known. These include names like Moss Wood, Cullen, Woodlands and Cape Mentelle. Of all of these, Moss Wood has to be my favourite.
When I first came to Australia back in 2011, I toured South Australia, indulging myself in all the great wineries of that state. Back then Margaret River was just a strange and insignificant outpost to me. It wasn't until 2013 when a friend invited me to dine at a high class restaurant that I was first introduced to a Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon by the house sommelier. That was my first taste of Margaret River and led to a deep admiration for the wine that the region produces. As I came to know more about Moss Wood, I also came to understand the attitude that underpins wine making in Margaret River.
The youthfulness of the industry in the region has meant that wine makers are unwilling to be constrained by traditional approaches. They boldly employ the most progressive planting and wine making technologies, in a effort to express the unique character of this beautiful region. As wineries in South Australia and New South Wales gradually become commercialised, their counterparts in Western Australia are managing to maintain their own distinct personality, in the process carving out boutique niches in the market.
This is exemplified by the story of Moss Wood, which as a brand produces wines at a level of quality that could be said to represent the finest of the Margaret River region. Some thirty years since its birth, the winery continues to grow its status as one of the countries most exceptional wine makers.
If Margaret River is the most famous wine region in Western Australia then Cabernet Sauvignon is its most famous variety. Cabernet Sauvignon is known as 'the grape that shapes Margaret River'. It is by no means an easy grape to grow, requiring a long time to mature and a relatively warm climate. The Margaret River region is surrounded by the ocean on three sides. The cold air of the Southern Ocean rushes up to meet the warmer air of the Indian Ocean, making for ample rainfall and lots of sunshine. The regions soils are also ideally suited to viticulture, being mainly made up of gravels and grits. These superb natural conditions combined with advanced technologies, skill and the serious attitudes of the local wine makers culminate in Cabernet Sauvignon grapes of the highest quality; dense, solid, with a tight structure and rich in tannins. The Cabernet Sauvignon of Moss Wood is especially outstanding, even among the boutiques.
2012 was a tremendous year for Cabernet production, with the wines from that year being mature whilst retaining a rich aroma of fruit. 2011 with its unusually warm weather was also a standout. If you're lucky enough to have wines from these two years I would suggest restraining yourself from drinking them all at once. There were two types of Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Moss Wood in 2014 that are worthy of mention. Ribbon Vale came onto the market in August 2016 and represents good value for money. It is a mixture of various varieties of grape including 93 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 per cent Franc and 2 per cent Merlot. The other is the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Wilyabrup area which came on to the market in March 2017 and is more suitable for collection. This is a mix of 93 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 per cent Cabernet Franc and 4 per cent Petit Verdo. It's worth mentioning that in order to stabilise the wine, the proportions of the three varieties changes every year depending on the quality of the grapes that year.
For example, in warmer years, the Petit Verdot adds freshness and tannin, making sure that the wine has a distinct fruit aroma, a smell of musk and moderate acidity. Are you beginning to feel that wine is a subject worth studying? The best part of the experience is of course the drinking.