WINES OF THE GREAT SOUTH WEST
MENTION the name Margaret River and people immediately think of the surf beaches … and the wine.
Half-way down the south-western coastline of Western Australia, between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin, it is a ruggedly beautiful area.
Rolling country kissed by the temperate breezes of the Indian Ocean. Far enough south of the state capital city of Perth to be country yet close enough to enjoy the benefits.
What was predominantly grazing and wheat country beyond the coastal strip of national parks has been transformed through the years to be one of Australia’s great wine producing areas.
Having first visited the region half a lifetime ago I always knew I would be back … it was just the distance from home in the eastern states that had been stopping me. About a six-hour flight or a six-day road trip. And that’s just one way.
On this trip I had wanted to see the other secrets of the Great South West.
Yet you cannot ignore Margaret River. You virtually have to drive through it on that magnificent route down to Augusta, Denmark, Albany and Esperance then back inland through Kalgoorlie and into Perth.
Try as I might to not get caught up in the popularity of wines from the region it trapped me quite innocuously. Drawn into the web like a spider does the fly.
I was adamant not to spend time trying to see everything the region offered. They have some great wineries – Vasse Felix, Capel Vale, Evans & Tate, Sandalwood.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of individual wineries and the quality.
While looking for Margaret River Chocolates along Harmans Hill Road, I turned into the driveway of Hay Shed Hill Wines.
Innocent enough. Catchy name, pleasant surrounds. A quick stop, try some wines, maybe a coffee and continue on to the chocolate factory. What could go wrong.
But it got me at the first bend of the tree-lined drive. A picturesque, undulating property in the heart of the Wilyabrup Valley, it is about 46 acres with almost 42 acres under vines.
Established as a group settlement farm for returned soldiers from World War One, it was originally a dairy farm known as Sussex Vale.
The renovated homestead still has much of the original Group Settlement look and feel.
The tasting rooms and cellar door sit on the ridge, with the Rustico restaurant overlooking the vines.
The tasting room is well set up with plenty of recognition of the quality of the wines on show.
Gaurav offers to give a history of the winery and the style of wines. Originally from India, he learnt his craft in the US before settling here in the Great South West.
Margaret River is a relatively small producer of Australian wine, but is big on quality. It produces 20% of the country’s premium wine.
The pristine environment and the many micro climates ensure that every wine is special but not one is the same.
With the ocean on three sides, the resulting maritime influence lends itself to ideal growing conditions.
And it’s one of if not the most isolated and pure grape-growing regions in the world.
The weather travels thousands of kilometres across open ocean to reach Margaret River.
Africa is 8500 kilometres to the west and the South Pole 5000 kilometres away.
Only five kilometres from the Indian Ocean with an elevated aspect, the vineyard enjoys the benefit of the “doctor’’ – the well-known sea breeze that comes off the ocean each afternoon and cools down the vineyard. This gives the fruit a much cooler climate character than the latitude of the vineyard might suggest.
Vines were first planted at the property in the early 1970s.
In the late 1980s the vineyard was bought by the Morrison Family and the wine brand Hay Shed Hill was established, taking its name from the local reference to the hay shed on the property.
Mike Kerrigan, former winemaker at Howard Park, acquired the business in late 2006 with co-ownership by the West Cape Howe syndicate.
Their Kerrigan and Berry label (K+B) is a collaboration with West Cape Howe winemaker Gavin Berry.
Berry had been at Plantagenet at Mt Barker before that.
“And what else do you find in a hayshed?” Guarav asks.
The winery also produces the sister label, Pitchfork, that was developed to complement the single vineyard Hay Shed Hill label.
Wine writer, critic and judge James Halliday tells about the five wines in the vineyard’s White Label and Block series are all made from estate-grown grapes.
The Block series are the ultimate site-specific wines, made from separate blocks within the vineyard. They consist of Block 1 semillon sauvignon blanc, Block 6 chardonnay, Block 8 cabernet franc and Block 2 cabernet sauvignon.
The Pitchfork wines are made from contract-grown grapes in the region.
The beauty of the Margaret River region is the climate, Guarav continues.
“We do not get frost. The Indian Ocean brings the sunshine during the day while the Southern Ocean brings the cool of night.
“We are thankful to the climate. You cannot pick and choose
“Cellaring is warm and dry.’’
Kerrigan and Berry are known for classic cabernets and shiraz, Guarav continues.
The pinot berries are harvested further south at Mt Barker.
“It’s an area underrated for pinots,’’ Guarav says.
“People talk about Tasmania and Victoria.
“The cabernet sauvignon 2014 from Block 2, it’s the oldest on the property … it’s what defines us.
“The world of wine is so subjective.
“It’s one of the only arts where you, as a creator and consumer, can utilise all five senses.
“It’s one of most precise as well as one of most complex forms of art to create.’’
So how did Guarav end up in Margaret River after working in the US?
“I was working at a lodge in Montana and the owner asked me to work on the floor which meant assisting with wine service.
“He then suggested I learn about wine making so I can be the bridge between those who make it and those who enjoy it.
“It’s good to have a buffer from those who impose opinions.
“I came to Australia, planning to learn in Adelaide but undertook a post grad in viticulture at Curtin University here in Western Australia.
“I ended up in Margaret River. And have not left.
“Wine was always the priority. But the people, the newness of the wine industry … it’s not just wine and surf.
“There are so many little vineyards, forests, beaches, drives and walks to enjoy.
“Literally, I have not left.’’
Hay Shed Hill’s cellar door has more than 25 wines on tasting. From chardonnay to Spanish tempranillo and, more recently, malbec.
The Rustico restaurant can provide everything from quality pizza to degustation lunch with matching wines.
Hay Shed Hill Winery is at 511 Harmans Mill Road, Wilyabrup. WA. 6280.
Phone: +61 (0) 8 9755 6046.
The cellar door is open from 10am-5pm seven-days-a-week.
For the restaurant hours visit https://hayshedhill.com.au/pages/rustico-at-hay-shed-hill
Learn more about Your Margaret River: https://www.margaretriver.com