Off the Beaten Track Wineries
With close to 100 cellar doors in the region, there's bound to be a few you don't know. Fergal Gleeson takes you there!
At 50 years of age, the Margaret River wine region now has many wineries that are globally recognised such as Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate and Cullen Wines. But that’s only part of the region’s story. There are close to one hundred cellar doors in the region, and many offer award-winning wines. Many are family-owned wineries where you’ll get the personal touch. Some have picture-postcard vistas where you can enjoy a scrumptious lunch with a local wine, so take the plunge and go off piste. So, if you’re in search of something a little different on your wine adventure, you won’t be disappointed. Fergal Gleeson uncovered some lesser known treasures for you to explore on your next visit to the Margaret River region.
Stella Bella Wines
Stella Bella isn’t quite a household name yet but by any other standard it is one of the most successful wineries in the region. It holds a 5-star Halliday rating and has enjoyed considerable critical acclaim across its different labels from Serie Luminosa at the top to Skuttlebutt, the entry level range.
Stella Bella was founded in 1999 by the local Pyvis and Waldon families. They now have five distinctive vineyards located throughout southern Margaret River. “We choose the southern Margaret River for its cool climate and ability to produce elegant, aromatic and medium bodied wines,” Luke Joliffe, head winemaker said. “The peak summer and low winter temperatures are moderated. This results in a longer cooler ripening period which creates feminine wines with distinctive varietal complexities. They have delicate and elegant flavours and a precise structure with a mineral character.”
Stella Bella has enjoyed notable wine show success recently including a trophy for Best Cabernet Sauvignon and Best Red Wine at the 2016 Langton’s Margaret River Wine Show and Best Cabernet Sauvignon of Margaret River Region in the 2016 James Halliday Cabernet Challenge for the 2014 Serie Luminosa Cabernet.
I asked Luke what he attributed this success to. “Everything is done on a single block basis and we assess and challenge all aspects of winemaking to enhance the particular strengths of the site. Is wild ferment better? What oak suits the vineyard, why, what solids level suits the vineyard?”
What are his favourite picks from the range? “Winter in Margaret River calls for cabernet sauvignon and our trophy-wining 2014 Seri Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon is my pick. Its opulence is astounding and it is almost sold out. Later this year we will be releasing the first ever Suckfizzle chardonnay. The texture and natural acidity create the perfect tension. It is the epitome of southern Margaret River chardonnay with a twist.”
What should people expect at the cellar door? Our charming little cellar door has a very welcoming relaxed atmosphere and is just minutes from town (just be aware of the roadworks at the moment). The team are so passionate and knowledgeable. We invite people to bring a picnic to enjoy in the vineyard with wine by the glass and also welcome your furry friend too.”
What next for Stella Bella? “We have an exciting new label called ‘Otro Vino’ which means other wine. It is a range of adventurous, creative, exotic and explorative hand-crafted wines that will change from year to year. But most of the time we will make chardonnay, sangiovese and tempranillo, then search for alternative varieties we can have fun with. So, stay tuned…”
Hamelin Bay Wines
“I always liked drinking the stuff,” says Richard Drake Brockman on why he opened a winery. “My wife was brought up on the land. She was looking for a rural pursuit. The only thing that interested me to do in the country was to make wine.”
“You have to be completely mad to do what we did because wine making is a pretty ordinary business!” jokes Richard, reflecting on the fact that running a small winery is not for the faint- hearted. But that’s exactly what Richard and wife Roslyn did when they established a vineyard in 1992 in the Karridale region of Margaret River.
Richard has learned many lessons along the way. “No challenge is too great to eventually overcome, though at first it might appear so. There are the challenges of running a vineyard, a winery and restaurant. That’s agriculture. You are at the mercy of the weather. But there’s always a way even in the coldest, wettest summers.”
Recently Hamelin Bay’s Rampant Red 2015 took out a trophy and gold at the Langton’s Margaret River Wine Show. The wine is a blend of shiraz, cabernet and malbec and sells for just $17. “It’s a smart wine. The whole vintage was good,” says Richard. There is also a Rampant White which is a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Both wines feature a large heraldic wyvern or dragon on the label which is the family coat of arms and accounts for the rampancy. Richard particularly recommends their semillon sauvignon blanc which he considers the classic Margaret River white and their chardonnay for which they have won the most trophies. They make a reserve cabernet, shiraz and chardonnay in the best years.
The restaurant has been another key to the winery’s success. Richard describes the new menu as “upmarket pub food” such as share plates, platters of local produce, local fish and chips, strip loin steak and house special ice cream sandwiches. “It’s a relaxed venue where you can sit out on the deck and enjoy sweeping views of the vineyard and the valley below.”
Kevin Sorgiovanni, owner of Fishbone Wines wrote an interesting piece in the winery newsletter about what happens in the vineyard after vintage:
“As the weather gets cooler, the schedule in the vineyard also changes . . . Before they go to sleep, we need to make sure the vines are well fed and nurtured,” he writes. “Over the next couple of months, we will disc between the rows in the vineyard. This aerates the earth, stimulates the soil, encourages new earthworm activity and assists in the control of weeds. So, while vintage 2018 draws to a close, the cycle in the vineyard moves to ensuring the vines are in optimum health as they prepare to hibernate for the winter!”
To confirm that the winemaker’s work is never done, when I spoke to Fishbone’s winemaker Stuart Pierce, he had just come in from the vineyard where he had been marking out the locations for the planting of new varieties such grenache, pinot noir, malbec and possibly montepulciano. Stuart describes himself as a South Australian lad, who cut his winemaking teeth with Grosset, Australia’s most famous riesling maker. Stuart then found his way to Margaret River via Queensland and some overseas vintages. He has worked with Fishbone Wines for 15 years. Stuart won Australia’s most prestigious wine award in 2010, The Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for a Margaret River Cabernet. It was a great experience which he’d love to emulate.
He talked me through Fishbone’s two labels. “The Premium Black Label is exclusively Margaret River and single vineyard,” he says. “The wines get the artisan approach and my philosophy is to be as genuine as possible to the vineyard itself. The wines get the red carpet treatment with quality oak. I also like to push the boundaries with wild fermentation and minimal filtration. I’ve explored picking early and later to get a better perspective on optimum ripeness.” Prices are from $25-35.
The Blue Label wines are priced at $24 and are made under the Western Australia Geographical Indication (GI) though most of the fruit is typically Margaret River. The 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is a stunner and has picked up gold medals and trophies at the West Australian and Margaret River Wine shows. Stuart says: “I knew I nailed the timing of the picking with that wine. It’s one of our biggest sellers.” Stuart also calls out the Black Label chardonnay, for its natural acidity and apple and pear flavours and Black Label Tempranillo, “a really interesting wine” which is whole-bunch pressed and made in small quantities.
Fishbone also operate a Japanese Restaurant beside the cellar door offering wine, beer and sake. “Japanese food is subtle and holds up better with the whites. Though we also offer Wagyu beef ribs with plum sauce which go well with our reds.”
Brookwood Estate Wines
Brookwood founders Trevor and Lynn Mann decided to up sticks from city life in Perth during a winery lunch and Brookwood Estate was born shortly afterwards in 1996. Their daughter Bronnley Cahill is the now winemaker at Brookwood and remembers helping her parents along the way when they were establishing the six-hectare vineyard. “They were tenacious, hard-working and learnt as they went along. Their original plan was to live on the land and just grow grapes,” she says. Lyn spent some time working in the cellar at Woody Nook learning about winemaking and Trevor looked after the vineyard. It was a huge undertaking for a couple with no winemaking experience.
Since then Brookwood have won trophies for their sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon and they focus their wine portfolio very much on their customers. “At our cellar door we are always listening to our customers, this helps us make our wines for them” Their most popular wines are NV Bubbles, a sparkling wine, Mellow Rouge, a fruity and unoaked red wine made to be served chilled and a chenin blanc, which is a full-bodied, medium dry wine.
Bronnley is passionate about chenin. “It’s an exceptional varietal. I had the wonderful opportunity to be involved in an exchange for wine professionals to the Loire Valley in France where they make amazing wines from chenin Blanc. This experience was a great source of inspiration for me. Brookwoods’ chenin blanc is crafted in rich and flavourful off-dry style so it pairs beautifully with spicy food, Asian cuisine or a strong flavoured cheese.”
Along with their cellar door, Brookwood also has a restaurant that boasts 180-degree vineyard views and delivers a relaxed dining experience. Enjoy a delicious main, share a platter or some tapas and thanks to it being licensed, you can also enjoy local beers as well as their own wines. “Our aim is to provide beautiful, delicious food and first-class wines at affordable prices in a friendly and relaxed environment.”