A visit to Western Australia would not be complete without heading South to beautiful Margaret River region, famed for its gorgeous coastline, wild surf beaches, and of course its wineries. We were lucky enough to experience a half day gourmet wine tour to some of the finest wineries in the area, courtesy of Margaret River Tours, the first and most experienced of the wine tour companies here.
A half day tour is a great option for getting a good overview of what the region has to offer, as there is a dazzling choice of over 130 vineyards and 100 cellar doors, so it can be difficult to know where to start. The Margaret River half day gourmet tour picks you up from your accommodation and takes you back there at the end of your trip. Transport is in a comfortable air conditioned bus with just twelve people in the party which is an ideal group number.
Visits to four top wineries including wine tasting, are part of the tour, as well as a stop at the chocolate factory and a cheese tasting at the Margaret River Dairy company. We even got a gourmet picnic platter served to us on the bus by our friendly guide, Candy.
On our tour we visited Cape Mentelle, McHenry Hohnen, Watershed Premium Wines, and Voyager Estate. Margaret River’s wine story began as a way of developing industry and tourism here when it was realised that the soil here was perfect for viticulture.
Cape Mentelle was one of the first vineyards here, established in the 1970’s and it is a large and impressive operation. There are some great black and white pictures on the wall of the early harvests at the vineyards, when the estate had to use local labour which often consisted of the local hippy surfers who would only come and pick grapes if it wasn’t worth surfing! We tasted a range of whites and reds here. The soil here in Margaret River is similar to that of Bordeaux apparently, and so most of the grape varieties grown here are the classic French ones like Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The founder of Cape Mentelle, Dave Hohnen, was also the mastermind behind Cloudy Bay one of New Zealand’s most famous wine brands. His latest vineyard is a much smaller boutique venue, McHenry Hohnen which produces only organic wine. Here the vines are grown without the use of pesticides and the wine is made with no preservatives and as few sulphates as possible. It has the magical property of not giving you a hangover as well!
We enjoyed some wine tasting here with our amusing host Olivier, and some of the reds were paired with delicious mouthfuls of free range smoked meats also produced here on the farm.
The Margaret River Chocolate factory is always a fun stop, and you can taste the bowls filled with samples of white, milk and dark chocolate pastelles. There is a huge range of chocolate products here including Chocca the Quokka and even chocolate soap and moisturiser!
The Margaret River Diary company is also a favourite stop on the itinerary. We did some cheese tasting of lots of different kinds of cheese made here, and I bought some amazing double cream brie. In fact the Margaret River Dairy Company was the site of the record breaking world’s largest cheese tasting event, earlier this year involving 560 cheese tasting fans.
Our third winery was Watershed wines, a stunning estate, whose owner is a big fan of the Fremantle Dockers, the Aussie Rules football team here. The purple packaging and labelling on the wine, reflects his favourite team’s colours. By the third wine tasting everyone in our party were getting on like old friends, and sharing our wine tastes and opinions openly. Although I’m not quite sure we would make it as professional sommeliers.
Me “I like this one – do you?”Allison (wrinkling nose) “Mmm, there’s too much going on in the glass.” Me “That’s why I like it!”
Our final winery was the Voyager estate, another rather grand winery with the most beautiful grounds. The main large white building has a very Dutch Colonial vibe (quite South African in style) and the main house is surrounded by perfectly landscaped lawns, and a stunning rose garden. It boasts a grand upscale restaurant too, and we enjoyed a sit down wine tasting while our host, Roger, took us through the selected vintages.
The $50 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon was a particular favourite! Roger informed us that, according to a survey conducted by the wine retailer’s association, between 92 and 96% of all wines were drunk within 24 hours of purchase. No one was surprised by this statistic.
Our local guide for the whole tour was Candy. She was extremely knowledgeable and gave just enough context to our expedition without overdoing it. She was funny and laid back and likeable, an ideal companion for the afternoon. Our fellow trippers were from Australia, the UK New Zealand, and Canada and were all good company too.
It is the fiftieth anniversary of the Margaret River wine region this year and I can highly recommend this tour both for a first time visitor or anyone coming back for more. Tasting wine is a very sociable thing to do, so it’s nice to do it with others and not have to worry about driving or where to go. Get in touch with Margaret River Tours for an afternoon out to remember!