Category Archives: Margaret River

Jun 06 2017

L.A.S. Vino – Forging a new path in Margaret River innovation

Posted on June 06, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You may recall that Vanya Cullen, the winemaker of Margaret River’s Cullen Wines, took her winery to a new level of international recognition and excellence by embracing innovations like biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. Little wonder perhaps, that her nephew, Nic Peterkin, has shown a similar drive and talent for innovation.

As the grandson of Cullen Wines founders Kevin and Di Cullen and the son of Mike Peterkin, the founder of another celebrated Margaret River winery Pierro, Peterkin was keen to forge his own path, albeit on familiar territory. A few years ago, he started his own label, L.A.S. Vino, partly because he wanted to show that the Margaret River was also capable of making top quality wines from less familiar varieties.

L.A.S. stands for “Luck Art Science”, and the rave reviews for his CBDB Chenin Blanc Dynamic BlendAlbino PNO and The Pirate Blend NV certainly suggest that Peterkin’s instincts, combined with perhaps a bit of luck, were right. Last year, Gourmet Traveller WINE named Peterkin as the Young Winemaker of the Year, noting that the most recent vintages of his wines had “performed exceptionally well at the most recent Gourmet Traveller WINE panel tasting.”

Like me, you’re probably wondering about the Albino PNO? Peterkin describes the wine as “strawberries and cream in a bottle.” It’s a blend of 8 barrels of pinot noir and two barrels of chardonnay, with one barrel of the pinot noir being given a little extra time on skins to add a little colour and complexity to the mix. The Pirate Blend, a blend of the Portuguese varieties touriga nacional, tinta cão and sousão, comes from low yielding, 40 year-old vines in the north of Margaret River, originally planted to make vintage port. According to wine critic Huon Hooke, “the bouquet … Read the rest

May 05 2017

Australia’s famed Margaret River wine region turns 50 years old!

Posted on May 05, 2017 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Not putting a foot wrong when it comes to recent vintages, Margaret River—at the heart of Western Australia—has become one of the most consistently solid regions for producing quality wines in Australia.

                                                        Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Western Australia, The Wine Advocate, 29 October 2016

Western Australia’s Margaret River region is considered one of  Australia’s, if not the world’s, premier wine regions. Coincidentally its birth coincided with the Beatles release of their most celebrated album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – both fitting testaments to the ground-breaking 1960s era!

In its short 50 year history, Margaret River has proven time and again that it can produce some of the best wines in Australia. Wine critic Huon Hooke recently singled out the Vasse Felix Heytesbury Margaret River Chardonnay as “one of the greatest in the country,” and both the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay and the Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Chardonnay are perennial favourites on lists of Australia’s top wines.  Indeed, only recently has Margaret River been pipped at the post by the Yarra Valley as the country’s top performer for chardonnay, and to quote James Halliday, the healthy competition has made chardonnay “the most exciting place to be.”

You would also be hard-pressed to go past Margaret River for cabernets and cabernet blends. Six of the 10 wines in James Halliday’s Top 100 wines for 2016 hailed from the Margaret River. While two of these wines, the Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2014 and the Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 are wine icons, the list includes some less familiar and relatively inexpensive Margaret River wines: Higher Plane Cabernet Merlot 2014, McHenry Hohnen Vintners Rocky Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2014, Warner Glen Estate Frog Belly Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,  and the Snake + Herring Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot Read the rest

Aug 08 2016

Newcomer Cloudburst generates extraordinary excitement!

Posted on August 08, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In 2013 the Cloudburst Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 caused a major upset at the Margaret River Wine Show. The relative newcomer – 2010 was in fact the first vintage of the cabernet sauvignon – claimed trophies for best cabernet sauvignon, best single-vineyard red and best red wine of show, beating out a host of well established and famous wineries.

And the accolades have kept mounting! Here’s a recent assessment from wine critic Huon Hooke of a sampling of the last three vintages of Cloudburst cabernets, chardonnays and malbecs: “All are superb. These are wines of great finesse, spot-on ripeness and wonderful intensity. They’re beautifully balanced and promise to be long-lived.” (A Cloud bursts in Margaret River by Huon Hooke, The Real Review 14 June 2016)

And more exultant praise for the chardonnays from Jeremy Oliver in the most recent edition of his Wine Annual: “Another leader in the chardonnay stakes is the Margaret River newcomer of Cloudburst, whose three releases to date reveal a combination of concentration and richness in wines of seamless elegance and brightness hitherto unseen in this country.” (Jeremy Oliver, Wine Annual 2016)

We hear a lot about artisanal wines, but the Cloudburst wines are the real deal. They are practically hand-made from the vineyard up by owner/winemaker Will Berliner, an ex-pat New Yorker, who studied wine at UC Davis.

According to wine connoisseur and Cloudburst fan Andrew Hamilton: “His work in the vineyard to my knowledge is unparalleled in the Margaret River region. In fact, I don’t know a single producer in the greater Margaret River region who can claim that their vineyard has never once seen a tractor besides Cloudburst. His vines are close planted Burgundy style with vines and rows equally spaced at a meter apart from one another. His approach to … Read the rest

Jul 07 2016

Leeuwin Estate Masterclass with Winemaker Phil Hutchison

Posted on July 07, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

2014 Art Series SBRecently the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti Brown singled out “eight stellar” Western Australia producers “who are killing-it when it comes to innovation, quality and coaxing the terroir into the bottle: Cloudburst, Cullen, Frankland Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood, Peccavi, Plantagenet and Woodlands.” (Western Australia Killing-it, 4 March 2016, eRobertparker.com)

Of course, to see Margaret River pioneer Leeuwin Estate on this list is no surprise. Still owned by its founders Denis and Tricia Horgan and now under the direction of their children and grandchildren, Leeuwin Estate has enjoyed an enviable reputation for its world-class wines for over 30 years. Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, for example, lists a staggering 16 vintages, dating back to 1987, as top vintages for the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay – one of only 21 Australian wines ranked “Exceptional” in the classification.

But while Leeuwin Estate has stuck to its knitting, so to speak, by keeping the focus on what does it best – chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon – innovation is still at the forefront of their winemaking approach. Indeed, one of the highlights of a recent Vintage Cellars Double Bay Masterclass with winemaker Phil Hutchison was a single variety not usually associated with Western Australia – the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

Typically, Margaret River wineries blend sauvignon blanc with semillon to create a Bordeaux-style white wine. But the 2014 Leeuwin Estate Art Series vintage is 100% sauvignon blanc. As Hutchison explained, the sauvignon blanc grapes are actually sourced from an 18 year-old vineyard about 20 km south of Margaret River. Here the evening southerly winds dramatically cool down the nighttime temperature in the vineyards, extending the ripening period just enough to significantly lift the subtle lemon, lime and apple aromatics in the wine. Innovative winemaking techniques, like 50% … Read the rest

Nov 11 2015

James Suckling Announces his Top 100 Wines of 2015

Posted on November 11, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

You know the holiday season is fast approaching when the world’s top wine critics start announcing their top wines of the year.  The team at JamesSuckling.com tasted an astonishing 9,000 wines, and Suckling himself tried 7,500. With the exception of Champagne, Australia and New Zealand, which are covered for the website by Australian wine critic Nick Stock, Suckling reviews wines from all over the world and in 2015 travelled to wine regions in France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and the United States!

The list of his top 10 wines in 2015 is an interesting compilation because to come up with the rankings, value for money and availability were considered alongside point scores. (None of the wines in the Top 10 scored less than 96 points.) Priced at US$70 or below, these are wines that can still be found for sale on WineSearcher.com.

The Flametree SRS Walcliffe Chardonnay 2014 from the Margaret River is the only Australian wine to make the top 10 list, coming in at no. 9.  Auscellardoor has it for the lowest price on WineSearcher.com- $48.90 per bottle.

This wine has been widely acclaimed. It was a star performer at the 2015 James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge, where it was awarded 97 points and rated the leading Western Australia Chardonnay of the Challenge. Wine critic Campbell Mattinson also gave it a terrific review:

96 Points. Chardonnay to blind the weary drivers. Nothing else can set fire to this glass. Score is irrelevant. This wine is wonderful. Flavour and funk. Tropical fruit, grapefruit, white peach, pear. Struck match notes scorch over pristine, mouthwatering fruit. Length. Poise. Precision.– Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front, 26 August 2015.

2010-frescobaldi-castelgiocondo-brunelloSuckling’s Wine of the Year in 2015, the  Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo 2010, is still available from … Read the rest

Aug 08 2012

Watching Biodynamics in Action at Cullen Wines: My weekend in the Margaret River

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I arrived at Cullen Wines, production manager/winemaker Trevor Kent suggested that we first take a look at the vineyards. His excitement in showing off the rich moist soil of the vineyard beds was palpable.

Passionate about the benefits of biodynamics, Trevor was very generous about sharing his knowledge of the subject and explaining how Vanya Cullen and he have implemented biodynamic practices both the vineyards and the winery. Cullen was certified “A” grade biodyamic in 2004, but innovation and refinement of techniques are ongoing.

Biodynamics is based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science. Trevor explained that in 1924 a group of German farmers approached Steiner for help in revitalising their nutrient depleted, unproductive soils. Steiner recommended a wholistic approach that incorporated organic farming principles but also recognised that the movements of the moon and the planets have a profound influence on the soil and plant and animal life.

At Cullen, farm activities like planting and harvesting are timed to coincide with the optimal position of the moon in relation to the planets. And the biodynamic prepartions, which include naturally occurring matter like farm manure, are all prepared in a way that optimises energy forces.

The photo on the left shows Trevor standing next to a Flow Form machine, which is used to mix the biodynamic preparations with water. For the horn manure preparation (500), for example, small amounts of manure are stirred into large volumes of water before being applied to the vineyards. Steiner believed that the combination of vertical and horizontal vortices created by the special stirring process increased the vitality of the preparations and improved their effectiveness on the soils and plants. Trevor likened the preparation process to collecting fast flowing, oxygenated water from a fresh water stream. The Flow Form machine mimics the natural process of … Read the rest

Aug 08 2012

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot: A “Hall of Fame” Bordeaux Blend

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In an article on Australian Bordeaux blends for the May edition of Decanter Magazine, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot was among 15 wines to make Huon Hooke’s “Bordeaux Blend Hall of Fame.” (Aussie Bordeaux Blends by Huon Hooke, Decanter May 2012)

Its inclusion on such a prestigious list, which included other Margaret River greats like Cullen Wines Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot, the Vasse Felix Heytesbury and the Brookland Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, should come as no surprise. Since the mid 1990s, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot has been one of the most consistently highly rated wines of its style.

Perennial high scores from one vintage to the next is due in part to a winemaking philosophy that believes in leaving nothing to chance. As Voyager Estate states on its website, “We are meticulous in everything we do: from site, varietal and clonal selection to vineyard management and winemaking.”

Indeed, reading about the labour intensive care devoted to each individual block in order to achieve uniformity – meaning “every vine within a specific block will have the same number of buds at pruning, the same number of shoots and the same number of bunches” – reminded me of the approach taken at top Bordeaux estates like Château Haut-Bailly and Château Pape Clément, where everything is done with an eye on perfection.

The goal at Voyager Estate is to give the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot the absolutely best chance possible of expressing the true essence of its very special terroir.

The original ‘Old Block’ of the Stevens Valley site was first planted with cabernet sauvignon in 1978. Here the terroir of uniform gravelly soils formed from underlying granite and gnessic rock on a stony clay base allows for a slow release of moisture and nutrients to the … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Fraser Gallop: Margaret River’s Most Talked About Winery!

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

For an estate that is only 12 years old, Fraser Gallop has certainly attracted a good deal of attention. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon won two trophies at the Margaret River Wine Show – Best Red Wine of Show and Best Single Vineyard Estate Red, and winemaker Clive Otto was named a finalist in last year’s Gourmet Traveller’s Wine Winemaker of the Year Awards.

Given the pedigree and experience of the team behind the brand, the growing list of accolades for its relatively young wines is probably not surprising.

Founder Nigel Gallop was on a mission to produce premium Bordeaux style cabernets when in 1998 he settled on 17 hectares of land in the Wilyabrup region. The potential of this Bordeaux-like terroir to produce great cabernet had already been proven by the likes of Moss Wood, Cullen, Pierro and Vasse Felix. From the beginning Gallop decided against irrigation, because he wanted to keep yields low and quality high. Today, this intensive, hands-on approach to vineyard management is overseen by vineyard manager Paul Pavlinovich.

As luck or good fortune would have it, in 2006 Gallop secured the services of experienced winemaker Clive Otto. Discussing Otto’s many achievements, wine critic Peter Forrestal observed, “With a hands-on approach to winemaking and a wealth of experience here and abroad, Clive Otto has been crucial to the rise and rise of Margaret River.” (Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year 2011 finalist: Clive Otto, Fraser Gallop by Peter Forrestal, August/September 2011)

Otto joined Fraser Gallop after a long and stellar career at Vasse Felix, where he oversaw the introduction of the flagship Heytesbury wines and insured that the Vasse Felix range was a perennial winner at leading wine shows.

Otto was attracted to Fraser Gallop because it offered … Read the rest

Jul 07 2012

Woodlands ‘Margaret’: Sharing the Pedestal with the World’s Top Bordeaux Blends

Posted on July 07, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Australian wines don’t often feature on the cover of the prestigious British wine magazine Decanter. So to see the Woodlands ‘Margaret’  grace the cover of the May edition, and to be placed in the company of the acclaimed Ridge Monte Bello from Santa Cruz and Pomeral’s celebrated Château Clinet, is a good sign of the high regard the rest of the world has for Australian Bordeaux blends. Indeed, in the introduction to the feature article, ‘New World classics to cellar,” Stephen Spurrier writes that “The banks of the Gironde aren’t the only places to find quality, ageworthy Bordeaux blends. The US, Australia, Argentina and Chile are all worthy of a spot in any collector’s cellar.”

Huon Hooke, who wrote the section on the Australian wines, states upfront that “Historically, Australia has made a better fist of pure Cabernet Sauvignon than it has Bordeaux-style Cabernet blends.” But he highlights some stand-out wines that prove the exception to the rule: Cullen’s Diana Madeline and Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury from the Margaret River, Mount Mary QuintetYarra Yering’s Dry Red No. 1, Wantirna Estate’s Amelia and Hannah blends and Yeringberg’s five way blend Yerinberg from the Yarra, and the Hunter Valley’s Lake’s Folly Cabernets.

While the Woodlands ‘Margaret’, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec, may not have the stature of Hooke’s top picks, it would undoubtedly be included on a slightly longer list of Australia’s best Bordeaux blends. And Hooke’s observation that “still today, most Australian wineries that produce both pure Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux blend – usually a Cabernet Melot – reserve their best Cabernet grapes for the pure wine, age it in better oak for longer, and sell it a higher price, often with extra bottle age,” certainly rings true for the Woodlands range. Its … Read the rest

Jun 06 2012

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2010 – “A New Wave of Chardonnay”

Posted on June 06, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a recent article on Australian chardonnay, the Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman commented that when it comes to a preferred style of chardonnay, most people “want grace and elegance, but they want it to come with plenty of flavor and real charm.” (Action in Australian Chardonnay: New styles modeled on Burgundy make it the buzz of the country now by Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 2 December 2011)

The multi-award winning Vasse Felix Heystesbury Chardonnay 2010 is certainly a very fine example of the style of chardonnay Steiman so succinctly describes. In the tasting notes, Vasse Felix’s Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock remarked that the palate of the 2010 vintage “exhibits that wonderful and rare quality: power with restraint.” In other words, it delivers what most people would consider the hallmarks of a great chardonnay:

A dramatic and powerful nose that is constantly evolving in the glass. Amongst the descriptors are sublime fragrant citron and baby pineapple, while wild notes of lamb’s fat and struck flint provide a beguiling complexity that lift the floral and spice fruit perfume and frame a stunning Heytesbury Chardonnay nose.

Palate. Super fine, textured and succulent with impeccable balance and poise driven by seamless natural acidity. Juicy white nectarine and preserved lemon puree form a strong fruit core which is embellished with flavours of spicy oak, lanolin and flint. (Vasse Felix tasting notes)

The 2010 Heytesbury Chardonnay is in fact Vasse Felix’s most awarded wine to date. The wine has picked up an unprecedented eight trophies from the top wine shows in the country, including the Royal Adelaide Wine Show, where it won the coveted top prize, “Most Outstanding Red or White Wine in Show.”

In many respects the 2010 vintage represents the most recent incarnation of a style of chardonnay that Willcock has been developing and … Read the rest