There’s a reason that the Margaret River, the South West peninsula in Western Australia, is world-renowned for its spoils of the grape variety. Whilst the region produces only small batches, its relative isolation, the meeting of two oceans and meticulous winemaking processes result in luxurious, heady wines that stay true to that old adage – they really do get better with age. Combine that with Margaret River’s enviable surf, fine dining and breathtaking coastline and you’ve got yourself the perfect outdoor-cum-foodie holiday destination. Come on a delicious journey as we visit three of the best wineries in Margaret River.
Getting to Margaret River
The nearest airport is in Perth (search flights to Perth). From Perth, Margaret River is about a three-hour drive. There are several routes you can choose if you are driving yourself. Otherwise, South West Coach Lines runs direct coaches from the airport or pick up from Perth city centre.
As the Margaret River region is only connected by two main roads, getting around can be tricky. When we both wanted to enjoy a drink with dinner we employed the services of a ‘Designated Driver’, who comes to your location and drive your car home back to your property. Prices start at around $AUD70, depending on distance travelled.
Margaret River Wineries
You simply can’t go to the Margaret River and not visit a winery. In fact, driving up and down Caves Road, one of two main thoroughfares, you’d be hard pushed not to count over a dozen wineries in any 5 kilometre stretch. With space in abundance in the Margaret River wine region, almost all of the vineyards are set amongst breathtaking acreage, with sweeping vistas across the vines and beautifully tended rose gardens.
Whether you’re a red drinker or a white, Margaret River caters to both; famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon and its chardonnay, thanks to the Mediterranean, dry climate. In fact, whilst the region produces only 3% of Australia’s total wine, it commands 20% of the premium market, indicative of the quality of the wines being produced in this small corner of paradise.
Many of the wineries, as well as being some of the most outstanding wine producers in Australia also offer stunning Modern Australian cuisine, with impressive degustation menus giving the option to pair your wines to your chosen dish.
Wine connoisseur James Halliday alludes to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of vineyards in the Willyabrup region, and this is where you’ll find three of my stand-out favourites – Voyager Wine Estate, Leeuwin Estate and Vasse Felix.
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3 of the Best Wineries in Margaret River
The first thing you’ll notice when you approach Voyager is their gargantuan Australian flag. At 15mx7.5m and mounted on a 30m high flag pole, it’s rumoured to be the largest in the country. Vineyard Manager Linda explained that when Parliament House heard about the size of Voyager’s flag, they had their own altered to ensure it remained the biggest in the land. The building at Voyager is inspired by the Cape Dutch-style farmsteads of South Africa, with a manor house surrounded by a series of outbuildings and walled gardens.
The rose gardens here are exquisitely kept by four full-time gardeners, and retain the Cape Dutch influence with hints of European plantings. Roses are used at the end of vineyards not only for their aesthetics, but as an early warning system to indicate if vines are experiencing a pest infestation.
We took the Voyager Estate Tour, joining Linda and another couple in the Estate’s Land Rover to hear about the fermenting process, viticulture and we were also able to gain access to the vast underground cellar Voyager built in 2013, to house its reserve stock.
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Our time here was rounded off by a delectable degustation with matching wine flights. Menus change depending on the season, but example dishes include venison with macadamias, wagyu rump and eggplant, swimmer crab and washed down with a goats cheesecake with fig and vanilla.
The family-owned Leeuwin Estate is set in breathtaking grounds, with manicured lawns and an impressive restaurant, whose bifold doors and domed skylights give you the best view of the forest of karri trees below.
Utilising an ever popular ‘paddock-to-plate’ menu and always with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, eating here is a luxurious affair made even better when paired with the Estate’s library wines.
The Leeuwin Estate produces three ‘classes’ of wine – Art Series, Prelude, and Siblings. The coveted Art Series is Leeuwin’s most opulent and age-worthy wine, whose bottles are unique in being adorned with paintings commissioned from leading contemporary Australian artists.
This is where we discovered the illustrious Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, which still remains up there as my favourite red. Notes of blueberry and chocolate mean it’s more like sipping a decadent dessert whilst retaining the easy-to-drink flow of a good red wine. It’s rated by the pros too, with the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon being recognised internally as a Decanter Top 50 Wine and a James Sucking and US Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wine. If you’re a fan of big, luxurious red wines, make a beeline for Leeuwin Estate.
I had to include Vasse Felix, Margaret River’s founding wine estate which was established in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity, the man credited to bringing winemaking to the region.
Vasse Felix boasts some of the best wine in Margaret River and Western Australia for that matter, thanks to a unique ‘hands off’ philosophy to wine making, achieving ‘fruit quality through plant health, and plant health through soil health’.
Next to the oldest vineyards you’ll find the breathtaking Vasse Felix restaurant, with architecture inspired by new and old, made from local materials and covered in Instagram-worthy ivy. You can pop into the Tasting Room for a glass of wine – I recommend the Heytesbury Chardonnay – peruse the Art Gallery, dine in the restaurant or visit the wonderfully atmospheric wine cellar, which houses bottles as far back as 1967 and feels very much like being in a post-war bunker.
With gorgeous art sculptures set amongst the well-kept gardens, feasting on a picnic with a bottle of Vasse’s reserve Chardonnay is not a bad way to spend an afternoon. You can stock up on picnic supplies at Margaret River Gourmet Merchant, where you’ll find oodles of cheese, chutney, gourmet crackers and olive oils. Find them in Cowaramup (known locally as Cowtown – you’ll soon see why).
Wine Tasting Etiquette
Many, in fact, almost all of the vineyards offer their tasting services for free, in the hope that any subsequent purchases made will offset the cost of providing tasting bottles. Some, such as Cullen Wines, do ask for a small fee ($AUD5) to sample some of their finer reserves, which is refundable upon purchase. Of course, there are going to be wines that don’t take your fancy, and it’s okay to be selective. But, as so many of these vineyards are family run, and like so many small business have staff to pay to pick the grapes, to harvest the wine, bottle it and market it, to forage for the food served so beautifully in their restaurants, I implore you not to go on a freebie wine crawl. Buying something from an independent creator lines the pockets of those who created it in the first place, not a millionaire investor. Reward the hard yards put into the art of winemaking and enjoy your tasting, but don’t take advantage.
The region is also well set-up for sending cases of wine interstate, so if you’ve not enough luggage allowance there’s still a way of getting your favourite Cabernet Sauvignon to the comfort of your own home for you to enjoy.
It’s abundantly clear why Margaret River has cemented its reputation as one of the premier wine destinations in the world, and a beautiful one at that. Consider it next time you need to fill up the wine cellar. You’ll return a few kilos heavier, but sated, relaxed and maybe just a little tipsy.
Lauren is a UK to Sydney expat and is inspired by the great outdoors, adventures, good food and telling stories through words and beautiful visuals.