The Good Life

Take a detour to Karridale and you'll discover something rather special

Sasha McDonald had a background studying fine arts in Melbourne before wine took over. “I developed a passion for the dirt,” she says, reflecting not just on her love for wine, but also the importance of the vineyard to her philosophy.

After further studies in winemaking, she worked at leading Margaret River wineries Xanadu and Cullen. Sasha met future husband Ben on the driveway of Glenarty Road where she had come to buy grapes. Together, this husband and wife team are the driving force between Glenarty Road, a sustainable farming and winemaking venture in Karridale, in southern Margaret River.

They are both passionate about ecological farming. “My family have been farming for five generations, and I want us to be aiming for at least another five,” says Ben. “We are here for a long time not for a good time,” he jokes.

The sheep are integral to the vineyard. We have 400 little lawnmowers each with four legs that keep the weeks down and keep the place looking like a bowling green. The bugs we buy (which are seeded in the vine canopy to protect the grape bunches) cost the same as pesticides. But they are better because the grapes are happier. The wines don’t have those stressed out characteristics.” 

Sasha has also taken inspiration from Vanya Cullen, who has been a pioneer of sustainable winemaking in Australia.

Ben planted the vineyard back in 1997 as a 19 year old. “My parents didn’t drink but my nana and mum loved growing plants.” After helping his neighbour plant vines in what is now Vasse Felix Karridale, Ben was inspired to plant his own. He sold the fruit for a number of years before launching the Kerfuffle range in 2004. Winemaking is not an easy business. Ben was close to pulling his vines when Sasha showed up in his driveway ten years later. 

Now there are two ranges. Glenarty Road and Kerfuffle – and the business is thriving. 

“Glenarty Road is picked from the blocks that express the best harvest,” says Sasha. The current range (from $30) includes a shiraz, an oaked sauvignon, and a rose. 

The Kerfuffle range features similar varieties ($20) as well as novel wines such as Archers Drop – a fortified sauvignon blanc, and a vintage port. Ben describes the Kerfuffle style perfect for the barbeque. “The SBS is nice and light for quaffing. The reds have less oak and are easy drinking,” he says.

Sasha spent a vintage making sparkling wine in the south west of England, which has inspired plans for an upcoming blanc de blanc and a pet nat for Glenarty Road. Other upcoming releases include a cane cut sauvignon blanc for a dessert wine andthe release of a solera muscat. They are also grafting emerging Italian white varietals vermentino and fiano in the vineyard. 

But wine is only part of the story for visitors to Glenarty Road. There are fruit trees, vegetable gardens, over a thousand sheep, a hop field and a restaurant and cellar door. I asked Ben how they manage the multi-tasking. “Lambing happens in July when there’s some pruning to be done in the vineyard but things are quieter there. By vintage time the lambs are sold so we can focus on winemaking,” Ben says. 

The farm and the plethora of animals also make Glenarty Road uniquely family friendly. “We have designed our gardens to have both form and function with bay leaf hedges, rosemary hedges, olives, coffee, and green tea to be able to use in the kitchen and cellar door,” Sasha says. “Our vege patch also supplies a large amount of the kitchen needs. You can’t get much fresher than that.”

On the farm, they have ducks, chickens, and guinea fowl (you will see them roaming around the farm) for pest control, taking care of snails, grasshoppers, and weavils. “In the winter our pigs digest our kitchen waste and dig up the next area for our vege patches. We always have a few friendly lambs close to the cellar door entertaining the kids while the adults do a tasting. Two working dogs, Bob and Pepper, come to greet every car with a wagging tail, and a friendly cat is usually asleep in a basket at the cellar door,” she says.

The menu was chosen to integrate with the wines featuring grass-fed lamb from the property and locally caught seafood. “The cellar door opened up just one year ago and has seen great local support. We were very busy right through our first summer,” Sasha says.   

If their wholesome approach to farming and winemaking sounds idyllic – it is! It’s enough to make even a die-hard city dweller dream of making a great escape. 

 Now you know what you’re drinking, you’ll need somewhere to stay.

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Fergal Gleeson

About Fergal Gleeson

Fergal Gleeson is a Sydney based wine writer who believes that wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures. He has written features for magazines including Gourmet Traveller WINE, Halliday Wine Companion Magazine, Your Margaret River Region Magazine, Marque, Found and PRIMOLife. Fergal was nominated as a finalist for the New Wine Writer of the Year Award 2016 run by the WCA and Gourmet Traveller WINE.

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