There is an experience of wine in the Margaret River region that goes beyond tasting what is in the glass. As any winemaker will tell you, wine is much closer to being an organism than a liquid. Yeasts. Fermentation. Environmental impact. Winemaker input and interventions. It all goes into the bottle.
So it follows that a tour of the Margaret River wine region necessarily involves more than a few cellar door tastings. Intimacy is a prerequisite. Feeling the landscape. Knowing the people.
A drive of the Tom Cullity Trail allows exactly that: a slow and winding exploration of this gum tree-lined route holds a starburst of interpersonal potential. A family-run winery around every bend, where long driveways through bushland are an opportunity to slow the car and the pulse in anticipation of conversation, a great chardonnay and a seeking glance for a resident kangaroo or a passing flock of the rare Baudin’s black cockatoo.
The Margaret River region is a place where community is family and the town lives with its arms wide open. Explore this Trail and fall into the region’s embrace.
Margaret River Chocolate Company
Heaven is the head of Tom Cullity Drive. Chocolate is here, and in significant quantities. Just try to walk past the sampler bowls at Margaret River Chocolate Company and resist the pull. Chocolate offerings here run the gamut from couverture bars to pretty little truffles, all the way to the garish appeal of marshmallow-plumped rocky road. Everything is made here, with a large viewing window into the bowels of the kitchen allowing little and big kids the chance to see a little further inside the chocolate making process. Chocolate classes are currently being revamped but will come back online, so keep an eye out. Watch, too, for the cheeky magpies checking for sausage roll crumbs outside beneath the trees, where the beautiful lawn and timber tipi is as attractive to the under-18 set as the made in-house ice cream. This is chocolate Margaret River style – incredible produce, casually and confidently addressed beneath the arcing reach of towering eucalypts.
Margaret River Providore Coward & Black Vineyards
You’ve done sweet, now let’s move onto savoury… A Margaret River Chocolate Company sister business, the Providore shop’s exhaustive range of produce will have you running for your picnic basket. Every. Thing. Is. Here. Olives. Olive oils. Homemade relishes, jams and preserves. Spice mixes. Desserts. Wines, of course. There’re even the sun-dappled picnic tables on the lawn out front just begging for you, one of the available DIY wooden boards of cheese and charcuterie, and a bottle of Coward & Black rosé. So far, so delicious. But if you can’t resist getting nosy with a wander through the organic vegetable patch, the Providore story gets a whole lot more personal. Here, chalk-written signposts tell the small stories of connectivity between garden, food, region, and philosophy. Water quality. Plant origins. Cooking approaches. Each little insight a secret to allow closer access to the mood behind the material food output. It’s a lovely and gentle approach that gives all comers equal access to the Providore inside story.
It might not be an established grouping, but the stories behind these four family-run vineyards within a few hundred metres of each other on the Tom Cullity Trail has too much synchronicity not to address directly. Ashbroook Estate. Heydon Estate. Thompson Estate. Peacetree Estate. The wines of each are as different as the vineyard stories. Ashbrook punches above its weight with forty vintages under its belt and a five-star James Halliday winery rating (“one of the quietest and highest achievers in Australia”). Heydon a fastidious operation with a wide streak of whimsy seen in its cricket-inspired labels and cellar door paraphernalia. Thompson Estate the realisation of a cardiologist’s dream, with its appropriately named Four Chambers range and a cellar door tucked inside the thick-walled barrel room, where tasting occurs among the aging wines. And Peacetree, a cellar door within a home that houses the family matriarch – this winery a small scale, deeply felt label employing a collaborative family effort in order to get grape to bottle. Each offers an insight into the intimate and devotional work that is boutique wine production. Of the land. Of the vines. Slow down up these four winding gravel driveways and be prepared for a warm welcome. You’ll be touching the heart of what makes this region special.
Bettenay Wines & Margaret River Nougat Company
The biggest danger for visitors to the Margaret River region is contracting regional fever – the high temperature excitement and sick feeling of longing at the thought of turning a holiday visit into a permanent tree change. But if you can’t make the move, at least you can imagine it at Bettenay’s. Regionally and justifiably known for their incredible nougats, Greg and Terri Bettenay also run spa apartment and self-contained chalet accommodation set amongst the quiet magic of a rural property that speaks to the area’s most sought-after attributes – quiet bush, stunning light and a forever-sense-of-space. Inside, there’s everything needed to enjoy easy time together. And outside? An entire region in which to play. Not forgetting, of course, the Bettenay shop within an easy coo-ee fully stoked with nougats, Bettenay wines and the unique honey-based liqueurs that are a Bettenay signature.
In early autumn, Juniper Estate’s cottage garden is running rampant. The rose bushes heading each row of vine are in full flower. And tall stands of dahlias shining face up to the sun stand sentinel along the path leading to the paradise that is the Juniper Estate cellar door. Juniper’s connection to the identity of the area is strong – planted in 1973, it is one of the region’s oldest vineyards and subscribes to original methods: vines are dry grown, hand picked and hand pruned. It is a boutique process with great connection to the land. Wilyabrup Creek runs along the grassed, BYO picnic area out front of cellar door and serves as a geographic reminder as to what makes this area’s wines so special: pristine water, pristine environment and a group of people who work this land with a deep respect for the natural gifts contributing to the quality of both their wines and their lives.
It’s the last stop on the Tom Cullity Trail, and an appropriate one: established by Dr Tom Cullity in 1967, Vasse Felix is Margaret River’s founding wine estate. But it’s not just for this reason that the winery with the closest relationship to the road’s namesake gets its own listing. Where the trail’s smaller scale wineries offer intimate looks into some of the region’s very personal family-run vineyards, Vasse Felix is a stellar example of the polish and professionalism of larger scale wineries whose award-winning wines and international reach have helped push the Margaret River region’s wines into the broader global spotlight. Sculptural artworks in the garden set the scene for a two-storey jarrah, glass and concrete restaurant that sits diner’s among the treetops while offering up intricate, well-thought food that celebrates local seasonal produce and skilful classic technique. Hosted estate tours are available for pre-booking daily. Back vintage tasting experiences are encouraged. And for those who prize wine above the incredible rotating gallery of art displayed on the restaurant’s ground floor, well, a walk through The Vault with its detailed exhibition of museum wines won’t disappoint.