Neal Martin, wine critic, recently said, “Margaret River has already achieved great things, but not as great as what will follow.” (Final Thoughts on Margaret River, June 2010).

In less than 45 years the Margaret River, one of the most geographically isolated wine making regions in the world, has garnered an extraordinary level of recognition both in Australia and overseas.

And as a recent showcase of 25 labels from the region at the MCA in Sydney last week attests, the Margaret River is still an extremely dynamic and emerging wine region. In addition to the icon wineries, which include Vasse Felix, Moss Wood, Leeuwin Estate and Cullen,  a growing number of small, family-run wineries are making wines of distinction, and many new and long-established wineries are successfully experimenting with a range of different varieties and blends.

Margaret River has long been synonymous with Bordeaux style cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends. Indeed, at the Showcase I overheard a number of guests say that they were restricting their tastings just to the reds. But Margaret River also makes outstanding chardonnay (Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay and Pierro Chardonnay are rated ‘Exceptional’ and ‘Outstanding’ respectively in Langton’s 2010 Classification of Australian Wine), and many of the wineries make excellent sauvignon blanc/semillon and semillon/sauvignon blanc blends.

For such a young wine region Margaret River has an enviable number of celebrated wineries.  Xanadu, Woodlands, Voyager Estate, Fraser Gallop Estate, Lenton Brae, Wise Wine, Cape Mentelle, Brookland Valley, Celestial Bay, Fermoy Estate, Flametree Wines, Juniper Estate were some of the stand-outs from a long list of acclaimed wineries which were represented at the showcase. Yalumba, the famous brand more commonly associated with the Barossa and Coonawarra, showcased its very fine Ring.bolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Unfortunately, Evans & Tate, which won in the Best in Show at the 2010 Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia with its Evans & Tate Redbrook Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, was not on show.

Cullen was the first winery in the region to embrace organic and then biodynamic practices in its vineyards and wineries (see Support Cullen’s Fight to Protect Biodynamic Farming, 7 September 2010) but many other Margaret River wineries including Clown Fish & Cowarumup Wines have adopted an environmentally friendly, biodynamic approach to vineyard management. I spoke with Clown Fish’s owner and vigneron Russ Reynolds, who said that the nine year conversion to biodynamic posed some significant challenges but the results had been worth it. The Clownfish Chardonnay 2009 was recently named Best White in Show and Best Chardonnay at the 2010 Qantas Wine Show of Western Australia.

Reynolds said that the use of biodynamic practices had definitely improved the quality and freshness of the grapes and enabled a more true expression of the ‘terroir’ of the picturesque Ellensbrook vineyard, which thrives in the maritime climate and the gravely loam soils.

Terroir, indeed, has been key to the success of the Margaret River and, according Martin, essential for endowing the wines with age-worthiness: “Decent fruit can be turned into satisfying Cabernet in its youth, but terroir lends it longevity.. in the right hands.”

Martin and others have singled out the complex soils and micro-climate of Wilyabrup, a town to the north of the region, as the terroir responsible for most profound, long-lived wines of the Margaret River. This sub-region is home to the 11 year old Fraser Gallop Estate, which recently won the Decanter Wine Awards International Trophy for Bordeaux blend over 10 pounds with it Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

Yes, it certainly look like the best from the Margaret River is still to come!

Photo Credit: Clown Fish & Cowaramup Wines Vineyard