Margaret River Chardonnay: Happs Wines. Credit Rachel Claire.

The Margaret River Region kicks out like a little button on the south-west of the state.

A terroir cradled on three sides by ocean and boasting the maritime breezes, gravelly soils and long, gentle growing seasons that chardonnay loves. Naturally, we have come to love it in return.

The winemakers I spoke to on this very taxing assignment concurred that the chardonnay they want to make is balanced, with no one element outshining or diluting another. Whether it’s fruit, oak, texture, creamy softness, or acidic structure, it should all exist harmoniously within the same glass of blonde-gold goodness.

This is the complex thing about being a chardy drinker; the scope of styles you could possibly taste and love, or not, is broad and exciting, but sometimes misunderstood or at least misconstrued.

There are those who proclaim to drink anything but chardonnay (ABCs) but will be converted after twenty years by a single tasting session at a particular vineyard. Others are staunch 1990s melted butter fiends or malolactic fermentation fans and lament the finer, fruit driven styles.

So, what can we expect from our Margaret River Region Chardonnay and how should we be enjoying it?

Margaret River Chardonnay: Howard Park. Credit Russell Ord.
Howard Park. Photo credit Russell Ord.

Cha Cha Wine’s Charlotte Newton says that as winemakers it’s about understanding a process similar to taking an ingredient into the kitchen as a chef would, nurturing the product through the winery to achieve that elusive beautiful balance and affinity with other produce of the region.

She says this is particularly exciting as improvements in agricultural practices develop and sustainability is reinforced from year to year.

Of the vegetarian persuasion, Charlotte fancies her chardonnay with a fresh seasonal vegetable tart and a local cheese.

Margaret River Chardonnay: Whicher Ridge. Credit Taya Reid
Cathy Howard and Polly, Whicher Ridge. Photo credit Taya Reid.

At the Whicher Ridge wine sensory garden, you can wander from the cellar door through the fruit trees, herbs and specially curated affinity beds to find textural and flavour driven matches for your vino of choice.

Under the quince tree, Cathy Howard contemplates food matches for Whicher’s Henry Road chardonnay. She leans towards a butter and cream-based dish with French tarragon, orange thyme or marjoram to play off the soft mouthfeel, cashew and elegant stone fruit of the wine.

Cathy takes the minimal additions and no fining pathway with her winemaking. Hazy grape juice is transferred straight into new and used French oak barrels for fermentation, with the watchful kelpie Polly supervising closely.

Margaret River Chardonnay: Bruce Dukes, Domaine Naturaliste. Credit Taya Reid.
Bruce Dukes, Domaine Naturaliste. Photo credit Taya Reid.

Bruce Dukes of Domaine Naturaliste says it’s a joy to be a chardonnay winemaker in this part of the world, entrusted to gently guide and protect the naturally occurring strong agricultural produce through to a uniquely flavoured wine with minimal interference.

In his various chardonnays, Dukes is focused on crafting culturally relevant wines that speak to our current values, habits, lifestyle, and tastes. He believes in the co-evolution of the region’s coastal foods and flourishing vines, and the marriage of flavours that the climate and conditions provide.

While Bruce heartily recommends a share table of local seafood or a whole roast chook with the queen of white varietals, he is quick to admit the best food match for chardonnay is often fresh air and a Yallingup view.

Margaret River Chardonnay: Robert Gherardi, Mr Barval. Credit Taya Reid.
Robert Gherardi, Mr Barval. Photo credit Taya Reid.

Mr. Barval is actually Robert Gherardi, the label name being a nod to three influential regions in Gherardi’s life, Margaret River, Barolo and his own family’s Valtellina heritage. As he conducts careful bâtonnage for the chardonnay currently under his care, Gherardi reiterates the sentiment of minimal intervention, honouring the quality of the produce.

He identified chardonnay early as an enduring Margaret River stalwart and has cultivated relationships and vines alike, sourcing a select variety of fruit to create a true Margaret River Regional chardonnay, showcased unfiltered.

On food, Gherardi says, “Our dream chardonnay meal is probably summertime panko crumbed abalone and barbecued crayfish with a garden salad. We’re fortunate to be able to free dive and fish that local produce right here.”

Margaret River Chardonnay and Oysters at Howard Park. Credit Russell Ord.
Chardonnay and oysters at Howard Park. Photo credit Russell Ord.

Choosing a Venue

Now where to enjoy the results of the attention and love our local winemakers give our grapes? At Howard Park you can waltz through for a seated tasting or linger in the wine chapel with exclusive attention and a feast of local cheese, condiments and charcuterie to accompany your wines which include both a chardonnay and a chablis.

Enjoy your bottle of Grace Farm or Xanadu with king prawn risotto or a sweet crab bun at Lagoon Yallingup, grab a picnic hamper for the lawn and treat yourself to a drop of Happs or pop to Barnyard 1978 for their delicate, handmade, chardonnay friendly pasta dishes.

Honouring the Grapes

You get the sense these winemakers can see what’s buzzing beneath the soil and secreted among the rows with their super viticulture vision. That from the beginning, they are considering and paying tribute to the fruit’s very inception, in order to handle it gently and wisely enough to make it to our tables with its origin intact, alongside a flaky piece of dhufish or ribbons of pesto pappardelle of course.

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