In Food + Drink

Margaret River And Beyond: Demystifying The South West Wine Regions

There’s more to Western Australian wine than Margaret River. Outside of the powerhouse region on the cape, the South West is peppered with up-and-coming winemakers in regions like Geographe, Ferguson Valley, and Manjimup.

Western Australia is home to one of Australia’s most successful and recognisable wine regions, Margaret River. Affectionately known as the ‘jewel in the crown of the South West’, the award-winning wine region does not, however, solely define the viticulture landscape in the state’s bottom corner.

Outside of the powerhouse region on the cape, there are a handful of younger wine regions across the South West peppered with up-and-coming smaller batch winemakers. Producer and consumer curiosity around boutique, organic and biodynamic wines has brought the producers in these regions into the spotlight in recent years. But, according to Perth-based sommelier Dan Wegener, they have been consistently producing brilliant wines for a number of years now.

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Perth-based sommelier Dan Wegener chats about South West wine. Image: supplied

Prior to his current roles as owner of Highgate’s Harvey Leighs and founding partner of The Drink Well Philosophy, Wegener spent four years as head sommelier at Quay and three wearing the director of beverages hat at Print Hall. West Australian wine was always a passion, but since making the move across to the west, Wegener has taken that love further and assumed an ambassadorial role for the lesser celebrated wine-producing regions in the South West.

“When I first arrived in Perth I was fascinated by the great southern in particular,” he says. “I had heard so much about it and I had tried so many of the wines from there, but didn’t understand the geography of it.

“Understanding geography is a pretty important part of understanding a wine region, so the first thing I did when I arrived in Perth was drive down south and spend five days meeting people and getting to know the region.

“I just found it to be intoxicatingly beautiful in so many ways and so diverse. I find the whole of the South West provides that, whether it be the Great Southern, Margaret River, Geographe, Ferguson Valley, Manjimup or Blackwood River.”

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Up until now, regions like Ferguson Valley (pictured) and the Great Southern have remained relatively unknown. Image: Tourism Western Australia

Up until now, regions like Ferguson Valley and the Great Southern have remained relatively unknown. Newer and smaller than Margaret River, the recent focus shift to these regions has come about through the combined effort of local government, councils, winemakers, and sommeliers like Wegener.

Keeping the conversation going about these other areas is an integral part of growing them. The more knowledge and understanding of them, the more the small batch wineries in South Western Australia can grow.

“I think, generally speaking, our acceptance of things outside of the norm is growing,” says Wegener. “We are now exposed to a lot more in terms of what is out there and available in the world as consumers. We want to be challenged a little bit more than we used to. The demand for smaller batch wines is ever-increasing because we are so interested in what is going on.”

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Wine tasting at Willow Bridge Estate, near Dardanup. Image: Tourism Western Australia

And there are a lot of things going on in these smaller South West wine regions. While Margaret River champions Chardonnay, Cabernet and Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends, it’s the alternative wine varieties that really shine in the other regions. Spanish and Italian varietals flourish in the Ferguson Valley and Geographe microclimates. The hugely alternative Ferguson Valley is well known for its Tempranillo vineyards, and Geographe for its Vermentino.

Wegner says their styles differ greatly from other areas of the country. “We have wine regions like the Swan Valley here in Perth, which are warmer climate regions that provide such robust, dignified, beautiful, juicy reds, right next to elegant, refined and refreshing whites.

“And then you go to higher elevation, cooler climate regions from the Great Southern and there is huge diversity in terms of what is on offer, which I think in itself defines the Western Australian wine landscape.”

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La Violetta is doing amazing things with Shiraz, says Wegener. Image: Blackheartsandsparrows.com

With so many good wines coming out of the small batch producers in the regions outside of Margaret River, it’s hard to know where to start. For Wegener, Willow Bridge in Ferguson Valley is a stand out as their shiraz Gravel Pit is undoubtedly one of Western Australia’s most prized Shirazes. La Violetta in the Great Southern is doing amazing things with Shiraz too.

“It was not that long ago that a master of wine came over from Singapore and out of about 20 Western Australian Shirazes, he picked the La Violetta as the one that we should all be trying to emulate. It is really serious stuff,” says Wegener.

“There is also Talisman and their Gabrielle Chardonnay, which I think is one of the most underrated West Australian Chardonnays going around. Bakkheia is another producer from the Ferguson Valley area and they make really small numbers of really boutique, really beautifully intense and regionally diverse wines as well.

“What Sam Vinciullo in the Great Southern is doing with Sauvignon Blanc is amazing too. He has great resources down there. He is making really interesting wines.”

(Lead image: Oranje Tractor Wines, near Albany / credit: Tourism Western Australia ) 

Published 19 February, 2019