The legend of Margaret River began nearly 50 years ago, when Italian immigrants planted the seeds to the first vineyard in the South West region, to supply themselves and other Italian families with the quality table wine they missed so terribly. The princess was born.
The hard working Italians were assisted in the late 1960s by science agronomist Dr John Gladstone and viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo who both foresaw the regions great potential for viticulture, with its climate and soil being comparable to Burgundy in France.
As fate would have it, this was “just the medicine” the burgeoning wine industry needed and shortly a small group of wine-loving Perth doctors followed his advice and established the first Margaret River vineyards. As time progressed the vines aged and new vineyards and wineries began to appear; Margaret River was maturing. The glamorous young wine princess was on her way to becoming the Australian Queen of premium wine regions, winning acclaim around the world for her outstanding ‘fruit driven’ varietals including Australia’s finest cabernet and chardonnay; along with quintessential blends like Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Merlot.
Swathed by the Indian Ocean, the region is one of the most picturesque in Australia, featuring a dramatic coastline with some of the world’s finest beaches and biggest surf, towering forests, spectacular subterranean caves and large tracts of undulating agricultural land – including over 12,500 acres of premium vineyards.
Today the breath-taking scenery is punctuated by a relaxed lifestyle, fine dining and premium, yet ‘unstuffy’ wine culture – every year enjoyed by thousands of wine-lovers from around the world.
Virtually every winery produces a Cabernet, commonly blended with Merlot – but with the very best as straight premium varietals. We prefer to produce only straight varietal Cabernets in our premium ‘Claw’ and “Small Batch” ranges – believing this to be the purest expression of this great terroir for cabernet. However, in our Rivendell Estate range we tend to lean a little funkier with Bordeaux influenced blends with Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Or with the classic Australian blend with Shiraz.
In general, the cabernets have a ‘leafiness’ to them, but as the vines mature, these flavours will be only secondary to the riper, darker and luscious, more solid fruit flavours, as is the case at the 30-year-old Rivendell vineyard. The other unique characteristic displayed by the best Margaret River Cabernets is a “mintiness” – often attributed to the vines close proximity to the regions towering Eucalypts and Marri trees.
Forty years on from the first major plantings, Margaret River is developing a wide spectrum of exceptional sub-region flavours. Cabernets from the northern warmer, maritime influenced Willyabrup and Yallingup sub-regions (home to Howling Wolves) are usually rounder, fuller and more mulberry-like, while further south of the river they are leaner, leafier and more elegant. We draw fruit from both to create cornerstone Cabernets showing both full, intense flavours and elegant complexity.
While Margaret River’s glamour title has been clearly the result of her Cabernet Sauvignon, the region’s Chardonnay is now being rated amongst the very best in the world.
They are typically superbly voluptuous, intense and concentrated with lemon, grapefruit and hazelnut flavours.
Semillon Sauvignon Blanc is the quintessential white blend of the region. Here it displays passionfruit flavours in unwooded styles and herbaceous appeal in rarer barrel-fermented styles.
Shiraz from this region is intense, spicy, dark cherry and pepper flavoured, with Howling Wolves’ winemakers now tending to favour majority French oak creating a less fruit forward and more complex style.
Another variety to watch for is the dry-grown Grenache of which there are few plantings in Margaret River, with Howling Wolves using the majority of fruit from one of the finest. This vineyard was originally planted with French sourced rootlings from the Rhone Valley. Most vineyards feature rows of Merlot – often blended with cabernet to create the classic Rhone Valley blend the region is synonymous with. A small, exceptional portion is made into straight Merlots – some of sublime quality.
Great Italian varieties like Sangiovese and Tempranillo are also flourishing; and further south, in the cooler microclimate bordering Karridale, Pinot Noir (defying the sceptics and doomsayers) is producing lovely results, with a distinctive Margaret River Character. Verdelho, Viognier and Chenin Blanc are other white grape varieties sharing increasing popularity in the region.
Additionally, the low diurnal and seasonal temperature range results in an unusually even accrual of warmth. In temperature terms, the overall climate is similar to that of the French regions of Pomerol and St. Emillion in a dry vintage, so it’s no wonder the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay is so good.
The physiographic characteristics of the region provide a degree of protection from winds blowing in from the ocean. The principal soil type is predominantly gravelly or gritty sandy loam that has formed directly from the underlying granite and ancient bedrock.
The soils are highly absorbent when moist but moisture quickly flows from sloping sites to lower lying regions. Overall water capacity is low, placing additional emphasis on the need for irrigation.