Australian Associated Press
Award-winning winemaker Virginia Willcock believes in magic – Margaret River magic.
The chief winemaker at Vasse Felix estate is sharing her expertise with diners at a Qantas lunch on the estate’s beautiful vineyard, the first to be established in Margaret River back in 1967.
It’s early autumn, the vines are groaning with plump fruit and Willcock’s excitement is palpable.
She tells the gathering of assorted VIPs, corporate clients, media and food and wine experts the vineyard is mid-harvest and confesses she hasn’t even had time to change out of her work boots!
She then confides why Western Australia’s Margaret River is consistently producing some of the world’s most sought-after wine. It’s location, location.
The pristine region stretches for 100km on Western Australia’s southwest coast where the Mediterranean climate combines with the cooling breezes of the Indian and Southern Oceans to produce the unique, natural fruit quality and elegance of Margaret River wines.
Put simply the blazing sun ripens the vines by day and the cooling winds temper the grapes at night. It’s a recipe for perfection.
“It’s the magic that makes our wines fantastic,” Willcock said.
And the proof is in the sales, as Asia develops a thirst for WA wines.
The industry is worth $720 million to WA with wine exports growing by 23 per cent in China, and 19 per cent in the UK and the Margaret River region is leading the charge – representing more than 60 per cent of exports.
The region known for its stunning beaches and gourmet food is just three hours’ drive south of Perth and is producing more than a quarter of the Australia’s premium wine.
And Willcock has been at the forefront since arriving at the Holmes a Court-owned vineyard in 2006. She’s been nominated for the International Winemaker of the Year award as well as being named Winemaker of the Year in 2013, by the West Australian Good Wine guide.
Her enthusiasm for her craft is contagious and says she wants her wines to be a conversation starter, “something that pleasantly surprises, challenges perceptions and encourages people to really connect with the place of origin”.
She says by focusing on two signature wines – chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon – the wines at Vasse Felix keep improving.
“The quality of our wine is going up and up.” The estate’s chardonnays are wild fermented and she says “the more natural we get the better we get”.
She also believes the cabinet sauvignon “is going to change all of you”.
“It’s got a strong tannin profile, is elegant, refined, and sexy. And cabinet should be sexy! Sexy cabinet is happening here right now,” she enthuses.
She emphasises it’s all about the cool coastal winds.
“Magic happens at this level.”
She believes the region is producing the most consistently high-quality wines in the world.
To date the best vintage was 2012 but she predicts the 2014 wine “is going to rock”.
“It’s la creme de la creme.”
She also has some advice about wine tasting etiquette.
“It’s absolutely acceptable to spit on the floor and recommended if you want to stay sober.”
She also believes winemakers should consider their environment rather than trends when deciding what style of wine to make.
“If you want to try and make what the market wants then that’s wrong. You have to make what suits your environment.”
She’s says it’s a testament to the exceptional Margaret River climate that it has been the best performing region for chardonnay in James Halliday’s Wine Companion for the last three years.
“Margaret River Chardonnay is looking better than ever. Margaret River spring conditions continue to make our chardonnay a rare and beautiful thing,” she says.
The vineyard’s proximity to the ocean also has another great benefit for local wine lovers, Willcock reveals.
“Every morning you can have a swim in the ocean to wash away the hangover from last night.
“I am blessed. I live in paradise. I am making wine in paradise.”
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Vasse Felix estate is a three-hour-drive south of Perth.
TOURS: Vasse Felix has a contemporary cellar door, acclaimed restaurant and art gallery. Bookings essential, phone 08 9756 5000 or book online, maximum of 10 people
ORIGINAL TOUR: 3pm-5pm, $45 per person. The guided tour explores the first vines ever planted in Margaret River, takes a behind-the-scenes look at winemaking and includes a tutored wine tasting and light refreshments.
EPICUREAN TOUR: 10am-2pm, $185 per person. Includes a three-course lunch with matched wines at award-winning estate restaurant. A host will navigate you through the art of food and wine pairing and give a favourite bottle of wine to take home.
THE CAPE TO VINE TOUR: 8.30am-4.30pm, $495 per person. Walk the spectacular stretch of coastline with Cape to Cape Explorer Tours then indulge the senses at Vasse Felix with a private tour behind the scenes on winemaking followed by an in-depth tasting. After a three-course menu with matched wines at the estate restaurant, diners tour the original vineyards.
Vasse Felix wines also available through the Qantas epiQuire website, the online food and wine community for Qantas frequent flyers.
* The writer flew to Perth as a guest of Qantas and Tourism Western Australia