Mandy from http://www.margaretrivertours.com/ picked us up from our motel and so began a wonderful day of wine, cheese and chocolate tasting in the famous Margaret River wine region in the south west corner of Western Australia.
Margaret River wine region only produces 4% of Australia’s wine, however wins over 20% of the gold medals, so the local vintners say that they go for quality, not quantity. The first vines were planted in the region in 1974 and so this is still a young wine growing region, producing excellent Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon blends. They also make great blends incorporating Semillon, Viognier and Sangiovese grapes, which we tasted for the first time and discovered a whole new taste experience from these blends.
We picked up one more passenger, Julian, a cop from Perth, and our first winery was Stella Bella, a modern, sassy, young winery with very nice wines. We liked Skuttlebut and bought some of their Savvy Sauvignon Blanc 2010 to take home. The Savvy Sauvignon Blanc is a sweet, half fermented Moscato style wine (Moscato being the process, sauvignon blanc being the grape varieties used). These wines are only available at the cellar door. We really loved the 2008 Stella Bella Sangiovese Cabernet, and their other sauvignon blanc and Semillon blends were lovely too.
Next winery was Leeuwin Estate, a magnificent place with a restaurant and tasting room at their cellar. Their roaring log fire was welcome as it was a cold day of only 13 degrees and windy with intermittent showers. I personally love to do wine tasting when it is cold. Leeuwin Estate’s Chardonnay was the best wine I tasted all day. Absolutely the most lovely chardy ever, but at $89 a bottle, I was unable to take one with me.
A visit to Watershed wines estate showed us a modern complex with a nice variety of wines. The lovely view over the vineyards and lake was a great photo opportunity. Matt particularly liked their 2010 Shades Rosé and their Viognier was very nice too.
Voyager Estate, a simply magnificent place with manicured gardens and wonderful architecture in the old French style. This place is owned by Michael Wright, son of Peter Wright who, along with Lang Hancock and Tom Price, were pioneers in the development of Western Australia mainly in the fields of mining and industy. Voyager Estate produces many internationally award winning wines and can be found in five star restaurants around the world. We had lunch here in their restaurant. The three of us had, respectively, spatchcock, pan fried salmon steak, and venison osso bucco for our meals, and I can say that all three of us were extremely happy with our meals. They also gave us freshly baked bread with olive oil and dukkha for dipping. We also drank complimentary wine of a very high standard. A lovely place, and we had plenty of time to explore the gardens, bracing ourselves against the cold wind, but enjoying it all.
Mandy, our driver, had picked up five more passengers for the afternoon part of the tour. We visited the famous Vasse Felix estate, site of the first grapes planted in the Margaret River region and currently owned by the Homes à Court family. Sir Robert Homes à Court’s son Peter is now the hands on owner and director of the estate, and his mother, Janet Homes à Court, indulges her love of art here by having massive works placed throughout the stunning lawns and gardens.
The story of Vasse Felix is interesting. A surgeon from Perth, Doctor Tom Cullity, had some soil tests done in the region and they matched with the soils of the Bordeaux region in France. He then became a weekend farmer, planting grapes on his property (Vasse Felix), and a Monday to Friday surgeon. Although it is now owned by the Homes à Court family, Tom Cullity’s brother still lives on the property although well in his eighties.
The wines here were lovely, very expensive, but lovely. We bought some very nice dessert wine called Cane Cut, so called because of the way they cut the grapes from the canes before they are fully ripe, then the bunches are left to dry thus concentrating the flavour and sugar. The pressed juice is fermented in oak and results in a truly lovely, silky dessert wine.
Next winery was Moss Brothers, a great example of a small, family owned winery and along with Stella Bella, a nice contrast to the vast and wealthy estates of Vasse Felix, Voyager and Leeuwin. They had a stunning fortified drop in an oak barrel on the bar called Snake Wine. Can I just say, sensational on a cold, wet and blustery day.
I never thought I would ever find myself all wine-tasted out, but we had tasted so many, mostly lovely wines that by the end of the day we were ready for a break. Mandy provided us with a big basket of goodies to snack on in the tour bus – local cheeses, grapes, cold meats. Very nice.
We stopped at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory and entered the largest, most stunning chocolate store I have ever seen. Generous amounts of free tastings were provided and I admit to buying some really nice liqueur chocolates.
Our last stop was at the Margaret River Cheese Factory. I can recommend their Garlic and Herb Fetta, but their range is quite large and all were very nice. They even make their own yoghurts which were also very nice.
Mandy dropped us back at our accommodation, and for $125 including a sumptuous lunch at Voyagers Estate, was a good value, enjoyable tour, and really is the only way to enjoy wine tasting in a region with over one hundred cellar doors. A great day.