At the far southwestern corner of Australia, a three-hour drive south from the capital of Western Australia, Perth, bordered by both the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean, lies one of Australia’s, and the world of wine’s hidden jewels: Margaret River. Considered to be one of the most geographically isolated and remote wine regions on the planet, what it lacks in volume compared to sister states of South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, it more than makes up for in quality.
Europeans first settled in the area in the 1830s, and over time transitioned from a settlement outpost to an agricultural and tourism center focused on a quieter lifestyle and slower pace of life, while coincidentally offering some of the best conditions for surfing in the world.
Vines were first planted commercially in 1967 by cardiologist Dr. Tom Cullity at the Vasse Felix winery. Dr. Cullity saw the Margaret River region as a yet-to-be-discovered opportunity for world-class wine production after years of reading studies on the geology and climate of the area. The Mediterranean climate would provide a long, moderate growing season while minimal irrigation would be required during the year due to heavy rains in the wintertime that replenish the underground aquifers. The soils of the region were some of the oldest in all of Australia, exposed by the oceanic wind and rainfall over time, which were so nutrient-poor and gravelly, that they would naturally moderate the vigor of the grapevine resulting in low yields but higher quality grapes.
Both white and red grapes see great success growing in Margaret River, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon being standard bearers for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon playing the star for red wines, unseating the iconic Australian grape, Shiraz. The abundance of warm, but not blistering hot, sunshine fully develops the fruit on the vine but keeps the fruit flavors fresh and crisp, rather than baked and dried. The proximity of the region to the ocean allows for sea breezes to quickly cool the vines once the sun sets, which produces wine with refreshing acidity and finesse.
Margaret River is now home to over 150 individual wineries harvesting from almost 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) of vineyards. Only accounting for 2% of the total Australian grape harvest every year, Margaret River accounts for nearly 20% of total Australian production of premium wine. Despite its remote location, it is a top destination for both international and domestic wine tourism and boasts some of the best seafood and culinary experiences on the continent.