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Margaret River, Western Australia
Part 1: introduction 

In the last few years, I’ve visited Australia a number of times, but I’d never found my way over to Western Australia, and its most celebrated wine region Margaret River. The reason? Not any perceived lack of quality in the wines; more because of the isolated location.

Did you know that Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney? And Margaret River itself is a 3.5 hour drive from Perth. [You can drive it quicker, but you’ll almost certainly get zapped by a radar trap, of which there is always at least one on the route, if you try to average more than the rather conservative 110 km/h speed limit]. It’s not a journey you undertake on a whim.

So this time I decided to visit Western Australia. I was travelling with my family, so I restricted myself to Margaret River, although I’d have liked to head further down south to the regions of Denmark, Pemberton, Mount Barker and Frankland. But it was April, and it would have been decidedly chilly there by then. After doing the wine leg of the trip, we then drove back to Perth and flew up to Exmouth, 1300 km north, for the wonders of the Ningaloo Reef.

Aside from its relative isolation Margaret River is a dream wine tourism destination. There are dozens of estates making decent wine, in easy driving distance of each other, almost all eager to receive visitors. And then, when you’ve had enough wine, there are spectacular beaches for both surfing and bathing within 10 minutes’ drive of the vineyards. The town of Margaret River itself has a spattering of restaurants and the usual array of shops, but the best eating is generally to be had at lunchtime at some of the winery restaurants. There is plenty of accommodation in the region, ranging from budget to swanky: you can stay either in the town, or in the bush, or at the beach.

Margaret River is a new wine region. Before the mid-1960s it simply didn’t exist. That it became a wine region at all is down to the foresight of Dr John Gladstones, a horticulturalist by training who developed an interest in winegrowing. Through his exhaustive trawling through weather data, and with his knowledge of geology, Gladstones identified Margaret River as having ideal climate and soils for quality winegrowing. Overall, his assessment of the local climate was that it was like right bank Bordeaux in a good vintage. His work encouraged a band of pioneers to begin planting vineyards here.

[As an aside, Gladstones’ book Viticulture and Environment is well worth a read if you have a serious interest in viticulture. It’s available from Winetitles in Australia, and will give you all the information you could possibly want on the intricacies of Margaret River, as well as many of the world’s other leading regions.]

History has proven Gladstones right. Margaret River has now established itself as one of Australia’s top regions, making perhaps Australia’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as impressive Chardonnay and stylishly fresh Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends. Where else in Australia produces Bordeaux blends with as much definition as Margaret River? Only Coonawarra comes close, and then only sporadically.

 I visited some of the top names in Margaret River and came away impressed. The wines were typically fresh and had real definition to them. As well as the classics – Cabernet, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon – there were some nice Shiraz wines, some fresh Rieslings and deeply impressive Malbecs. So impressive were some of the Malbecs that this would be my tip for the next big thing for the region. Over the following weeks I’ll be writing up my experiences in the usual rather nerdy wineanorak fashion.  

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