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Margaret River Wine Route: Top 8 Stops

26th September 2015

Although winemaking in the Swan valley, just outside Perth, has been established for 180 years, Western Australia is becoming better known for the newer Margaret River wine region, named after the town at its heart. Here, in just a few generations, a reputation for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay has been established from the fertile soil of this 100-kilometre strip between Cape Leeuwin to the south and Cape Naturaliste to the north, which is just over three hours’ drive from Perth. Buffered by pristine Indian Ocean coast from cape to cape, the region is as popular with surfers as it is with oenophiles.

You’ll find more than 150 wineries – ranging from the grand estates such as Leeuwin and Voyager, with their fine dining, well-tuned cellar door service, art galleries and summer concerts – to smaller operations where the cellar door is staffed by those who are hands-on during vintage. It may even be their name above the door.

While the wine regions of the country’s eastern states are perhaps best known, Western Australia produces 20 per cent of the country’s premium market, from around 3 per cent of the country’s wine grapes. While cabernet and chardonnay are prevalent, the region is also known for its excellent semillon sauvignon blanc.

Winemakers To Visit

Si Vintners

Iwo Jakimowicz and Sarah Morris have spent more than a decade travelling the wine world, from new to old, working back-to-back harvests in Europe and Australia. In 2010, they settled in Rosa Glen on a 12-hectare property just 10 minutes from Margaret River. Their mature vines, planted back in 1978, are now farmed along organic and biodynamic lines.

Among the standard equipment in the wine sheds stand their concrete egg vats, imported from France and roughly taking inspiration from Roman amphorae. In the makeshift tasting room, adjoining the compact winery shed, a Si red and Si white are an ideal starting point. Made for drinking not cellaring, they are perfect takeaways for following days, while the likes of the Halcyon pinot or Halcyon cabernet sauvignon, make a nice reminder of an exploration of Margaret River.

Si, incidentally is a nod to Spain, where the couple own a small vineyard, producing under the Casa de Si label. It seems that back-to-back vintages are hard to let go of.

Ashbrook Estate

Among the first of the Margaret River wineries established in the 1970s, Ashbrook is an antidote to the manicured feel of larger estates. A red dirt road leads visitors up to the vine-strewn veranda of the cellar door. Stepping inside for a tasting there’s a comforting patina to the room, with a feel that little has changed since its first vintage in 1979.

Winemaker Catherine Edwards works alongside her husband, Kingsley, brother Richard and father, Brian Devitt, who owns the business with wife Carol. “If you wouldn’t eat it, it doesn’t go in the bucket,” Brian explains. A simple explanation of quality but one that makes perfect sense.

While the region isn’t commonly known for riesling, Ashbrook consistently impresses with its affordable offering, with an intensity that’s attributed to the mild maritime climates.

McHenry Hohnen

Murray McHenry and David Hohnen have brought decades of individual experience together to produce wine from three vineyards to the south of Margaret River. Observing the principles of biodynamics, they are among a growing number of farmers turning to what is sometimes seen as alternative methods. At the cellar door on Caves Road, just minutes from Margaret River, there’s an unhurried feel to proceedings as you work through the range heavy in local staples – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and semillon sauvignon blanc.

For those who are on a self-catered stay in the region, it’s an opportunity to pick up more than just a haul of wine, with David Hohnen’s celebrated smoked and cured meats, all from free-range, grass-fed livestock.

Fraser Gallop Estate

In Wilyabrup, 30 minutes north of Margaret River, Fraser Gallop Estate can count some of the region’s pioneers as its neighbours. Moss Wood and Cullen showed the way in the early 1970s and this sub-region remains at the heart of what the region as a whole is known for. Fraser Gallop is focused on cabernet and chardonnay, and senior winemaker Clive Otto oversees an approach that puts hand-picking and as little intervention as possible at the heart of what it does.

Assistant winemaker Kate Morgan joined in 2008 and is carving out a name in the industry with her own label, Ipso Facto, a side project produced at Fraser Gallop. While there isn’t a fully functioning cellar door, tastings are available by appointment, in the barrel hall. The benefit of a small but knowledgeable team being that you are tasting with the experts.

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Where To Eat

Hay Shed Hill

Serving breakfast and lunch from 9am until 3pm, the cafe at Hay Shed Hill is an ideal stop for those spending a day hopping between Wilyabrup’s wineries. Sweeping views over the vineyard put it well ahead of its competition in town. Shared plates of local charcuterie, and pizza are the way to go. Though they’re not cheap, the servings are generous – and then there’s the view.

As for the wine, while a working vineyard, winemaking is off site. Its range is accessible and affordable, with knowledgeable cellar-door staff taking you from its good-value Pitchfork label to its more-prized Block 2 cabernet sauvignon, taken from older vines on the property.

Eagle Bay Brewing Company

The d’Espeissis family have farmed the land at Eagle Bay since 1950, but it is the third generation that has put it on the Australian beer map. The brewery and restaurant has commanding views of pasture and to the Indian Ocean in the distance. British head chef Rupert Brown works with produce from across the region, as well as red gum honey from its own hives, herbs and some vegetables from the kitchen garden.

He has added a nod to home with a heaving ploughman’s platter for sharing, with duck liver pate, apricot and apple chutney, gammon terrine, cheese and pickle. For those who prefer grape to grain, Eagle Bay produces its own range of wines from vines on the property and produced locally at Flametree.

Settler’s Tavern

This might seem to be a pretty typical Aussie pub, with its TAB betting shop at the front, live music and pool tables. On the food front it’s solid surf and turf territory and a long way from the celebrated winery restaurants. Here a meal costs from $10 for a bar-style hotdog to $44 for a steak that should come with an intermission.

The surprise is the extensive wine list, which has been winning praise for several years. For the visitor, a selection of 'under-the-radar local producers' should feature heavily – it celebrates lesser-known local wine makers, such as Si Vintners, Blind Corner, Three Boys, Marq and Ipso Facto.

Yallingup Gugelhupf

Gotthard Bauer is a man who could comfortably rest on his laurels. Owner and baker at Yallingup Woodfired Bakery, he supplies organic sourdough to local winery restaurants, cafes and farmers’ markets. Now just down the road from the main bakery, Bauer has recently opened his Gugelhupf, supplying sweet and savoury cakes of the same name, as well as his sourdough.

The weatherboard hut looks like it has been supplying the locals with this European classic for years. Whether it’s best eaten as breakfast or at the coffee table is a matter of nationality but cakes such as his Strasbourg, with walnut and speck, are fast becoming local staples.

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This article was written by Max Brearley from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.