More than 40 years ago, two young teachers named Erl and Ros Happ were inspired to plant a wide range of grape varieties in the Margaret River region. Many thought their deviation from the norm was crazy, but their pioneering spirit has paid off; today the Happs Wines vineyards produce more than 30 grape varieties and a comprehensive portfolio of wines sold nationally and exported around the world. Combine that portfolio with the winery’s range of hampers, featuring delicious produce from across the region, and you’ve got yourself the ideal one-stop-shop for the perfect picnic. Sarina Kamini speaks to Happs Winery Manager Leah Clearwater, and recommends five perfect picnic pairings that you can pick up at their Cellar Door.
I have a little trouble finding Happs. A forgotten phone means no GPS and, on the drive from Margaret River, the details of how to find the Dunsborough-based cellar door of this near forty-year-old winery get a little blurry. It takes a stop-in at nearby Flametree winery to set me right.
“Left at Commonage and then up the hill,” is the directive.
Ten-minutes later and I’m there. It’s a beautiful twisting, turning arrival. A meandering road lined by gums that is the perfect introduction to a winery whose relaxed approach to wine has become a hallmark.
“Our philosophy is that we want to have a wine for everyone,” explains Leah Clearwater, Manager at Happs Wines as she talks me through some of the 30-plus styles the vineyard carries under its three separate labels: Happs Estate Range, Three Hills and iSeries Wines.
“It’s one thing to say that the Margaret River region produces the best Chardonnay or Cabernet, but what if those aren’t styles you enjoy drinking?” For Leah and the Happs family, the answer is simple – expand to become the winery that has something for everyone.
It is a welcoming ethos, and one that makes for great food and wine matching – another Happs speciality; along with an elaborately stocked cellar door, the winery sells an impressive range of charcuterie, cheeses, crackers, treats, chutneys and relishes from the region’s best local producers.
With autumn bringing pleasant sunny days and milder winds, the time is right to plan weekend picnics. And with Happs famed for its DIY picnic hampers, there’s no better place. Take a trip to Dunsborough, explore the Happs pottery centre and then find a shady spot in the vineyard gardens to enjoy these perfect pairings.
Pinot and Pâté
It’s always startling to spot the paddocks full of deer beneath the gum trees on the Caves Road drive between Margaret River and Dunsborough. As cute as those deer are to look at, they’re even better to eat. The Margaret River Venison Company is locally lauded for its range of venison chorizos, spiced sausages and fresh cuts. But at Happs it’s the venison pate upon which the spotlight shines. The pate is lightly spiced, its venison origins giving it a rich and creamy palate. An ideal match, in other words, to the Happs 2017 Indigenous Series Pinot Noir. Originating from the winery’s southern vineyard where cooler climates provide great growing conditions for this varietal, the wine offers fresh and lively berry fruits to cut through the pate’s unctuous profile, while a savoury element is a complement to this smallgoods’ unique umami flavours and silken mouth. If venison is not your thing, a traditional chicken liver pate from Dunsborough-based company, Catered by Jacqueline, is an equal match.
Cured Meats and Rosé
Having a producer like Dunsborough’s Beef By The Reef just around a country corner means a whole world of impressive charcuterie lines Happs compact display fridge. But first let’s start with the wine… Happs Bone Dry Rose is the pick. Made from handpicked Grenache and Sangiovese grapes, the wine is pressed and fermented to dryness in stainless steel tanks and old oak barrels using inoculated and wild yeasts. The end result is an attractive dry style rose with strawberry and cherry primary notes matched with the vibrant acidity of grapefruit, lemon curd and gooseberry. This is a wine with the freshness of a white and the complexity of a red courtesy of the varietals used. The perfect picnic wine, in other words. Served chilled, a glass becomes an eager partner for a wide range of cured meats, from black forest ham through to Spanish Longanisa sausage.
Havarti and Chardy
Welcome to the Margaret River region in a glass. Chardonnay is the defining grape of the South West, and Happs’ Three Hills Vineyard Chardonnay is a gorgeous example of the style. Known for its elegance and complexity, this is a style with plenty of room to move in terms of personalising the wine through flavour modification in the winery. Three Hills’ example uses wild fermentation and barrel fermentation in new and one-year-old oak, yeast lees stirring and some solid inclusions in the ferment to produce a complex and richly flavoured bottle. The complex integration of restrained oak, white peach and lemon meringue and almond meal characteristics makes it a full-bodied match for local dairy producer Harvey’s Harvati cheese. A firm textured cheese, it has a nutty profile and a long finish and a creamy-sharp texture that holds hands with the Three Hills 2016 Chardonnay’s textural palate. A match made in heaven, especially when accompanied by some crunchy green olives and some seeded crackers.
Blue and Late-Picked
Traditional cheese making is the calling card at Cambray Cheese in nearby Nannup, an award-winning, family-run farm specialising in traditional farmhouse methods recognised by the West Australian Dairy Industry Association. Particularly worth recognising the Cambray Blackwood Blue, a creamy, briny and yeasty blue rich in texture, smooth on the palate and with great depth. Intense and funky flavour such as this requires a wine with some ripe backbone. Enter, the 2013 Happs Late Picked Semillon. Made from Semillon grapes sourced from Happs’ Karridale vineyard, the grapes are left longer on the vine to achieve higher sugar levels. The extended ripening period allows the grapes to become infected with botrytis – the fungal cause of ‘noble rot’. What follows are unique flavours of ginger, marmalade, apricot and honey – rich, textured, unctuous and sweet, the fermentation arrested and the wine bottled to retain the fresh lifted characters of the variety. What a match. Happs 2013 Late Picked Semillon has plenty of crisp acidity on the finish to manage richness and its sublime sweetness uplifts the salty notes of the cheese.
Chocolate and Three Hills Petit Verdot
No picnic is complete without a sweet finish. Pawprint chocolates from Denmark in WA’s Great Southern are a delicious conclusion. The family-run company uses only sustainably sourced products to make its handcrafted chocolates. Our pick is the Turkish Delight, a blend of milk and dark chocolate. To match, grab a bottle of the 2016 Three Hills Perit Verdot, a late ripening Bordeaux variety grape that produces a distinctive and full flavoured bottle when left to hand until death-knock. It’s green plum, mulberry and violet aroma overlays hints of cola, choc mint and charry oak – a great red for chocolate. This is a great example of a perfect picnic pairing, where the sweetness and rose-petal notes of the chocolate highlight the distinctly pretty characters of this wine.