Degustation at Voyager Estate Winery
It’s not exactly hard to find good wine and food in Margaret River, one of Australia’s premier wine regions. The “how” of the eating and drinking comes down to how to prioritize where to go; unless you can spend a week exploring the wineries, caves, beaches and quaint towns, you’re going to have to be strategic. With over 215 wineries spread over a 110km stretch, just looking at a map will make your head spin (and you wouldn’t even have tasted any of the wine yet!) Many of the chefs and producers subscribe to the philosophy of eating local, so a lot of their ingredients are locally sourced and organic. This place is heaven for all you foodies out there.
Located just a three-hour drive south of Perth, it’s easy to go for an extended long weekend from Singapore. Fair warning: if you spend any longer there you’ll come back a few kg heavier, both around your waistline and in your luggage stuffed with wine bottles, chocolate and preserves. The region is a great option for families with kids; though you probably won’t be going for a six-course degustation with the kiddos, there are plenty of wineries with playgrounds areas, and the caves and beaches are fun to explore with little adventurers.
The “when” is also important to consider. Many people prefer to go in the spring (Sept – Nov) as it’s not too hot and wildflowers are in bloom, avoiding the hot and crowded summer school holiday period. Wine enthusiasts love the autumn (Mar – May) as it’s harvest time and the grapes are fat and ripe. You'll want to pick a warm time of year if you want to enjoy the gorgeous beaches. We went in the dead of winter, which weather-wise isn’t the best, as it's chilly and rainy, and the vines are all brown and bare. However, I thought it was a great time to go, as it never really gets colder than ten degrees, there are zero crowds, and it’s truffle season.
Plan to hire a car at the Perth airport and drive down; there’s really no other option to get around unless you opt for the more unorthodox method we saw of renting a limo (which is not a bad idea if you’re a big group so no one needs to be the designated driver... though you’ll look like you’re headed from prom or a wedding, a bit less dressed up, but no less drunk.) It is important to remember road safety, as there really is no other option but to drive, and you know everyone else on the road has been sucking back glasses of cab all afternoon. The roads are winding and the kangaroos literally bounce about everywhere, so be careful.
Here are the top three “hows” to eat and drink your way around the region:
1) Tour the wineries and have a long, boozy lunch
The Margaret River region produces just three percent of Australia’s total grape production, but over 20% of Australia’s premium wines, so you know you’re going to taste some good stuff. The region is still young by vineyard standards, as the first wineries only started popping up in the 1960’s. You’ll find a mix of the original large established wineries such as Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Voyager Estate and Leeuwin Estate, and tons of tiny boutique wineries, which are too many in number to name. The main grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay.
Most of the 200+ wineries are open for free tastings without needing to book; just head to the cellar shop, stroll up to the counter, and the friendly staff will just start pouring. Find something you like? They’ll happily box it up for you for easy transport. Our favourites for tastings: Pierro and Leeuwin Estate.
What you do need to book, however, are the winery tours, especially during the busy seasons, as they can fill up fast. We went on the Cape Mentelle tour, and it was fascinating to learn about how one of the oldest wineries in the region cultivate their vines and have engineered the wine making process. The company was acquired by LVMH a few years ago and has since invested in shiny new state-of-the-art equipment. You can compare that to what you see at some of the smaller wineries.
After your tour, stop at another winery for a multi-course degustation with wine pairing. We went to Voyager Estate on a recommendation and weren’t disappointed. The staff was extremely knowledgeable about the region and food, and the chef prides himself on using fresh, in-season local ingredients (hello, truffles!) often grown in their own organic garden. Plan to set aside three hours as this experience cannot be rushed. If you are looking for a more kid-friendly, less over-the-top lunch option, try Cullen Wines, where the restaurant serves fresh, biodynamic and organic produce that is sourced from its own garden and select local producers.
My handsome hubby after our lunch at Voyager Estate. We only ordered one wine pairing to share but the staff was very generous!
2) Visit the Saturday farmer’s market
Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, a local school lot in the town of Margaret River transforms into a bustling farmer’s market. Many locals do their weekly grocery shopping here, so you’ll see produce stands mixed in with the gourmet food stalls, coffee wagons and breakfast vendors. Tourists mix with local residents, who spend their time meeting and mingling with friends. There’s usually live music and often some food cooking demonstration. This is where you can stock up on some great organic honey, preserves and balsamic vinegar. Arrive before noon and bring your own bag, as it’s a plastic bag free zone.
3) Stop at the small specialty food producers
It’s easy to get caught up hopping from winery to winery, but remember there are also tons of boutique food producers scattered in and amongst the vines. If wine isn’t your thing, a handful of craft beer breweries have set up shop in the region, which are also open for tastings. Have a taste at the Providore, which boasts dozens of varieties of yummy flavoured oils, vinegars, preserves, condiments, honey, and other gourmet treats.
Vasse Virgin, which was started in the founders’ kitchen to develop safe, chemical-free skin care products to treat their children’s eczema, is a great stop for locally made olive oil and olive oil-based soaps. They do soap making demonstrations, and still stick to their natural product philosophy.
There are a few chocolate shops in the area, but our favourite is Gabriel Chocolate, which offers chocolate made from freshly roasted cacao beans from around the world. You can choose from different cacao percentages, and of course have a nibble of everything before making your choice. If you have some time, have a stop at their café for a cup of premium hot chocolate or a scoop of ice cream.
Where to stay: there are a few hotels in Margaret River proper, but it’s much more fun staying in one of the guesthouses or wineries offering accommodations. We stayed at Cape Lodge and loved it.
View from our room at Cape Lodge
Ready to book your trip to Margaret River? You won’t be disappointed!