Small Family Winery Trail
- Meet the families behind some of the Margaret River region’s small-production wineries.
- Get a taste of limited-run wines, some of which are only available from cellar door.
- Get behind the scenes at working family farms.
- Discover a whole new side to Margaret River region wine.
Dropping in to cellar doors on Margaret River’s Small Family Wine Trail feels like dropping in on family: the side doors are always open, though you might have to give a little holler if cellar door is unattended. When you care for the wine you’re selling, there are not a lot of idle minutes left in the day to stand still.
But you won’t mind the casual approach. These wineries are as welcoming as their wines are polished.
The idea of ‘small family wineries’ no longer means boisterous table wines picked by Nonno and fermented in the shed with hanging salamis. In the Margaret River region, this tag is synonymous with single estate wines benefitting from an almost entirely hands-on approach to a much smaller scale of production.
For the winemakers involved, this means tighter quality control and a very personalised bottle expression. For us folk at cellar door, it equates with an intimate tasting experience.
Many of these winemakers are possessed by the passion of the (initially) self-trained. Knowledge of their wines and the unique climatic conditions they grow under, combined with time at the basket press, lend them a very personal relationship with the bottles they cork.
But ‘handmade’ doesn’t mean ‘homespun’. Polish is a given, as is nuance on the palate. That these grapes often don’t leave the winery boundaries until point of cellar door sale (a few have no external distribution channels) means that the winemakers have complete control of the grape’s expression.
This pocket of the region’s wine community is as loveable as the polish of the big guns. Small family run wineries offer just one more insight into the wines for which the Margaret River region has become known.
Full time inside story seeker Sarina Kamini has forged a path for those seeking to discover a different side of Margaret River region wine. Ready, set…
Chris Davies adores his vines. The six hectares under vine on his Quininup Road property – right on the border of Yallingup and Wilyabrup – is his and his alone. Since purchase of the property with wife, Jo, in 1999, Chris’ mission statement has been to extract the very best from the soil and from the grapes: apart from the day of harvesting, no other is permitted to touch the vines. It’s a possessive approach that results in unique wines made to exacting specifications in order to stand as true representations of Chris’ small patch of terroir. Windows Estate is home to nine varietals (a growth from the initial hectare or Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc that was under vine at the time of the Davies’ purchase). But no matter what the grape, balance is the by-word – these wines are encouraged to express minerality, acidity, tannins and textures in a quietly elegant tone. In the truest tradition, the Windows Estate vineyard is dry farmed, hand pruned, hand picked and basket pressed. Direct sales only. This is a bottle you need to meet on its own turf. And what turf it is – the neat little cellar door with the sliding glass door, outdoor play area, lush lawn and intimate welcome is a place to which you will want to return.
Cape Grace Wines
“We’re known as the shed winery in the forest,” laughs Karen Karri-Davies. She’s just waved goodbye to a quarter of regular cellar door visitors, one walking out with another case of Cape Grace Wines to add to his home collection. For the next 30 minutes, Karen regales me with all of her stories and wine wisdom. Alongside husband and Cape Grace winemaker, Rob, Karen has called this patch of land home since 1996. “John Gladstones tested the soil here,” Karen says, referencing the Perth agronomist who suggested the Margaret River region would be even better than the Great Southern wine region, as long as vines were planted on well-drained soil. He liked the site. So when the land finally came up for sale in the mid-90s, Karen and her then-photographer husband made the winemaking leap. “Everything is made on site,” explains the Cape Grace matriarch in a story that finds a common telling across the Small Family Winery Trail, as she acknowledges: “we’ve all got different stories but there’s a synergy about who we all are.” Rob no longer runs the six hectares under vine on his own, but he does the lion’s share of work and directs the rest. Karen estimates around 90 per cent of sales occur direct, though Cape Grace wines are on the lists of a few lucky local restaurants, Miki’s Open Kitchen and Arc of Iris among them. The last is something that pleases Karen. “It’s good for people to be able to see and to enjoy our wines in the way that they are meant to experienced.”
Blink and you’ll miss the driveway into Grace Farm, situated just off Caves Road but before the coastal hamlet of Gracetown. Owned by John and Elizabeth Mair, the 2006-established vineyard works to organic and sustainable principles, led by viticulturist, Tim Quinlan, and winemaker Jonathon Mettam. It was viticulturist Tim who directed the Mairs toward plantings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and the blending varietals of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Terroir plays a huge role: being located in the Wilyabrup area means rich soils, optimal drainage and consistent coastal breezes that aerate the vines. It is a young vineyard (the first vintage was produced in 2010), though early awards speak to promise. Just be sure to think ahead if you’re thinking of dropping by – unlike some of the other featured vineyards, Grace Farm runs a by-appointment only tasting schedule.
When Trevor and Lyn Mann made the tree change to Margaret River that most visitors to the region dream of, they had wine on their minds. Today? They have it bottled in their Cowaramup cellar door at Brookwood Estate. The vineyard the couple bought in 1996 produced its first vintage three years later. There was a lot of work in between. The planting of ten thousand young vines over six hectares, of course. But also the training and education that would allow two non-viticulture professionals to turn themselves into boutique winemakers. In line with the other family run vineyards in the region, the Mann’s place an emphasises on sound agricultural philosophies to see the best example of the grape from their Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blang, Shiraz and Cabernet varietals. Of course none of this could be done without Brookwood winemaker Bronnley Cahill, herself a proponent of minimal intervention. For Bronnley, all of this sentiment and dedication is there to be tasted in the glass. “I believe that you can taste it,” she explains. “It’s the little extras along the way that we do, because we love what we do. All of these things compound to make a special product.”
Burnside Organic Farm
Lara McCall bounces me into the winery, grinning as she points out one of husband and winemaker Jamie’s inventions. “He rigged it up after doing his shoulder working the basket press,” Lara laughs, her hand on the water bucket of a handsome looking timber beam that operates a pulley system that now turns the lid of the press. Jamie’s solution to the physical challenge of boutique winemaking is at once beautifully crafted and clever, a little like this couple’s wines. Having lived and worked on Burnside Farm since 1997, the couple has raised three sons on the land. They’ve also raised the bar when it comes to small-scale organic winemaking. Having fallen in love with Italian wines in their earlier travels, Jamie and Lara noted the region’s climatic similarity and took the plunge with Vermentino and Rosato, alongside a bit of Californian Zinfandel a la early Margaret River region Zinfandel pioneer, David Hohnen. It was worth the risk of being different – Burnside wines are incredibly savoury, complex and textural. Want to try? You’ll need to drop by. This is another gem of a vineyard where direct sales are the by-word. It’s worth a visit, though. Along with the lovely little cellar door is the Burnside farm. Tours won’t begin until later this year, but the view and the conversation is inspirational in itself.
The name Hohnen says a lot of things, in Margaret River. It speaks of pioneering. Of quality. Deep winemaking roots. Conceived in 2004, McHenry Hohnen was a family venture for brothers-in-law Murray McHenry and David Hohnen. David was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2018 for his services to the Margaret River wine industry (he established Cape Mentelle winery in the early 1970s). Murray, a fine wine retailer. The partnership has resulted in a winery where craft and experience is at the root: the cellar door is an intimate experience showcasing a treasure trove of textural, complex and polished wines. Chardonnay and Cabernet are there, of course, but so too the rarer finds of Tempranillo and Zinfandel. Three family vineyards in the region provide the grapes for wines that pour from the bottle as a pure expression of the land. Use of biological farming methods is integral to the delicious quality of the end result. David may have moved on from the press, but Murray remains to work with Italian head winemaker, Jocpop Dalli Cani, and viticulturist, Mike Sleegers. Growth and development has always been part of the McHenry Hohnen story. Long may the evolution continue.
Brown Hill Estate
That a couple from Kalgoorlie have settled in Rosa Brook in order to find their way to express the Margaret River region in a bottle is just the kind of story you’ll find on the Small Family Winery Trail. The 24-hectare Brown Hill Estate vineyard established by Jim and Gwen Bailey in 1995 is a true family affair. Son Nathan is the winemaker, and all in the family are incredibly proud of both their Gold Fields roots and the community they’ve called home since the vineyard’s purchase – Rosa Brook. While many of the family’s wines are named for famous gold mines or miners in the Kalgoorlie area, the vineyard tasting room is pure small town Margaret River region; a jarrah slab resting on a couple of oak barrels in the vineyard’s low-key tasting room. The winemaking ethos of the Bailey’s is in keeping with their fellow family-run vineyard kin. Traditional boutique winemaking is seen in the hand-picking and hand-sorting of the single estate grown fruit to ensure control over quality and character. Beyond cellar door, keep an eye out for the occasional Brown Hill Estate wine dinners hosted in restaurants from Perth to the South West.
Glenarty Road is the kind of cellar door, regional restaurant and farm that visitors spend a Sunday afternoon visiting… and then drive the whole way home wondering if they could make the tree change to do it themselves. So much romance. So much beauty. So much work, yes. But what makes it all look so effortless is the combined wisdom of five-generations that local farmer and vigneron, Ben Foley, has in his head, heart and hands. Ben planted his vines at the tender age of 19 and along with his wife, Sasha, runs the 26-acres under vine alongside their talk-of-the-town farmhouse restaurant. The approach is ‘ground to glass’ and ‘paddock to plate’ with hard graft and hard science mingled through. Sheep keep the weeds down between the vines for six months of the year. Chicken and guinea fowl take care of the bugs. Pigs help prepare the vegetable beds with their snuffling. Wine making is by barrel press, the cooler climate of Karridale overlaying its own bottle character, preserving the delicate phenolics in the vineyard’s whites and drawing forward the spice in Glenarty Road reds. Come. Eat. Drink. Tour the vineyard. Stay a while. Just don’t imagine you can match it – this is the type of bucolic paradise best left to handling by the experts.