On the October 15th-16th weekend, I visited Margaret River specifically for the Fine Vines Festival and visit twelve 'Open Vineyards' that are not normally open to the public and have no cellar door.
In fact, several of the owners commented that this is the very first time they have opened their doors (or gates) to public access. It was a special treat not to be missed!
While the majority of winery/vineyard locations were open for visitors anytime between 10 am and 4 pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, this was not the case for all. Some were open for much shorter timeframes or for only one day, and a few required prior appointments.
So it took some careful planning to get to all twelve, spread as far south as Redgate, as far north as Quedjinup (between Yallingup and Dunsborough) and as far east as Osmington (east of Rosa Brook).
The whole weekend felt like a bit of a marathon at times. I nearly missed out, and only made it to Dirt Temple with less than ten minutes to spare at the end of the day on Saturday. Fortunately, on Sunday, I managed to get an early 'solo' appointment, starting at 9 am at Cloudburst Wine's secret location.
On the whole, there were much fewer people than I had expected to see in attendance. This was great for me, as I got more opportunities to chat with the owners, viticulturalists (folks who grow the grapes) and winemakers - these roles often belong to the same person in small operations like these.
I do hope more people take advantage of this special opportunity at Fine Vines Festival 2022. Nevertheless, it was a great and varied experience overall.
DAY 1 - SATURDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2021
On Saturday, I focused primarily on the more northerly and easterly locations:
St John's Wine (St John's Brook)
On Sunday, it was generally the more southerly locations, excluding one in the far north - Stonegaze - due to my mix-up over the timing of the appointment, which I had thought was going to be the previous day. So Sunday's locations were:
Corymbia - Calgardup Vineyard
Burnside Organic Farm
My summaries for each visit on Day 1 follow. Sunday's visits will be covered in a subsequent post.
Note: Each visit summary includes a 'Learn More' button, linking to further information about that location on the WineVine WA website.
Festival Description: "a boutique label winery producing only 1200 cases of wine per year. The focus of the vineyard owners is to produce high-quality grapes that will find their way into premium wineries in the region, and more recently to release limited cases of single-vineyard wines under the Brash Vineyard label. Brash Vineyard will present four current release wines on the weekend – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc as well as some selected back vintage wines".
I have known Chris and Anne Carter, who are part owners and run the vineyard, for many years now. I've been a member of their 100-club in order to benefit from their 'en primeur' offering of Cabernet Sauvignon each year. I have therefore, unsurprisingly, visited them at their vineyard before. It's the only one of the twelve 'Open Vineyard' locations that I had already been to.
A makeshift cellar door was 'at the house' and the casual garden furniture made the whole environment feel like a gathering of friends and, in many ways, that's exactly what it was! Happily in WA, despite Covid-19, it's OK to share a table and discuss a common interest in wine with complete strangers.
My Pick: Cabernet Sauvignon 2019. My favourite wine here has always been the Cabernet Sauvignon, and nothing has changed. Put it away in your cellar for a few years if you can bear to wait. I still have a few bottles of the 2017 vintage, which are drinking very nicely at the moment.
Festival Description: "a 21-hectare vineyard set on a picturesque 80-hectare property initially planted in 1999 with the Haughton’s clone of Cabernet Sauvignon together with Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay and Semillon vines. Dawson’s follow and fully support sustainable viticulture and programs to support soil health, which they believe will in turn support vine health, result in balanced, robust, flavourful wines".
The temporary 'cellar door tent' was pitched in a grassy area in a stunning location, overlooking a small 'lake' and rolling vineyards on the far side.
While the folks before me were being attended to, I took the opportunity to take my photos and admire the 'mechanical' kangaroo, which you will see in one of the shots above. I love this kind of quirky artwork and I'm always appreciative of their presence at any wineries I visit.
I couldn't help but wish there was a permanent cellar door here; it would be perfect. Honestly, I could have stayed here all afternoon, supping elegant wine and staring at that beautiful view! Unfortunately, my time here had to be kept brief in order to get back on schedule. One I'd like to revisit if I can, without being in a rush.
My Pick: Shiraz 2017. In general, I preferred the reds.
Festival Description: "...make very small amounts of unique wine on their Margaret River vineyard and will have a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Malbec and a Pet Nat Sauvignon Blanc all available during the weekend. You wake, the sound of birds fluttering and bees busying themselves is humming over the murmuring over backdrop of a recently landed Pleiadean craft. You tend the animals, create with your hands and the powers of the grand solar force all the things that nourish your being. Welcome to the Temple of Dirt, all hail the microbe!"
Here's the location I almost missed, and I'm so glad I didn't. I arrived at the entrance to the property only 10 minutes before the 4 pm scheduled closing time on Saturday (Day 1). The weather was beginning to turn with some dark grey clouds rolling in. By the time I found the tasting area, tucked around the back of the equipment shed, it was close enough to warrant my apology for turning up so late.
Dirt Temple is one of those places that shouts out 'alternative' from the get-go, and it is, in a very good way. Laid back, welcoming and colourful is the best way I can describe it. I think it appeals to the latent 'hippie' in me, but I was always too much of a 'bread-head' to go down that path in my youth.
Now it had been expected for there to be three wine varieties available this weekend. Unfortunately, the Malbec did not make it as they felt it was not quite ready at this stage. So, the options were a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pétillant Naturel (Pet-Nat), the latter having been made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. I have to say that I am not a great fan of Pet-Nat in general, so I was feeling rather limited for choice, but although the Malbec was omitted from the repertoire, it was a sound decision to have made. Well, I was in for a surprise...
My Pick: The Pétillant Naturel (Pet-Nat). Yes!
Festival Description: "a family-owned and operated vineyard planted in 1995 by the Cotterell family. With a north-south aspect and nestled within undulating valleys, it is protected from the elements behind a nature reserve, yet near enough to the ocean to hear the surf. The name Jilyara was inspired by the abundance of bees in the vineyard and derives from ‘Djilyaro’, meaning ‘bees’ in the local indigenous Noongar language. In their nine-hectare vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are grown. After having produced grapes for twenty-three years, supplying some of the area’s prime producers, the team embarked in 2017 on an exciting venture in producing their own wine".
In the case of Jilyara, I arrived a few minutes before 10 am on Saturday (Day 1), so I was their first visitor of the 'Open Vineyards' festival weekend. Yay!
Maria and Craig have a nice new-looking shed, overlooking the 'lake'. They had a nice setup, taking advantage of the beautiful day and view. As I was the only one there, we had plenty of time for good old chinwag - partly contributing to why I was in a rush later in the day, no doubt!
Craig is the viticulturalist. He explained that he just used to sell his high-quality fruit to others in the region, who then produced premium wines from it. Realising there was an opportunity to value-add, he decided to get in on the action, by producing premium quality wines under Jilyara's own label.
At one point, Craig wafted his hands towards a section of land nearby, saying he'd like to plant some more vines there as he always could use or sell as many grapes as he can produce but is also committed to maintaining quality over quantity.
My Pick: The Williams' Block Chardonnay 2020.
Festival Description: "Rosabrook, Calneggia Family Vineyards was originally home to a small number of group settlement farmers who pioneered the dairy industry in Margaret River in the 1930’s. Many of the isolated clearings they struggled to tame are now home to some of the region’s prime vineyards. Established in 1980, the Rosabrook Estate vineyard is located on Rosa Brook Road, some 14 kilometres from the Margaret River township. Offering their full Rosabrook range of wines available for tasting plus 2 brand new releases – the “Pas Touche” Unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc and Rosabrook Rose".
I was warmly greeted at Rosabrook's characterful building by Emily and Sally. A broad range of wines was on offer for tasting, so of course, I had to try them all!
While I enjoyed all of them, the surprise for me was that I enjoyed the Rosé so much, as I am not much of a Rosé fan normally. This is a wine I could enjoy anytime, not just as a summer wine as they are often, probably unfairly relegated to.
As you will get a sense from the photos, this location is well set up and would be great for a permanent cellar door. During our discussion, Sally Calneggia did say they are considering options for some openings. Here's hoping then!
My Pick: Rosé 2021.
St John's Wine (St John's Brook)
Festival Description: "an environmentally friendly winery using no herbicides and low chemical inputs. Family-owned, St John’s operates multiple vineyards in two wonderfully diverse Western Australian regions, Margaret River and the Blackwood Valley. Varieties planted are all on original rootstock with the key French varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Since 2013 an environmentally friendly approach to production has been a central philosophy to the vineyard and a programme of sustainable composting has been integral to their production. At the tasting weekend they will focus on wines from the St Johns Brook site, showcasing wines from the Reserve, Single Vineyard and Recolte Ranges. This is a ‘must-do’ experience!".
St John's has long been known as St John's Brook and is transitioning to its new name as St John's Wine.
This was one of the busier locations of the day. I'm not sure but the tent pumping out some very nice food for free may have been a contributing factor. Notice the Thomas The Tank Engine style BBQ, ha, ha! Seriously, the hospitality was all out here and perfect timing for my lunch.
Rather a beautiful spot overall. And hey, the wines were good too.
My Pick: Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.
So that's it for Day 1. Six down and six to go. Here's a link to my Day 2 post. Cheers!