The Margaret River wine region is Australia's most southerly winemaking area and occupies the southwest coastal area of Western Australia from Cape Naturalist to Cape Leeuwin. Swan Valley and the Great Southern are both wine regions of great acclaim in Western Australia, but Margaret River is the jewel in the crown of WA.
A Snapshot of the Margaret River Wine Region
This stunningly 'girt-by-sea' wedge of a wine lover's paradise is a minnow in terms of the Australian wine industry, but definitely a whale when it comes to prestige and economic clout. The region's output is responsible for only 2% of the national production, but 20% of the premium wine market. Even this small slice is worth an estimated 63 million dollars to the state's economy.
The Margaret River region has an ideal climate for grape-growing, with long, warm summers tempered by the cool breeze of the Freemantle Doctor. The prevailing winds are from the south and west, which help to keep things mild and moderate any strong heatwaves that may sweep in from the Nullarbor Plain. The region's limestone-rich soil, is rich in nutrients and provides the perfect growing conditions for a variety of grape varietals including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz, gewürztraminer, riesling and semillon.
photy by Danny Lau - licenced under unsplash
With more than ninety cellar doors (and sixty five of these are rated five star by Halliday) offering a cornucopia of wine tours, some of Australia's finest wines, stunning natural views and generally lovely weather, Margaret River is genuinely a wine experience worth travelling for.
Take Me There!
How to get to Margaret River Wineries
It's not the easiest of Australia's wine regions to get to, but good things come to those prepared to travel!
First, get yourself to Perth - one of the most remote 1,000,000+ cities in the world. It's more than 2,000km away from Adelaide, the nearest large city. However, take consolation that, when you get there, it's also one of the sunniest cities in the world.
Then, if you're driving, jump in your car and pop down to Margaret River - a mere three hours south west of Perth.
By train or bus you're looking at about five hours, but you'll see some beautiful rolling hills and seaside scenery on the bus from Bunbury. Either of these options will cost you less than $40 which isn't bad for such a long journey.
You can also fly direct from Melbourne with Jetstar.
What are Margaret River wines like?
An overview of Margaret River wines
Its Mediterranean climate is the closest approximation in Australia of France's famed Bordeaux region, so it makes sense that cabernet sauvignon is a star performer amongst the chardonnays, semillons and sauvignon blancs also made here. Margaret River is a major tourist destination, with a remarkable amount of vinous attractions for a wine region so small.
Like everywhere wine is made in the world; land, climate, water, and soil along, with the collaboration between grape growers and wine makers, determines the final taste profile of any given grape variety. Surrounded on three sides by water, featuring ancient soils both well-drained and low in nutrients and with one of the lowest night to daytime temperature variations on the mainland, the wines of Margaret River are quite distinct.
Science and sustainability are also enjoying a successful relationship over recent years. There is an abundance of biodynamic, minimal intervention, and natural winemaking techniques practiced locally. Australia's first certified carbon neutral winery is also in the neighbourhood.
Terroir - Soil and Climate
How do the soil and climate affect wine flavour in Margaret River?
The soil of Margaret River is generally well drained, nutrient-rich and has a high water holding capacity so it is particularly suited to growing grapes. The prevailing south westerly winds that blow across Margaret River help moderate the climate and also keep the vineyards free from pests like bugs or mildew.
The Margaret River wine region benefits from cool coastal breezes that are able to lower the temperature in summer and moderate any strong heatwaves from the Nullarbor Plain. Margaret River's limestone soils that are rich in nutrients provide the perfect growing conditions for a variety of grape varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz, gewürztraminer, riesling and semillon.
The climate of Margaret River is similar to that of Bordeaux, which is why many of the same grape varietals are grown in both regions. The Margaret River region has an ideal climate for grape-growing, with long, warm summers tempered by the cool waters of the Indian Ocean.
Something out of the box?
Unusual wine varieties in Margaret River
Winemakers tend to be a curious and intellectual group. It's not hard to imagine that making the same wine out of the same grapes year in and year out might lead some of them to try stretching their wings and making something new. Luckily, this desire has, in recent years, more often coincided with a willingness on the part of consumers to also try something different.
It's much easier now, than a decade ago, to find some of the best Margaret River wineries not only making their signature chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, but also to be releasing wines that you may never have come across. Perhaps there's a little less desire to be always making award winning wines and more of a willingness to just experiment, adapt and play.
I think I'd guess accurately that the three biggest red varieties planted in Margaret River are Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot. But fourth place? Hmmm....
Well, it's Malbec. A French grape most often used in blended wines, - Bordeaux being one famous example. It has an inky purple colour, ripe tannins, and a velvety texture. Unfortunately, many clones introduced to Australia were not of high quality and were uprooted in the 1970s and 80s. The maritime influence of the Indian Ocean, however, is said to perfectly moderate the warm climate which doesn't always favour malbec.
These days, improved viticultural techniques, new and improved clones, and carefully selected planting sites have elevated malbec into a wine deserving of single varietal status and the vines planted - Malbec had a 74% increase in tonnes crushed from 2020-21. Vasse Felix have reintroduced their flagship Cabernet Malbec under the Dr Tom Cullity label in honour of the founding father of modern Margaret River wineries.
The 'blood of Jupiter' - this grape is variously described as a 'workhorse', a 'chameleon' and the 'backbone' of other blends. Chianti must always have at least 70% of sangiovese in the blend. It's not the most aromatic of varieties, but its bouquet of sour cherries and tea leaves, along with the vibrant crimson red colour, make it a distinctive and excellent pairing for delicious food. It's great with tomato based dishes and can be served slightly chilled to tame the tannins and let the floral notes fully display.
If you're after something a little out of the ordinary, how about a Verdelho? Margaret River's rendition is rich and aromatic, and less tart than those grown in the Hunter Valley. A late-picked Verdelho is juicy and fresh with tropical fruit, pineapple and passionfruit flavours. Gentle acidity contributes to the length and appeal of this sweeter style, but it still cellars well. Age brings out the nutty, spicy, toasty qualities of the varietal.
The Ashbrook Estate 2020 Wilyabrup Valley Single Vineyard & Hand Picked Verdelho has been getting some pretty impressive reviews.
Unusual Wine Varieties - photoshopped by author
Looking for something you've probably never seen before? Same grapes, same vintage, same winemaker - but two very different treatments. This will be one of the most fascinating drinking experiences you will ever have and its delivered to your door for only $39.95. Oak vs Amphora.
The stars of the show
The top varietals of the Margaret River wine region
The top five varietals planted in vineyards of the area are cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, semillon and shiraz.
The chardonnays tend to be full-flavoured with plenty of zing. Semillon is the region's quiet performer - it's now responsible for the most acreage planted of all the grapes . There are noteworthy local sauvignon blancs, but they're often paired with semillon for a lovely balance of citrus, grass and tropical fruit.
What Margaret River does best is cabernet sauvignon. The local hot-house vines foster grapes of immense concentration with aromas of blueberry, liquorice, dark chocolate and freshly ground black pepper. James Halliday reckons that Margaret River cabernet is “seldom green, the flavours in the classic blackcurrant/cassis spectrum, with a juicy mid-palate then moderately firm tannins running through notes of black olive and earth to finish”.
The Australian Wine Companion has a quote from James Halliday praising Margaret River cabernets as having "a clarity and delicacy to their red fruit flavours and an elegance in their structure which immediately set them apart.”
The temperate climate of the Margaret River region lends itself to a shiraz style that combines the fullness, chocolate, spice and pepper of warm regions with the finesse, raspberry, soft tannins and even some liquorice flavours of more eastern Australian vineyards. Many a winery in the region produces lovely light to medium bodied examples of shiraz with the total plantings only behind those of cabernet sauvignon.
Some of the best wineries in the Margaret River wine region
You're going to want to drink great wine, no? How about a visit to one - or all - of these following vineyards:
Stella Bella - Stella Bella is one of the most interesting wineries in Australia in my humble opinion. They make world class wines, but have a cheeky and irreverent style. Their Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 won Wine of the Year in the Western Australia's wine awards and they have two wines in Halliday's 2021 top 100. Stella Bella have five vineyards and a cellar door located near the township of Margaret River. Their chief winemaker is Luke Jolliffe who is fast becoming a legend of Australian winemaking.
Deep Woods - The Deep Woods Margaret River winery is the biggest producer of rosé in Western Australia. The Western Australian Wine Guide 2022 has given eight of the Deep Woods wines a score over 90 points. The Yallingup cabernet sauvignon sounds like a worthy contender for grabbing now and cellaring.
Voyager Estate - Margaret River's Voyager Estate is another of the family owned, founding wineries of the area. I appreciate very much their focus on sustainability and innovation. Between the rose gardens, vegetable gardens, the degustation menu and the impressive barrel room, you can see why Voyager is often considered one of the best Margaret River wineries. I'll be joining one of their winery tours the next time I'm in the area for sure.
Leeuwin Estate - Leeuwin Estate is frequently counted among the best wineries in Australia. It's family owned, was established in 1972 and is thus one of the founding wineries of the area, and the Art Series chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are both listed as 'prestigious' under Langton's (Australia's biggest marketplace for fine wine) classification. Leeuwin Estate Stevens Road also hosts major world class events in live music - artists from James Taylor to Tom Jones have performed here. There is also a fine dining restaurant, an art gallery and a range of private tastings available. Leeuwin Etate is also aiming at being completely organic by 2023. Kudos!
Cape Mentelle Wines - Another original winery of the area, Cape Mentelle was founded in 1970 and celebrated their 50th anniversary back in 2020. They're probably most famous for a distinctive cabernet sauvignon , but with their sister winery being Cloudy Bay over in New Zealand - a star of the sauvignon blanc scene - their white wine making chops are well respected. For that matter, their environmental credentials are also well established and were quite pioneering in their day.
Woody Nook Wines - Woody Nook have a 75-100 tonne grape crush, which keeps them within the parameters of a boutique winery. They have some interesting and different wines, including graciano, a late harvest semillon and tempranillo. Their cellar door tastings are only $5 per person. The Nookery Cafe is more like a restaurant and seats up to 120 people.
Xanadu - Xanadu Wines is one of the most highly acclaimed wineries in Western Australia. They host weddings, have a restaurant with a chef's hat for a fine dining experience, offer a cellar door with lots of natural light for you to enjoy a wine tasting and you'll also be overlooking the Lagan Chardonnay Block where the very old wines that make their Reserve Chardonnay are grown.
Hay Shed Hill - for a different kind of winery experience, consider checking out Hayshed Hill. Not only is it a beautiful winery with a focus on combining wine and food (grab a delicious meal at their restaurant Rustico), but it's also an opportunity to practice your own winemaking skills with the Wine Blending Experience. They have a cellar door and also offer private wine tours.
Vasse Felix - Purchased in 1967, and having the first harvest in 1971, it's the oldest winery in the Margaret River region and has remained one of the most popular wineries to visit ever since. It's situated on a road named after the founder of the winery, Dr. Tom Cullity, His namesake wine - The 2016 TOM CULLITY Gold Medal - was one of four Vasse Felix wines to win prizes at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards.
Amelia Park - The Amelia Park cellar door was named Best Cellar Door in Margaret River, by acclaimed Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine, three years in a row. They have an absolute swag of awards including a Jimmy Watson award - the Australian wine industry's most coveted prize for red wine - for their chief winemaker, Jeremy Gordon. Amelia Park also offer private tastings and have an on-site restaurant. It's located on the very scenic Caves Road and you'll want to book ahead in peak season.
Cullen Wines - Cullen Wines are one of the wineries most committed to environmental stewardship in all of Australia. They are carbon positive, totally organic since 1998 and biodynamic as well. Alongside this, they make outstanding wines. Vanya Cullen was voted viticulturist of the year in 2022 and they have many, many awards for their biodynamic restaurant located in their cellar door.
Flametree Wines - Flametree Wines don't have their own vineyard, but their cellar door is located right on the coast. From here, they sell wines made with grapes from Gunyulgup Valley to Wilyabrup.
Moss Wood - Moss Wood comes in lucky last on this list. Planted in 1969, out on Farm Rd, these guys deserve a mention, not only as a founding winery of Western Australia, but also as winners of the James Halliday Wine Companion 2021 Awards – “Best of the best” Varietal Cabernet Sauvignon Award - Moss Wood 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon 99/100.
Need a nap after all the fun?
Best accomodation options
Woody Nook Wines Accommodations offers a really lovely cottage with the vineyard on one side of the cabin and forest on the other. It's located smack in the middle of Margaret River township, Busselton and Dunsborough, so cute and convenient at the same time!
Cullen Wines also offers accommodation in the homestead of the founding family. It can sleep a lot of people and is located over the road from the Cullen Wines cellar door.
Mile End Glamping is like staying in oyur own personal geodesic dome. Here's some numbers... it's 20 minutes from Margaret River, it's on 144 acres, and it costs about $400 per night
Cape Lodge has been voted as the best small boutique hotel in Australia - it's on Caves Road so you're close to many of the famous cellar doors of the area.
Burnside Organic Farm is a good place to enjoy an organic wine tasting, meet some farm animals, learn a bit about biodynamic farming and check out the avocado plantation.
Why visit Margaret River in 2022?
It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for WA growers, High Chinese tariffs and Covid restrictions made the macro economic picture pretty grim, but good weather and lots of marri blossom (the lovely Corymbia calophylla tree) to keep the birds busy meant that harvests were generally good.
Somewhat surprisingly, many local businesses and vineyards have actually hit a record level of profitability over the past year. The state-based lockdowns drove many West Australians, who might otherwise have headed interstate or overseas, to investigate their own famous regions. Hopefully, that will still make the locals feel extra happy when they finally get to see tourists again.
But why 2022 you ask?
Well, for one thing, that's when the Margaret River Gourmet Escape is scheduled to return. This event is a celebration of all things food and wine in the Margaret River region. It sees some of the world's best chefs and winemakers descend on the area for a long weekend of good times. If you're a foodie or a wine-lover, this is definitely the time to visit Margaret River.
photo by Jacob Lund - licenced under shutterstock
So, there you have it - Margaret River in a nutshell! A beautiful region with stunning scenery, world-class wines, and plenty to see and do.
Fancy a bevy while visiting?
I'd love to visit for the 39th international cabernet tasting at Cape Mentelle. It'll be hosted sometime in 2022 and should feature a blind taste testing of 20 wines from around the world.
Voyager Estate are running a cellar door in the city event at Cottesloe Rooftop Cellar from the 5th to the 7th of August.
Margaret River Wine Tours have been in the business for more than twenty five years and their full day wine tour will take in Leeuwin Estate, Voyager Estate, Xanadu, Brown Hill and McHenry Hohnen with lunch in the dining room at Xanadu.
The Taste Great Southern Food and Wine Festival runs from May 5-15 and features a series of wine tastings, community markets, premium pairings, and a lot of good chefs.
The Gin Distillery has the Giniversity where you can learn to blend your own gin, drink their gin or watch other people drinking their gin.
How about some good tunes and good times?
The Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival 2022 takes place from Friday 13 May from 9:30am to 8:30pm.
The Good Day Sunshine festivals hails the return of spring with live music on the Busselton foreshore. There's some great acts performing in a great location - what's not to like? It starts Saturday, September 24.
The Blues at Bridgetown Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It's running from the 11-14 of November and is well worth the drive from the wine region, through lots of forest to Bridgetown.
Bringing Granny and the kids?
Family Friendly things to do in Margaret River
Visit the Berry Farm! The Berry Farm has wine and food for the oldies, and three playgrounds, farm animals and a kids' menu at the Cottage Café. Oh, and you can also pick berries at the Berry Farm. There's also a range of fortified wines, ciders and preserves available at the Berry Farm.
Gabriel Chocolate - Gabriel Chocolate source beans from all over the world and then make the chocolate at their Yallingup factory. Cookies, ice cream, 99% cacao chocolate and wickedy biscuits coffee.
photo by Pablo Merchan Montes - licenced under unsplash
Quirky and clever things to do in the Margaret River wine region
Visit Mammoth Cave to see one of the most significant paleontological sites
The first steam locomotive in Western Australia - The Ballaarat - recently turned 170 years old, and the remarkable history and milestone birthday of the engine are being celebrated with a special exhibition from 23 August 2021 in Busselton.
The Augusta Historical Museum, at the southern end of the Margaret River region, has a lot of information about the famous shipwrecks and tall tales of the early years of white settlement.
Arts, Culture and Entertainment in Margaret River
Call in to Voyager Estate from April until May to see a free exhibition of watercolours by Silvia Busetto.
Or try Cape Mentelle for their outdoor movies Sauvignon blanc and cinema under the stars.
CineFest Oz features five days of film events at a cellar door, cinema, boutique winery or gallery in the Margaret River region.
photo by New Africa - licenced under shutterstock
Looking for Something Sporty?
Active events and outdoor sports in Margaret River
The Margaret River region boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Western Australia. To the north are the safe swimming shores of Geographe Bay, with possibilities for surfing and fishing; to the south are Oyster Harbour, which has sheltered surf beaches and the Margaret River Mouth, which has great surfing.
Each summer Margaret River hosts two major surf events, including Australia's longest running professional surf event, the Rip Curl Pro Margaret River.
photo by Jeremy Bishop - licenced under unsplash
We've hope you've enjoyed this run down of the Margaret River wine region and some of the incredible wineries and activities it has on offer. We will be regularly updating this page and greatly welcome any input you can offer. And if you go ahead and visit Margaret River, we hope you love it as much as we do.
The team at Goodwill Wine
Who is Goodwill Wine?
Goodwill Wine is Australia's only certified social enterprise wine company.
What's that you ask?
We are a wine company with soul. While other wine companies are focussed on maximising their profit, we are focused on maximising our impact. We do this by donating half our profits to Australian charity. Better still, when you buy, you get to tell us where the money goes.
Our wines are every bit as good as our competitions - in fact hundreds of five star reviews would indicate better (see below) and thanks to Australian's choosing to buy their wine ethically, we have been able to donate almost half a million dollars to date.
So why would we do this?
Our founder, David Laity lost most of what he owned in the Black Saturday bushfires. Thanks to the generosity of fellow Australians, he was given the chance to start again and so he made it his mission to pay forward the help he received.
You can read his story here
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