The growth of organic, biodynamic & natural winemaking in Your Margaret River Region
Thoughtful consumerism is alive and well in the Margaret River region. Getting to grips with the journey from paddock to plate and vineyard to glass is a reality, whether picking up organic produce at the Margaret River Farmers Market or trying the growing number of winemakers who are in varying measures: organic, biodynamic and natural.
At Burnside Organic Farm, Lara and Jamie McCall produce wine, avocados and capers. Certified both organic and biodynamic it wasn’t a commercial decision to take this root, more a personal belief that to pollute the land on which they live and feed their family from wasn’t an option. Organic at its simplest excludes synthetic and artificial chemicals, such as fertilisers, pesticides, and fungicides while biodynamics takes a holistic approach that sees the fertility of soil, livestock care and plant growth as interrelated tasks. Certification comes with a cost and work on the producers part; soil tests, checks and audits all part of getting the prized certification. For Lara McCall there’s no question of the value. “Interest is growing,” she says. “Margaret River has a reputation for amazing quality and people see organic as part of that. There’s pressure in the industry to go this way.” McCall also points to the work done by other winemakers in the region, such as Vanya Cullen at the iconic Cullen Wines (pictured above and below) in Wilyabrup, Wayne and Kaye Nobbs of Settlers Ridge in Cowaramup and Julian Wright at Marri Wood Park near Yallingup.
While the number of truly organic or biodynamic winemakers is still relatively small, McCall hopes that more will make the step towards certification. At McHenry Hohnen (pictured below), winemaker Trent Carroll is one of those that is edging towards it. Their vineyards use organic and biodynamic principles, but are not certified. “We make the wine on the vine” Carroll says of their approach of minimal inputs in the winemaking process and biodynamic inspired approach of preparing non-chemical preparations, which are applied in the vineyard. “We honestly believe that it produces better grapes and ultimately wine. This way, stripped of chemical certainties we’re always in the vineyard, touching the vine, connected to what we’re doing. We get better results this way.”
Many of the wineries in or on the edges of the organic, biodynamic and natural space are small operations and may have restricted cellar door times or no cellar door at all. The advice from Lara McCall echoes that of many locals in the know; “first stop for organic wine in Margaret River has to be Settlers Tavern.” Owned and operated by Karen and Rob Gough, “The Tav” has an award winning wine list with around 500 from the region and beyond. Karen Gough emphasizes their focus, “on family businesses, those with character, story and great wine.” Reeling off a list of wines available by the glass, it’s a who’s who of winemakers to know in Margaret River. The “beautiful Zinfandel from Burnside Organic Farm”, to the Cullen Amber and wines from Jimmy and Josephine Perry’s Dormilona label (made from organic and biodynamic grapes sourced from the region).
“Often trumpeted as a new movement it’s actually going back to the oldest roots of winemaking”
Those that are uncertified, but nonetheless approaching viticulture and winemaking from a natural angle also appear, such as Si Vintners and Blind Corner (now in the midst of certification). Natural wine has its fans and its detractors. Chemical free and made with minimal intervention, some winemakers, sommeliers and wine writers believe quality can be too variable; winemakers stripped of their ability to correct a wine by making adjustments. Often trumpeted as a new movement it’s actually going back to the oldest roots of winemaking; a constantly surprising and challenging part of the winemaking world.
Gough saves special praise for Cloudburst, served by the bottle. Will Berliner’s wines are gathering cult status in the region and abroad. There’s a premium price tag attached but Berliner’s story, that of an American, first time viticulturist, who fell for the region and the art of winemaking in equal measure is what Gough’s list and the best of Margaret River is all about: engaged and conscientious producers, presenting you with more than just a glass of wine. Each glass an unmasked expression of their corner of the region. As Gough says “when you know that the winemaker is out there on his knees, ripping up weeds by hand, how could you not give it a try.”