Margaret River is – by Australian standards, a small wine area. It’s a western promontory in the very South Western corner of the country.  More or less rectangular in shape, it has a West facing seaboard about 90km (55 miles) in length and runs about 30km (18miles) inland.

Wine growing in the region only developed in the early1970s with the founding of wineries that are still famous: Vasse Felix; Moss Wood; Cullen; Pierro (all founded by Doctors); Cape Mentelle; Sandalford and Leeuwin…

Margaret River is one of 9 areas that make up the Western Australian wine region, albeit the most important. Western Australia makes a bit under 5% of all Australian Wine, and Margaret River about half of that. Its total production is similar to the Savoie region in France – about 30m bottles.

Margaret River, however punches well above its weight in quality terms, in fact they claim 20% of Australia’s “premium” wine comes from the area. This claim implies that about half their production is in the top 5% of all Australian Wines – which seems plausible.

With a relatively cool climate and small scale growers, Margaret River has a more European twist than some of the other famous wine areas further East. The climate, protected by the Leeuwin current to the West, is actually quite even and similar to a maritime Mediterranean zone. There is low rainfall in the growing season and a variety of aspects due to a landscape with an abundance of small creeks and gentle valleys, within the “West Coast” general character.

There is a variety of soil types – based on ancient gravelly or gritty sandy loam that has formed directly from the underlying granite and gneissic rock. Prize sites have pebbly ironstone gravels with a limestone strata and then clay underneath giving good drainage and permitting deep rooting ideal for red grapes, especially Cabernet.

There are some variation of climate, soils and suitability for different grapes within the region. In fact there is a proposed division into 6 six sub-regions based on climate and soil types, namely: Yallingup, Carbunup, Wilyabrup, Treeton, Wallcliffe and Karridale (going vaguely North to South – see map below). Thus an appropriate terroir for a variety of classic grapes and wine styles can be found.

MR regionmap
All these factors make for a purity of fruit that permits ripeness and freshness and offers a more restrained and elegant style that recalls, but doesn’t exactly replicate, old world wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to win acclaim for its consistently high quality. The style has evolved over the decades – the common threads are ripe grapes that provide a sweet core to all the wines, with little leafy or herbal character and more often with slightly earthy tannins depending on local terroir.

Chardonnay soon attracted similar attention for concentrated, more complex, more viscous and tangy wines without any tendency to become overly cloying.

Latterly Shiraz – perhaps better called Syrah – is gaining good reviews for flexibility of style between more restrained – but recognisably big Australian styles, and even lighter wines.

Although, the region’s reputation is founded on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is actually the most widely planted grape, and the Bordeaux white blend (Sauvignon / Semillon) is even more widespread than the Bordeaux red blends (Cabernet / Merlot) into which a good portion of the Cabernet finds its way.

The main grapes grown are: Sauvignon Blanc (20.8%); Cabernet Sauvignon (18.0%); Semillon (17.9%); Chardonnay (15.6%); Shiraz (11.9%); Merlot (7.3%); Other Grapes (Riesling, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel… 8.6%).

We’ll try a few styles, typical and less so, notes will be posted around May 8th.