The doctors-cum-winemakers who, for some strange reason, dominated the early development of viticulture in the region and whose families still have a strong presence, were unusually sensitive to the environment, and the Margaret River wineries tend to merge into the countryside rather than stand superimposed on it. Stone or rammed-earth walls and skilful use of local timber are commonplace, with subtle bush landscaping enhancing their appeal.
When it comes to chardonnay, semillon sauvignon blanc, cabernet and cabernet blends featuring Bordeaux varieties (malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc, along with cabernet sauvignon), Margaret River is the dominant wine region in Western Australia.
In terms of winemaking, these varieties originated in Bordeaux, a region strongly influenced by a maritime climate very similar to Margaret River, in terms of growing season, warmth and rainfall. Margaret River has also negotiated the best deal with the weather gods, having the most reliable and wonderful climate of any wine region in Australia, with excellent rainfall through winter and spring.
It was Dr John Gladstones who first realised this, writing (inter alia) in a 1965 research paper about Margaret River: “Being virtually frost-free, and having a much lower ripening period, cloudiness, rainfall and hail risk than Manjimup and Mt Barker, it has distinct advantages over both those areas, and indeed over all other Australian vine districts with comparable temperature summations.” His report led Dr Tom Cullity to establish Vasse Felix in 1967, the first vineyard and winery in Margaret River, and he was followed quickly by others.
MARGARET RIVER CABERNET
In James Halliday’s 2016 Australian Wine Companion, Margaret River had 14 of the top 32 cabernets. The Coonawarra region in South Australia, which historically grew the best cabernet in the country, has only two of 32, so Margaret River is now absolutely dominant in the Australian context. While most Margaret River cabernet is termed ‘cabernet sauvignon’ on the label, typically up to 15 per cent of the wine will contain some of those Bordeaux varieties – a bit of merlot, malbec and/or petit verdot.
MARGARET RIVER CHARDONNAY
In James If you look at Margaret River chardonnay within the overall context of Australia, in James Halliday’s 2016 Australian Wine Companion, eight out of the top 30 are in the Yarra Valley, and eight are in Margaret River, including the highest ranked: 2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve, the only chardonnay to earn 98 points. So Margaret River is equal top with the Yarra Valley, but I think most people would agree the regions produce very different styles of chardonnay.
MARGARET RIVER SBS
In James Halliday’s 2016 Australian Wine Companion, Margaret River has seven out of the top 10 sauvignon blanc/ semillon blends. The region is absolutely dominant in the Australian context. No one comes close to Margaret River when it comes to SBS.
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