|This is part II of a three-part profile of Margaret River and Western Australia. Part I told the story or Margaret River's development and described the region's geography, grapes and wine styles, as well as profiling its founding estates including Cullen, Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Leeuwin. Part III features reviews of restaurants and hotels for visitors to the region. Part II profiles seven of the region's top wine estates and assesses over 80 of their wines.|
Jeff and Amy Burch, owners of Howard Park winery had hosted me at a couple of fantastic events at their Margaret River Winery over the weekend (see International
Riesling Tasting and Extraordinary dinner), so it was a pleasure to taste through their range with
head winemaker Tony Davis, at the helm since January 2007 having completed 17 vintages at wineries including Yalumba and Brown Brothers, as well as three vintages in France and the USA.
Howard Park is an unusual operation in that it has two wineries and two sets of vineyards in Western Australia, one in Margaret River and one in Great Southern, a couple of hundred miles south and
east, with much cooler conditions, and the source of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for their range. Second label Madfish is also well known in the UK. Run almost as a separate company,
Madfish produces wines with "an emphasis on enjoyment and drinkability," from Margaret River and Great Southern fruit, sometimes blended and carrying the 'Western Australia' designation.
|for tasting notes on 14 wines from the Howard Park|
|It's fair to say that the recent history of Evans & Tate has been a turbulent one. With a history dating back to 1974 it was a shock when Evans & Tate went into receivership 18 months ago. To the rescue, in stepped the McWilliams company, who had shown interest in acquiring E&T before its financial problems came to a head. Export Manager Sue Croft told me that Evans & Tate still think of themselves as a family winery producing premium wines, even within the volume operation that is McWilliams (McWilliams is part-owned by Gallo). Now part of Australia's fourth biggest wine group (behind Pernod Ricard, Constellation and Fosters) E&T will hopefully be on a firmer footing. Matt Byrne (right) remains at the wine-making helm as he has been since 2001. Let's hope the top wines of this estate retain their quality, as everything of Reserve level and above that I tasted was terrific, however the wines in the newly released 'Split Road' brand were rather overly sweet for my taste, in a too blatantly commercial style.|
|for tasting notes on 16 wines from Evans & Tate|
Clairault estate lies to the north of the town of Margaret River, on the way to the township of Yalingup. I met up with General Manager Connor Martin (left of picture), one of the three brothers who own and run the estate,
and Chief Winemaker Will Shields, who hails from New South Wales but who has made wine in Western Australia since graduating from Roseworthy university in 1993.Will was formerly head winemaker with
Clairault was planted in 1976, putting it amongst the region's oldest estates. The Martins, originally from Ireland, have created an attractive cellar door operation complete with restaurant.
Connor has just been to Hong Kong in a sales drive and will be returning there soon looking for investment into the property, with a plan to build housing, a spa and hotel within the grounds.
|for tasting notes on 8 wines from Clairault|
I visited Stella Bella at their home vineyard in Karradale, around 25 minutes driving south of the town of Margaret River and one of the coolest parts of the region. Not cool enough for
business and winemaking partners Janice McDonald and Stuart Pym (right, with wolfhound pups), who also have eight hectares right on the southern tip of Margaret River at Augusta, at an elevation of just five metres.
Janice started her winemaking career at Vasse Felix, Stuart at Devil's Lair, so both have Margaret River wine coursing through their veins. The pair actually met whilst studying winemaking at Roseworthy and produced
their first 200 cases of Stella Bella in 1999.
The names of their three brands - Stella Bella, Suckfizzle and Skuttlebutt - say something about the relaxed irreverence of the team here, though the wines are taken very seriously.
Stuart once made wine at Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan and their top white wine, the Suckfizzle Sauvignon/ Semillon is a determinedly "terroir" wine, in the style of a Graves Grand Vin.
|for tasting notes on 18 wines from the Stella Bella|
Voyager Estate is one of the most striking, and most visited in Western Australia. The Cape Dutch architecture of the buildings may be a tad incongruous, but it is beautiful against the clear
blue skies and green of the vineyards. But it is Voyager's stunning gardens that are the main tourist draw here - as well as the wines of course.
Of Scottish decent, Michael Wright is the third generation to run his family's mining and agricultural businesses, adding Voyager to the portfolio in 1991 when he also changed its name from
Freycinet Estate. I met up with viticultural and winemaking manager Steve James (right of picture) whose experience includes stints at Stonier's Winery in the Mornington Peninsula and nearby Amberley Estate. Since
joining Voyager Steve has worked hard on improving canopy management whilst at the same time reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals. He is moving Voyager towards a "more organic based vineyard," though like
many in this region, I sense he is wary of going the full organic hog given the region's occasionally wet and humid climate.
|for tasting notes on 11 wines from the Voyager Estate|
Devil's Lair is located in the southern part of Margaret River, where their vineyards were planted in 1981.
The softly-spoken and laid-back Oliver Crawford has been chief winemaker here for just over a year, arriving fresh from Penfold's in South Australia, where he made Yattarna amongst other white wines. Devil's Lair is part of the same
Fosters group, so it's not so much an all-new experience, but is still a big change of style, philosophy and location. "It was time for a change," he tells me, "with two kids it's
great to be living so close to the beach and it's great to be your own boss."
Oliver says his ambitions for Devil's Lair include "getting a better hierarchical structure within the brand," hence the new 'Dance with the Devil' entry level, but he is still
focused on the top wines, especially since "The quality of those has a trickledown effect." He's certainly targeting the top, and he tells me "I'd love to knock Leeuwin off of its top Chardonnay pedestal
some day." Coming from the man who is acknowledged as getting the best out of Penfold's Yattarna, that ambition could be more than winemaker's bluster.
|for tasting notes on 6 wines from the Devil's Lair|
A Kiwi by birth, winemaker Glenn Goodall first visited Australia on a surfing holiday in 1989. On that holiday he picked up vineyard work in New South Wales,
which eventually led to a degree in winemaking from Roseworthy, via stints in Bordeaux, New Zealand and California. In 1996 he left for South Africa, spending two years making wine at Glen Carlou estate,
before settling down in the Margaret River region. He joined Xanadu in 1999.
Xanadu is another of Margaret River's wineries that has been through many changes, some of them difficult. The owning Lagan family floated the company on the stock exchange in 2001.
|for tasting notes on 5 wines from the Xanadu|
|Part I - setting the scene and Margaret River's founding estates.|
|Part III - visitor food and hotel guide to Western Australia|