Brad Wehr is a wine maker in Western Australia’s most famous wine region, Margaret River. Brad owns and operates (with a bunch of like-minded and generous souls) some of the coolest labels in the country, labels such as; Wine By Brad, Mantra and Amato Vino. We decided that we love Margaret River wines but needed to know more about Margaret River, so we asked Brad if could tell us a little more. Here’s his guest blog about one of Australia’s favourite wine and holiday regions.
Whatever your checklist when choosing a holiday destination, you’re secure in the knowledge that almost all roads will lead to Margaret River. World-class surf, stunning coastline and uncrowded white sandy beaches? Check. Deep forests, vast cave systems and dazzling wildflowers? Sure. Whalewatching? Yep. A plethora of galleries, restaurants, providores, breweries… shopping, wellness, tours, kids stuff… plus major events covering food, literature, film, surf and fitness.
OK, OK, you get it.
And yes, there’s wine too.
Although the Margaret River wine community is still in its relative youth – 1967 saw the first commercial vineyard planting – it has catapulted into our consciousness and remains one of the most recognised and respected names in Australia. Scientific research undertaken in the 1960’s to determine the prospects for a wine-growing region in the south-west of Western Australia provided the spark that set the Margaret River wheels in motion.
Early plantings concentrated almost wholly on so-called ‘Bordeaux’ varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc – whilst some exploration with Chardonnay (typically associated with Burgundy) was also undertaken, and thankfully so.
Subsequently, as vines matured and the first wines were set free, major success at wine shows and much applause from the wine-writers of the day quickly cemented Margaret River’s place at the head of the table. Leaping ahead a few short decades and the early pioneers are still doing good stuff, but they’re now jousting with some hip new players on the scene. Small, independent growers and producers are turning out eclectic and interesting wine styles from grape varieties you may not have heard of, and using winemaking methods covering the ancient to the modern.
A snapshot of old and new…
Elegance and poise, richness with restraint, structured yet approachable. At its best, Cabernet from Margaret River is all these things. It can have a certain ‘X Factor’ that the best wines often have – something you can’t quite put your finger on but you recognise instantly. Cedary and earthy, juicy blackcurrants and savoury meats, or red/blue-fruited warmth in the lighter styles (especially the Cabernet Merlot blends). You don’t need to swill it; you sip it on the front porch, or match it with rare roast meats or a charry BBQ, with rich tomato-based dishes, or with a mixed platter of hard and blue cheese. Yep.
Semillon & Sauvignon Blends
For goodness sake people! Why drink wishy-washy NZ Sav Blanc when you can have this? Semillon, with its citrussy lemon/lime and herbal/floral aspects, blended with the tropical high notes of Sauvignon Blanc: pineapple/passionfruit/melon. This is the real deal for summer white drinking – fresh and vibrant. Sure, you can glug it down easily on its own, but it’s equally superb with seafood, soups and salads, or Asian spice. Get into it!
Although Chardonnay styles have changed somewhat in recent years, Margaret River is still easily in the top tier for this variety in Australia, and quite likely the world. Take your pick: try the modern lean, minerally, flinty styles showing white peach, nectarine, taut acidity and very fine oak; or the older Australian style – rich, ripe, buttery, creamy, mouthfilling with a decent whack of oak. You’ll find many variations in between to light your fire. Margaret River has made this variety its own.
Alternatives – and the new scene
Over the years some astute growers have introduced some eclectic varieties into their vineyards that are only now being ‘discovered’ and turned into varietal wines, rather than being blended away. Likewise, a growing number of new winemakers are exploring different methods of producing wine – whether via bio-dynamic and organic principles in the vineyard, or ‘natural’ winemaking and minimal intervention methods, or unusual fermentation/storage vessels.
Under our own Amato Vino label we’re turning out Nebbiolo, Teroldego, Tempranillo, Carignan, amongst others, and exploring the attributes of amphorae (handmade clay storage pots). Others are using ‘concrete egg’ tanks, large-format wooden vats, leaving grapes on skins/solids for months, or air-drying grapes for further concentration. And much more.
It’s an exciting time to be in Margaret River wine and with hundreds of producers in the region the choices are now more diverse than ever!
Brad Wehr’s Margaret River wines can be found here: Wine By Brad