wine-searcher.com / Margaret River Wine
Margaret River is a highly respected wine region in the south-western corner of Western Australia. Famous for having a more ‘European’ wine style than its counterparts across the country, Margaret River has made its name through its unusually refined Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with Merlot), gamey Shiraz, intensely citrusy Chardonnay, and refreshingly grassy ‘SSB’ blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
© Jonathan Reeve
The region runs along the Western Australian coast from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin, 60 miles (100km) to the south. The square-faced peninsula on which it sits, juts out 40 miles (65km) from the main coastline into the Indian Ocean, while its northern edge is formed by Geographe Bay – which gives its name to Margaret River’s northern neighbor, Geographe. This position endows both of these regions with a heavily maritime-influenced climate, without which its trademark wine styles would certainly be less restrained and complex. Margaret River’s winemakers are particularly proud of this temperate, coastal location – and of its similarites to that of Bordeaux (despite being 10 degrees of latitude closer to the equator than Bordeaux). The words Cape, Bay and other oceanic references are very common in Margaret River wine names. One particularly clever local wine is named Girt-by-Sea – a reference both to the peninsula’s three coasts and to a line in Australia’s national anthem «We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea».
The Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge is responsible in no small part for the Margaret River terroir. A ridge of gneiss and granite which runs north–south for the length of the peninsula, it is covered by rusty-red laterite soils, rich in aluminum and iron. Although not very high, the ridge gives sufficient shelter to the vineyards immediately behind it and moderates the prevailing coastal breezes that blow in from the nearby beaches. Just three hours’ drive south of Perth, Margaret River is a popular tourist desination, capitalizing on the beautiful coastline and forests – which keep the visitors happy and the sun-soaked vineyards cool.
The average Margaret River vineyard is planted with the grape varieties stated above, along with a showing of Chenin Blanc – a variety which rarely plays anything more than a cameo role in other Australian wine regions. Plantings of each of these varieties have undergone substantial growth over the past decade (Chardonnay has doubled since 1999 while Merlot has increased three times over), but it is Semillon that stands out as the regional favorite. More commonly seen as the signature grape of the Hunter Valley, on the other side of the continent, Semillon is also the quiet, confident force behind the Margaret River wine scene. It is now the most widely planted variety here, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc (reinforcing the Bordeaux comparisons), and then Shiraz. This dominance of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is unusual for an Australian wine region and suggests a shift towards the more affordable strata of the wine market, building on the region’s already-established reputation for high-quality reds.
The first commercial vines were planted in Margaret River after the area was surveyed and analyzed in the 1960s by viticultural scientist Dr John Gladstones, who identified its potential as a quality wine region. As of early 2014 there are now more than 150 wineries in the region.