Five Wineries with a Difference

Many of you might equate Your Margaret River Region with wine estates and world class wine.

What might not be quite so obvious is the variety of wineries which we are so lucky to have in the area.

There are around 215 wine producers; 30 or so of these estates have restaurants, 70 + are family friendly, 35 + pet friendly and 20 + have art galleries, so deciding where to visit can be like opening the lid of a chocolate box.

Shall we visit a cellar door with impressive modern architecture, or somewhere with a beautiful garden? Perhaps let’s go for a degustation lunch, taste some nougat, or take the dog and visit a small cellar door set in rustic surrounds. If that doesn’t entice, then how about donning our best and visiting a wine chapel?

Yes, wine however it’s presented, is a revered commodity in Margaret River, make no mistake about that.

So today come along with me and visit 5 fabulous wineries, each with a unique point of difference.

1. Xanadu Wines

Xanadu_Cellar DoorIt’s a beautiful wintery day when we visit Xanadu for the first time. The countryside is emerald green and the sky is a cloudless blue. Five minutes from Margaret River in the Boodjidup Valley, we cruise down a long winding driveway peppered with groves of trees, passing paddocks and green fields and of course vineyards.

We walk in past large fragrant rosemary bushes into a well manicured courtyard with deciduous fruit trees now turning autumn golds and browns. Inside the stunning restaurant a crackling log fire warms the room as we look out onto the sun dappled gardens.

Cellar Door

You can expect a lovely cellar door experience if you’re lucky to encounter Fran who led me through the gamut of Xanadu’s exceptional wines during a friendly and informative tasting session. My favourites from an extensive list were the 2013 Xanadu Chardonnay and the 2012 Xanadu Graciano.

Tip: Try the Xanadu Rose – It offers cranberry watermelon with zesty pink grapefruit flavours. “It’s a lovely lunch wine and great with an oily fish like Salmon,” said Fran.

I think that having a memorable meal is so much more than just the food on your plate. It’s about the whole experience and the environment. Your enjoyment is mixed with the flavours and presentation of the food, and the service, and if you’re a wine lover, most certainly the wines … oh and don’t forget the music.

Xanadu offers all of that in spades.

From my journal: “Lunchtime – My chair was pulled out for me and a crisp white linen serviette swished onto my lap by David, the friendly restaurant manager. A big log fire was burning in the huge hearth and dappled sunlight spread across the leaf scattered lawns, highlighting the avenue of golden brown pear trees and the soft lilac hues of the huge rosemary bushes at the entrance. In the background the dulcet songs of David Gray were playing. I love David Gray’s music. The atmosphere was rarefied and hushed and so the scene was set for a fine, long, weekend lunch.”

The building is beautifully detailed, made form stone and wood. It’s a well proportioned composition, like a painting with everything seemingly in the right place for the right impact. You’re immediately aware that huge imagination must have gone into building it. You can also feel the passion for both food and wine in the finely crafted menu designed to complement the wines, each dish served with elegant artistry.

Enjoy a long slow lunch

A weekend lunch should be long and savoured – it would be a travesty to hurry it, so you can decide whether to work your way languidly through a Chef’s choice of 3 courses, or choose from the a la carte menu.

Fast Fact: At Xanadu you can expect a modern and elegant dining experience and a spacious cellar door. The first vintage was produced in 1981 and the restaurant opened in 2000. I can thoroughly recommend the 24 hour beef oyster blade with white sweet potato, king oyster mushroom, silverbeet and jus; so to the seasonal fresh fish, lemon arancini, broccolini, salsa verde, and pea puree.

But I’m no food critic – go taste the food and wine for yourself!
As the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem ‘Xanadu’ goes …

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure-dome decree …
…… and drunk the milk of paradise”

or perhaps did he drink Xanadu’s renowned Chardonnay maybe?

2. Howling Wolves at Rivendell

Rivendell_entranceThe thing about Rivendell is that it’s tucked away in an almost secret garden where children can roam free and where grown-ups can admire the beautiful views from a restaurant with big windows and a lovely summer decked area.
It’s a gorgeous setting.

Mythical tales and a gorgeous garden

I’d been told mythical tales about an enchanted garden, about how it had been established in 1986 by a farming couple who once owned the property, about how once it had been a spectacular talking point. I didn’t really know what else to expect.

Now there are Howling Wolves at Rivendell Winery Estate on Wildwood Road.

“Howling Wolves have found a new cellar door,” Hans our friendly waiter said cryptically as we sat down at a table near the window.

The Wolves in question make premium wines, and were previously resident at a Willyabrup winery location. Now they’ve have moved north to a magical new lair.

You’ll drive along a laneway girded by trees, and find in the garden citrus trees heaving, in season, with fruit in Garden of Eden proportions. Walk around the garden grotto, as we did to strains of The Blues wafting down from the main house.

American Blues

You might think that perhaps a mythical Margaret River ‘wolf’ was the inspiration for the Howling Wolves name but, No! It was in fact the founders’ love of American Blues music which inspired the name; the legendary Chester Burnett known as “Howlin’ Wolf”.

Inside the main building the ambiance is somewhat quirky and individual, while the restaurant is spacious and airy. At the cellar door the tasting area has an art deco feel to it, and there’s art for sale if you’re inclined to buy while sampling the excellent selection of wines from The Claw Range, The Batch Range and the Red Wolf Range.

Buzzing atmosphere

I expected a quiet Sunday lunch, perhaps a couple of other couples around, but it was lovely to see the large restaurant fill up quickly. It was buzzing and the atmosphere was fun, the service excellent, the wooded outlook beautiful, and I was told that a bouncy castle is provided for children in the summer months. There’s also a great kids menu with healthy options, served with a brownie and juice on the side.

Try the South West dry aged steak, grilled sirloin with dauphinoise potatoes and fennel broccolini, smoked mustard butter and jus … or the snapper, with crispy sushi rice, green papaya salad, coconut kaffir lime reduction. And don’t forget to leave room for pudding. For dessert: The lavender and cinnamon panna cotta, rose water meringue, short bread crumbs, vanilla ice cream or the apple and pear frangipane, hazelnut and oat crumble, salted caramel, vanilla anglaise, and lilly pilly are well, essential to good wellbeing really 🙂

3. Howard Park & MadFish Wines

Howard Park is one of the oldest Western Australian wine producing estates, and the largest family owned boutique winery in WA, producing 3 different labels; Howard Park, Mad Fish and Marchand and Burch.

I love the clean cut lines and modern architecture of the cellar door with its floor length windows which look out onto beautiful gardens with picnic tables, surrounded by super-tall trees.

The Wine Chapel

In the engine room of the winery row upon row of French Oak barrels are stacked. They’re stained in places with marbled rosy threads where the wine has seeped through and I’m aware of a pervasive but not unpleasant, soft slightly sweet, musky smell of oaked wine.

But the point of difference at Howard Park has to be the Wine Chapel which is set overlooking the Leston Vineyard with hills stretching way beyond. It’s enviably elegant, understated and reeks of ‘no expense spared’.

Be treated like Royalty

Venture behind the scenes on an exclusive tour which includes a tasting in the Wine Chapel and you’ll be treated like Royalty. Taste fine premium wines and discover the process from fruit to bottle as you’re guided around the winery and Wine Chapel. Among other elegant touches notice the distinctive lights that have been created from the 38 year old vines of the prestigious Abercrombie vineyard.

Then perhaps, for a special occasion, relax and enjoy a bottle of the exquisite 2010 Howard Park Grand Jete, with a cheese platter or chef-cooked lunch (booking required in advance) gazing out over the Willyabrup hills.

Pure blissful indulgence 🙂

4. Bettenay’s – Margaret River Nougat Company

Bettaneys_Watch nougat being madeNot far from Howard Park, in fact just down the road, you’ll find Bettenay’s. This is another family affair but it’s a winery with a significant difference.

Losing the plot or not?

For a start Greg Bettenay produces a label of wine called “Lost the Plot” one of which is made with a strong overtone of chilli. Now that’s not so usual in classic wine country. Nor is the fact that the Bettenay’s also hand produce nougat – 28 different varieties at last count and up to around 400 bars a day. You can learn all about the history of nougat while you’re here, and watch how it’s made.

The other gorgeous ‘must try’ – is the Nougaretto liqueur made from almost liquid nougat and alcohol, which is quite simply to die for. Have an ice cold tot after dinner, or enjoy it drizzled over ice cream – Yum.

Move over Baileys, I say!

Lighthearted and fun

The wine tastings are fun, and full of laughs. The wine I enjoyed most was a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2013 which is harvested at night by floodlight in order to produce its crisp lightness.

Two other favourites are from the wonderfully named “Lost the Plot” range. Sweet Dreams red wine was an easy sweeter red, a summer wine, and “Lost the Plot” Hot Flush Rose had more than a hint of chilli.

5. Brookwood Estate

Brookwood_in a gorgeous sylvan settingAnother long driveway through beautiful sylvan scenery leads to a small winery with a lovely restaurant and stunning views across a lake, fields and forest.

Brookwood Estate was born after a discussion over a winery lunch in the winter of 1995. Six months after considering a sea change to Margaret River Trevor and Lyn Mann relocated to the famous wine region in pursuit of an adventure into Viticulture. The only experience they had in the field of winemaking and viticulture was sampling plenty of the product!

Biologically balanced winemaking

Now they nurture 6 hectares of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes respecting the environment and adopting biologically balanced viticulture.

The point of difference at Brookwood is the lovely relaxed winery cafe which has a casual indoor/outdoor atmosphere. So kick back on the verandah, or on a bright chair in the garden, take in the sweeping views, and just breathe.

Did you know? Your Margaret River Region produces a massive 20% of Australia’s premium wine.

Johanna Castro

Author Johanna Castro

A gypsy heart and a geologist husband brought travel writer Johanna Castro from Cape Town to Bunbury in 2008. Exploring the South West region soon became a passion which led on to writing for The West Australian, Fodor’s Travel Guide and various tourism agencies. In 2010 she began blogging and created ZigaZag (focusing on South West Australia) and Lifestyle Fifty. Jo’s contributed to over 40 publications and lived in 11 different countries but her gypsy heart is now content as she continues to discover and write about the fabulous produce, fine wines and beautiful scenery of WA.www.zigazag.com | lifestylefifty.com | Facebook (ZigaZag) | Facebook (Lifestyle Fifty)

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