Margaret River Wine Tour: What to expect
Never one for half measures, a full-day wine tour was on our bucket list long before we reached the cellar doors of the Margaret River Region.
Cabernet is king and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends abound, as we discovered on our day with McLeod Tours.
The McLeod family have run tours in the north of Western Australia for decades and their farm in Margaret River has been in the family for over 100 years.
Neil McLeod’s wife Coralie is the driving force of the business and we were pleased to speak with her when booking our tour. We also met Jon, our tour guide for the day, who was knowledgeable not only about wine, but about other areas in Australia and the world, notably Japan.
Jon picked us up at 9.30am and along with a small group of other wine (or perhaps just drinking) enthusiasts, we began a long day of sampling the delicious produce the region has to offer.
STOP Nº 1 – YAHAVA KOFFEE WORKS
Dutch founder Alex Kok sits on his motorbike, which he used to explore the world’s coffee growing regions, in a life-size photograph at the roastery’s entrance. Inside, coffee beans are being roasted under specific conditions, set up by the connected laptop.
Our tasting guide Judy introduced us to three coffees: Costa, X-Rated and Kahava. With each tasting, Judy gave us a myriad of facts about coffee beans and the roasting process. Adding boiling water will burn coffee and alter its taste, as the ideal temperature is between 87 and 90 degrees celsius; coffee beans can nearly double in size during a process known as ‘cracking’; fresh coffee isn’t best and an ageing process is necessary to allow gas to escape and flavours to flourish.
Neither of us are big coffee drinkers, but we enjoyed tasting cups of varying strengths, learning about the complexity of creating great flavours, and window shopping the vast range of paraphernalia on sale.
STOP Nº 2 – REDGATE WINES
The Redgate vineyard has been operating for nearly forty years, producing handcrafted wine and using quality oak to create sophisticated flavours.
Current owner Ray taught us how to aerate a bottle of wine to ensure it lasts for at least three days after opening (shake, let a small amount of air out, refrigerate and hey presto!), and told us the different application and time it takes to make each wine.
We sampled nearly twenty wines, from their crisp NV Sparkling ‘Bubbles’ made of 56% chardonnay and 44% pinot noir, to the gorgeous dessert wine ‘Anastacia’, made with chenin blanc juice and fortified with brandy in the traditional mistelle style. Their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve is a double bronze medal winner, but their sweet, fruity 2015 Whispering White became our favourite.
Rachel adores rosé, like many other Redgate visitors: their 2015 wine had recently sold out but we managed to buy a fresh batch – it had just been bottled that morning.
Matt enjoyed tasting the 2014 Ullinger Reserve Cabernet Franc. Made from 38-year-old vines and from six of their finest barrels, and priced at $65, it is no wonder it became one of his favourites!
The double bronze award winner 2014 Bin 588, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz, was also deliciously spicy sweet with a velvety finish.
We took home a Rhapsody in Red NV, one of the few red wines that Rachel loved, which was full bodied with a soft berry aftertaste.
STOP Nº 3 – WATERSHED PREMIUM WINES
The picture-perfect Watershed begs to be photographed, but a blazing stone fire and friendly Irish barman soon beckoned us indoors. Still floating from our previous tasting, we tried several of their ‘Shades’ and ‘Senses’ collection of wines, many of which are available in bottle shops.
By leaving the grapes an extra three weeks on the vine until they shrivel like raisins, they can create the lusciously syrupy 2014 Late Harvest Viognier.
Their 2010 Awakening Cabernet Sauvignon, which gets more sunshine and a westerly wind that protects the grapes, was sublime.
STOP Nº 4 – COWARAMUP BREWERY
This family-owned and operated brewery has a cracking restaurant showcasing local produce. We indulged in a beef burger over lunch and sampled their Indian pale ale.
STOP Nº 5 – BROOKWOOD ESTATE
The Brookwood Estate is reached by an idyllic drive past a tranquil lake and grazing sheep. We were greeted by Craig and treated to a relaxed tasting of exquisite wine, some grown on vines viewable from the cellar door.
The 2013 Autumn Harvest was supple and had traces of lemon – beautiful! The “100 Above” fortified wine was a port-style beverage with a smooth honey-like texture and if we hadn’t already bought a dessert wine, this would have been in our case.
Most interesting was their vibrant Mellow Rouge and Shiraz Cabernet – although made from the same grapes, the former is made entirely in steel vats whereas the latter in oak, altering the tastes significantly.
STOP Nº 6 – MARGARET RIVER DAIRY COMPANY
Their sweet chilli and port cheddar have respectively won gold and silver awards courtesy of the Dairy Industry Association of Western Australia, and they have creamy pot set yoghurt – what’s not to like?
Born from a group of Italian cheesemakers in the 1960s, the dairy products from this company are scrumptious (and perfect with a nice glass of wine, we imagine…). We should know, we tried at least ten of them!
STOP Nº 7 – FERMOY ESTATE
This estate is famous for being the only Western Australia winery to serve at the royal wedding of Prince Fredrick of Denmark and Mary Donaldson. After a blind tasting, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen, much to the pleasure of female winemakers Liz Dawson and Coralie Garnier-Lewis. Matt couldn’t resist and bought the 2013 vintage.
The lovely Jude told us about the Estate’s Irish roots before inviting us to taste ten (or was it fifteen? Or twenty?) wines. The gentle 2014 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc was refreshing after a day of drinking some very powerful wines. We also had the chance to taste wine straight from the barrel, which was a unique experience. Each oak barrel costs close to $3000 and they are usually only used a few times, as the first batches of wine absorb the best of the oak’s qualities.
STOP Nº 8 – PUKARA ESTATE
Winning over 60 awards nationally, the oils and vinegars of Pukara were delightful when paired with bread and varieties of dukkah. Manager Glenda was pleased to showed us the range of produce; the Truffle Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Caramelised Balsamic Vinegar stood out as being different from anything we’d tasted before. Also worth a mention are the Red Wine Liqueur Vinegar, the Fig Balsamic Vinegar and the Cashew and Roast Onion Dukkah. There was plenty we wanted to fill our pantry with, and if we didn’t have a year of travel ahead we would have gladly stocked it in our London kitchen.
STOP Nº 9 – MARGARET RIVER CHOCOLATE COMPANY
We all felt like we had won a golden ticket as we stepped into the Chocolate Company. Hand made truffles and traditional chocolate bars dress the walls of the store, with intriguing flavours such as sandalwood and red grape. We tried both the savoury and sweet muffins from the café before heading back to our McLeod van.
At the end of our full-day tour, our minds as well as our waistlines had been expanded. Jon drove us back to our caravan park where the other guests shrieked in horror at the sight of our dusty campervan (“You sleep in there?!”) and we proceeded to enjoy a boozy evening in Margaret River town.
Book your tour
McLeod Tours runs full-day ($115) and half-day ($95) winery tours, both of which include lunch. You may different visit wineries, breweries and stores to those mentioned above. Prices and details are correct at July 2016.