This month’s uncorking of the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion Awards has done more than just reaffirm the Margaret River region’s world-class winemaking credentials: it’s knocked out a killer south west wine weekend itinerary. Seven awards. Six vineyards. Two days. One region. Good times are a given when James Halliday sets the agenda.
Halliday’s Weekend Wine Tasting Trail
- Meet the people behind the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion Awards
- Taste some of Australia’s best wines
- Deepen your understanding of the Margaret River region’s terroir and grape varietals
Winemaker of the Year
Australia’s Best Varietal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Family
As a founding Margaret River region winery, Cullen Wines is on the bucket list for most visitors. That Vanya Cullen was awarded this year’s coveted Winemaker of the Year award only makes the pull of this certified organic and biodynamic vineyard that much stronger. As a winemaker, Vanya’s magic is to allow the land to speak for itself through the grape. In agricultural terms, this means a dedication to biodynamic and organic practice that has seen Cullen recognised as Australia’s first carbon negative winery. In terms of the glass, Vanya’s touch draws forward the intrinsic character of the varietal as transcribed through the Margaret River terroir. For the flagship Diana Madeline this means a seamless, structured Cabernet-dominant wine, ripe with blackcurrant, framed with tobacco leaf and held in the grip of a tannin structure that allows this wine an easy 30-years cellared – precisely the length of time Vanya has led the winemaking at this family-owned vineyard. Little wonder, then, that it was the 2017 Cullen Diana Madeline that also took home the award of Australia’s Best of Varietal for Best Cabernet Sauvignon and Family. Two awards. One winery. We’re off to a flying start.
Australia’s Best Varietal for Chardonnay
A little further up Caves Road is Moss Wood. Home to owners and winemakers Claire and Keith Mugford, this year it’s also home to Australia’s best Chardonnay according to James Halliday and his team. Best Varietal for Chardonnay is a sought-after crown in a region known for its finely rendered interpretation of this, the queen of white wine grapes. Needless to say the award for the Moss Wood Wilyabrup Margaret River Chardonnay 2017 is, for the Mugfords, a welcome acknowledgement of the winery’s approach to the physical practice of viticulture and the science-meets-magic of winemaking.
Australia’s Best Value Winery of the Year
Winemaker Bruce Dukes was no industry newcomer when he made the decision to launch Domaine Naturaliste in Wilyabrup with his wife and sons in 2012 – 25 years making wine for other people meant he approached his own barrels with a vast depth of expertise. This year, those years of wine wisdom have been acknowledged by an award win that highlights Bruce’s artistry in drawing out the inherent character in his grapes in order to produce wines that drink above their pay grade. “Anyone with a mere interest in these wines shouldn’t hesitate,” says James Halliday of Domaine Naturaliste’s take on Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauv Blanc an Sauvignon Blanc Semillon varietals. “Wines of this class and price won’t be around next year.” His cellar door – a Zen structure of glass and timber shadowed by tall gums – is the ideal backdrop to take a taste of the wine that turned Halliday’s head. Just off Caves Road on the way north to Yallingup, it’s more than worth a turn off.
Australia’s Best Varietal for Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep Woods is the northern-most point on this day of award winning tastings. On Commonage Road in bushland in the tree-filled quarter of Yallingup, it is no longer a hidden gem courtesy of winemaker Julian Langworthy’s anointing by Halliday as last year’s Australian Winemaker of the Year. And for those that missed that memo? The 2020 award this year given to Julian’s 2016 Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for Australia’s Best Varietal for Cabernet Sauvignon should fill in the gaps. The Halliday nod isn’t just acknowledgement that the Margaret River region is among the world’s best for production of Chardonnay and Cabernet, but that the crafting of the grape in harmony with the terroir is a talent local winemakers possess in spades – with Julian one of the top few leading the charge. Expect opulent fruit, gravelly tannins spliced with precise structure and a brightness that draws forward fruit purity. A fitting grand finale to a fine day’s tasting.
Stella Bella Wines
Australia’s Best Varietal for Semillon Sauvignon blends
The decision to target parcels of land in the south end of the Margaret River region is clearly paying dividends at Stella Bella, where five separate vineyards between Darch Road and Karridale herald grapes subject to longer, cooler ripening periods that result, in the words of the Stella Bella wine team, in “feminine wines with distinctive varietal complexities.” It is those said same complexities that have attracted the attention of James Halliday to the 2016 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, awarded Australia’s Best Varietal for Semillon Sauvignon blends. Grapes for this single vineyard wine are sourced from the most south-westerly vineyard in Australia. Chief winemaker Luke Jollifffe coaxes them to reveal what are intriguing and self-directed profiles: the 2016 Sauv Blan Sem award winner is, according to the vineyard’s own tasting notes, “ever determined to follow its own course”. For all the complexity around development of the wine’s expression, the Rosa Brook cellar door just south of the Margaret River township is all easy informality with its open lawn, dog-friendly policy and friendly greeting. A great first glass of the day before taking in the last vineyard on the roster a little further south.
Australia’s Best Varietal for Sauvignon Blanc
There’s quite often a degree of synchronicity and interconnectedness in the Margaret River wine world. Dense with winemaking talent, winemakers imprint their legacies on vineyards and move on to allow another to build on top of what they left behind. As such, Stuart Pym left Suckfizzle and Stella Bella in 2013 to take the wheel of a new project in Forest Grove: Flowstone Wines. Stuart confesses to loving the small parcel approach that engenders deep intimacy between winemaker and vines. His receipt of Australia’s Best Varietal for Sauvignon Blanc with the 2017 Flowstone Queen of the Earth Sauvignon Blanc is proof that this intimacy is resulting in wines that are getting noticed by all the right people. Cellar door visits are arranged by appointment so do the legwork and make contact in advance – you won’t regret it.