Wine Ark Friday Focus : Margaret River
I have a very special reason for focussing one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions- you see as you read this, I sit at Moss Wood Vineyards in the Margaret River! So consider this as an ‘on the ground’ report of the region. So, what makes the Margaret River one of the Premier wine growing regions on the planet? Situated 3 hours south of Perth, which is already one of the most isolated state capitals on the planet, Margaret River is a LONG way from pretty much everything. If you think about it, it must take some seriously exceptional wines to grab not only national but international attention and overcome this distance, which adds on additional time and cost to ship to consumers. So what’s so special about this district?
The region itself is the quintessence of the term ‘girt by sea’ being surrounded to the North, South and West by the Indian Ocean as the rectangular-shaped Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge juts out as a peninsula 40km from southern WA. This unique position affords the region a very moderate climate- never too cold, never too hot, despite the region being almost exactly at the same latitude as Sydney, which definitely suffers from both hot and cold at different times of the year (and sometimes the same time of year!). This moderation of maxima and minima makes winemaking a much easier prospect, as it prevents vine freeze in the winter, avert spring frost destroying vine flowers (which then of course become the all important grapes!), as well as reduces risk of grape burn and vine shutdown which occurs when temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius in summer. The region also has a unique soil makeup; a ridge of gneiss and granite, which has great water-retention ability, runs north–south for the length of the peninsula, and this it is covered by rusty-red laterite soils, rich in aluminium and iron- thought to give the wines added complexity.
Despite these climactic and geological advantages, as well as the amazing natural beauty of the region, the Margaret River as a wine growing and tourist hotspot has a fairly short history. The region was ear-tagged as a potential quality wine growing region in the early 1960’s by viticultural scientist Dr John Gladstones, and the first commercial plantings were made in 1967, but the area only really hit its straps in the mid-to-late 90’s. Since then however, it has boomed both in terms of its popularity, as well as its size; today there are over 190 producers in the Margaret River with over 85 cellar doors open to the public.
The region is of course very well known for producing world-class reds from Cabernet Sauvignon (think Moss Wood, Woodlands and Cullen’s ‘Diana Madeline’) and whites from Chardonnay (think Leeuwin Estate, Pierro and Voyager Estate), however interestingly enough, the most widely-grown varietal is Semillon, followed closely by Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz then Chardonnay.
An interesting statistic on the premium quality of the Margaret River is that while the region produces a tiny two to three percent of total Australian grape production (depending on vintage yields), it produces over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wines. This information is slightly skewed however; premium wines are classified as any wine over $30 retail, and the additional costs of transport from this remote corner of Australia add more to the final price. That being said, with names such as those listed above with the countless accolades for their wines, the region is definitely due its premium quality label.
So in summary, it seems as if the Margaret River, due to a blissful coincidence of climate and geography, is a great location to make great wines. The moderate temperature, with an average 7.6 degrees mean annual temperature range, allows many winemakers to take a back seat- this region has one of the highest percentages of organic and Biodynamic producers in Australia, including stalwarts of the low-intervention movement such as Vanya Cullen of Cullen wines and newcomer Cloudburst (who we featured last year, and will be doing more work with in the coming months- stay tuned!).
Using these low-intervention methods is only really possible in a region with low disease pressure- another great advantage of a warm, dry region like this. And it seems that its isolation is far from a detraction from the region- if fact its remote location and closeness to nature is something many tourists to the region are seeking.