We were really looking forward to exploring one of Australia’s most notorious wine regions, but our first 24 hours in the region wasn’t too pleasant. We got to Augusta first and found it to be a chronic retirement town where you are hated if you are younger than 40. We went to the Information Centre in down and the lady behind the counter was very rude and dismissive! With such a cold reception, we blew that joint faster than Cheech and Chong.
One of the most disappointing things we learnt in Augusta was that the tours to visit the beautiful caves in the region were ridiculously expensive! We were really looking forward to seeing the longest straw formation in Jewel Lake, but not for $22 each! That’s almost a week’s worth of food! We cut our losses and sought out a spot to stay for the night, but found out that the region did not offer any free camping. You have to camp either in a caravan park or national park. We chose the national park option on the first night and stayed at Chapman Pool in Blackwood National Park for $7 each.
In the morning, we woke at dawn and drove into Margaret River to wait for the supermarket to open. While we were in the car park, a council worker aggressively called out that we were assholes and that her town wasn’t a caravan park. It must have looked like we had stayed the night in the car park, but considering that we hadn’t, it was quite rude and presumptuous of her to swear and badmouth us.
Thankfully, that was the last dose of bad taste that we received, because at about 8am, our mates who had been living in the UK for the last two years cheekily appeared at Troopy’s window and we were reunited for a brief four days to sip and taste the goods of Margaret River and beyond!
Margaret River is a young wine region that started when the soil was dubbed good for growing grapes in the 1960s. Cardiologist Tom Cullity capitalised on this information and planted the first vines on his property in 1967. He named his land Vasse Felix after a sailor named Vasse who was lost overboard from the Naturaliste in 1801; ‘Felix’ is Latin for happy. Since then, the Margaret River has grown to have over 140 wineries.
The area gets the best of all worlds, from the coast and surf culture to the beautiful, lush forests, and with so many wineries, breweries and gourmet food outlets around, it’s no wonder that the region is full of resorts, hotels and units to accommodate all the visitors. We knew we were in for an amazing time, and as we prepared for the next two days, we promised ourselves that this would be our last wine region.
The Berry Farm
The first place on our list of places to visit – the Berry Farm was originally a group settlers home in 1925. In 1984 the Lindsay Family purchased the property and since then, they’ve been producing delicious fruit wines and fortifieds, as well as yummy preserves, jams and dressings like nectarine chutney, chilli jam, eggplant relish, mango macadamia jam and 3 citrus marmalade.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the most awesome chick you could meet behind the counter of a cellar door, and after a flavour sensation session of tastings, we roamed around the store and sampled the gourmet delights on offer.
- Club House Dark Plum – a rich, dark caramel liquid made with Satsuma plums, it was light and fruity with a spiced fruit finish.
- Club House Boysenberry – pink and crimson with a musty sweetness, it was a little tart but smooth and fruity.
- Limoncello Liqueur – green and gold, thick and viscous with a punch of bitter lemon.
- Hazelnut Liqueur – a gorgeous, luscious drop very similar to Frangelico, but thicker!
The first winery in the Margaret River region, established by Dr Tom Cullity. The estate is absolutely beautiful, with a long driveway passing rows of vines drooping with plump grapes. Also onsite is an archive wine museum, a restaurant, an art gallery and of course the cellar door.
We had a wonderful picnic lunch amongst the artistic outdoor sculptures before heading inside for a tasting session.
- 2011 Chardonnay – pale with a hint of green, it was warm and creamy with a gentle, wooded smell and oily palate full of nut and apricot.
- 2011 Heytesbury Chardonnay – butter and peaches, citrus and apricot, it had a gentle spice bloom before a creamy, rounded finish.
- 2011 Cane Cut Semillon – a light golden colour full of floral scents and honey. It was mouth-watering with explosions of apricot and sweet raisins but still vibrant and crisp.
While the location is one of Margaret River’s newest cellar doors, Killerby started way back when Benjamin George Lee Killerby immigrated to Margaret River from the UK in the 1930s. He opened a general store that supplied the pioneers in the south west of WA, and 40 years later, it was Ben’s grandson, Benjamin Barry that planted the first grapes that established the winery in 1973. In 2008, Ferngrove, a winery located at the Frankland River in the Great Southern, purchased Killerby Wines and relaunched the label in 2010.
The new cellar door is absolutely beautiful and the design was inspired by Killerby’s general store origins. It shares the site with Cheeky Monkey Brewery. Apart from yummy wine tastings, you can also purchase gourmet produce like Italian pasta, cheese, coffee, jams, olive oil, dukkah and chocolate!
- 2008 Pinot Noir Chardonnay Sparkling – champagne yellow with a creamy citrus scent, it was rounded and refreshing, mildly acidic with fine bubbles and a sweet, warm finish.
- 2012 Sauvignon Blanc – a fumé style pale yellow wine with peaches and other tropical fruits, it was sweet and smooth with warm, wooded characteristics amongst the passionfruit and peach. Delicious!
- 2010 Chardonnay – light straw colour with a hint of yellow, it was warm, oily and sweet with a slightly dry, peppery entry that rounded off with a buttery finish fully of succulent apricot.
The Howling Wolves winery was built in 1998 and covers 17 hectares in Wilyabrup. They have a few ranges, including The Claw Range, Eight Vineyards and Small Batch, and of the few wines that we did taste, the 2009 Small Batch Chardonnay stood out the most!
Pale straw with hints of green, it had French oak, cream and apricot on the nose with a crisp entry that smoothed out into a marvellous creamy nut finish with lemon zest. Quite possibly one of the most delicious chardonnays we have tasted.
Treeton Estate is a small family-owned vineyard located in the ‘cool heart of Margaret River’ with higher ground and a cooler climate. The vineyard had a very relaxed atmosphere, with lots of rustic, woody furniture underneath the shade of overhead vines.
- 2011 Chardonnay – very pale with a rich, buttery scent, slightly acidic entry and warm finish full of melon and walnut oil.
- 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – light ruby colour with plenty of purple hues, it was oaky with sweet currants, juicy but dry palate and a fruity oak finish. It needs a bit more time to age but once it’s ready, it’ll be marvellous!
Marri Wood Park
We were invited to Marri Wood Park to meet some fellow travellers – Mark and Alexis – who are also travelling around Australia. They have been following our adventures online and we were stoked to meet these great people who were actively participating on our journey. We sat down and shared stories over a few glasses of fruity and delicious 2007 Guinea Run Shiraz Merlot Cabernet.
Marri Wood Park winery is based on bio-dynamic farming, so instead of using chemicals to ensure a healthy crop, they work with nature to maintain a sustainable balance with the plants and the soil. The cellar door of is located in a tin-roofed shed and while we only tasted two wines, we spend quite a bit of time at the vineyard, soaking up the vibrant, glowing atmosphere and giggling at the chickens and ducks.
The environment at Marri Wood Park is further enhanced by the contributions of some of the seasonal workers that have passed through to help out on the winery. They’re encouraged to let their artistic juices flow and some of the real stand outs were the wine-barrel tables and rocking chairs.
To the south is a small boutique winery that specialises in mead – honey wine. It is considered to be the oldest fermented beverage, dating back to 2000BC and was regarded in some cultures as the giver of life or nectar of the gods. In Pagan times, mead was consumed for a full month after a wedding (hence the honeymoon), and due to the health benefits of honey, the ancient Romans thought that mead could prolong life and heal.
Blackwood Meadery is a humble winery with a wonderful selection of meads and liqueurs, as well as their own honey brew and variety of floral honeys.
- Dry – golden yellow with fruity, floral scents including melon and honey. It was crisp, refreshing and dry with a warm bloom of raw honey that stretched through into the nose with a rich, long finish.
- Medium Dry – pale yellow with a tangy jalapeño freshness with just the right amount of chilli and honey and a delicate finish.
- Sweet – golden liquid with a green tinge, there was plenty of honey on the nose. A sweet and smooth entry finished with a citrus tang and a rich, full-flavoured honey finish that just kept going.
- Traditional Mead Liqueur – a rich yellow colour with the scent of dusty honey, it had a smooth entry with a blossom of spirit and a long lasting honey flavour.
- Honey Brew – massive head atop a pale yellow liquid. It was yeasty and herby, very light and refreshing with fine bubbles, a sweet tang and clean finish. We couldn’t leave without buying a bottle for later.
- Honey Blueberry Dry Red – crimson and pink, it was dry and warm with plenty of fruity characteristics like candied berries, honey and caramel.
- Blackberry Nip – pink caramel colours with a spirited brandy scent mixed with stewed fruits. It was wonderfully warm and spirited with a fruity finish rife with honey.
- Honey Plum Liqueur – rich red caramel with lots of ripe fruits, spirit, spice and a sweet plummy finish.
- Boysenberry Liqueur – beautiful crimson and ruby with sweetness, spirit, warmth – plenty of honey and berries. This is the one we took away with us.
Margaret River Chocolate Factory
OMG – this place was so busy! The car park was choc-a-block and inside was even more hectic. It seems that people can’t help but go loopy for this incredible brown bean.
Chocolate has been around for thousands of years and started off in Central and South America. It was consumed as a raw, bitter drink that was consumed for vitality and was considered the food of the gods. Eventually, cacao beans became so valuable, they were used as currency. Chocolate was shipped to Europe in the 16th century and they couldn’t deal with the bitterness so they added sugar. By the 1800s, it was common to add sugar to chocolate to make it more palatable, and these days, you can expect your chocolate bar to be around 50% sugar.
The Margaret River Chocolate Factory offered tastings in the form of three huge bowls, each piled high with droplets of white, milk or dark chocolate. You could even help yourself, and go back for seconds, or thirds. If you wanted, you could put a spoonful of all three in your hand and you didn’t feel awkward going back for more.
Yahava Koffee Works
We were stoked to hear about a coffee roaster in the area and made sure that our visit was perfectly timed for a perk up. Yahava Koffee offers coffee tastings before you can purchase the beans or a brew in the café.
You can pick three varieties from light to strong and sample them plunger style. The
skilled coffee guy showed us how to plunge coffee the right way – by stirring the coffee before plunging and how to pour it so that you get a layer of crema in your cup.
- Outback – a light variety that has won a silver medal. It is made with 100% Australian Arabica beans from Queensland. Medium roasted bean with a thin and young flavour that was smoothed out by milk.
- X-Rated – another silver medal winner consisting of Arabica beans from Ethiopia, Brazil, India and PNG. It was warm and sweet but robust and smoky with the full flavour hitting the front of the palate. Milk mellowed it out and spread the flavour more evenly throughout the mouth.
- Espresso – an Italian style coffee made with Colombian, PNG and Ethiopian beans, it had lots of body with a well-rounded finish.
- Romeo No.5 – this is the bean that they were using in the café portion of the roasting house. We ordered lattes and they nailed it – smooth and creamy without any bitterness and plenty of rounded, chocolate tones.
We also got to try Bitterboy Spiced Apple Iced Tea, the only carbonated iced tea available anywhere! It was a little like ginger beer with apple, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and the slight bitterness of tea.
MARGARET RIVER CHEESE FACTORY
The Margaret River Dairy Company produces premium quality cheeses and yoghurts. From silky smooth camemberts and bries to distinctive cheddars, smooth style fetas, baked ricottas and creamy pot set yoghurts.
Located in the beautiful Margaret River region, the pure and unpolluted rain and fertile fields combine to create lush green pastures that are perfect for dairy grazing. Using traditional handcrafted techniques, the rich creamy milk is transformed into a variety of cheeses which are complex in both taste and textures.
Their expert cheese and yoghurt makers are committed to producing finest quality dairy products which consistently win awards in dairy competitions throughout Australia.
- Club Cheddar Port – rich, full flavoured and super creamy. It had a wonderful, savoury tang and melt in your mouth softness.
- Dutch Edam – sweet and tangy with flavours spreading throughout the mouth and into the nose
- Marinated Feta – smooth and busy with flavours, tang and spice.