In the Margaret River region of Western Australia, voted one of Lonely Planets Top Ten must-visits in the world, nature mixes with gastronomy to satiate your senses. Taking you on a trip that fills your tummy with artisanal produce just as it satisfies your wanderlust with its adventures.
An extended holiday in this rural corner of Western Australia is both a romantic and recurring dream for many travelers – myself included. While Margaret River’s own splendid estates and fine boutique wines are alluring and the cape-to-cape views of the Indian Ocean captivating, I return here time and again for its cosy eats, casual atmosphere and rejuvenating air. It is almost like retreating to a spa, only the wonder here doesn’t cease after a 90-minutes period. And like all good spa retreats, a week here is hardly long enough either.
The sleepy river, from which the region takes its name, weaves through its heart and runs along its winding road. Simply take a leisure three-hour drive away from Perth, and you’ll find yourself in the company of world-class wineries, stunning beaches and tall-timber forest – making this the only wine region in the whole of Australia to have all these right at its doorstep.
Low barb fences guided us past neatly packed wheels of hay bathed in a halo golden hue under the vast Australian sky as we drove into the town centre from Busselton. I traced the river’s meandering on our map; it pointed out to a number of nearby wineries that wore their charm on their sleeves with gusto and quirk that is unique to the region. At the heart of the region is a warm and dynamic community known for their friendliness and relaxed approached to life. A mixed bunch made of vineyard workers and wine makers, surfers, organic farmers, artists to busy professionals – their diversity remains a testament to the casual and vibrant Aussie sun, sea & surf motto. None of that hoity-toity east coast characters to be found here.
It was a cheerful morning during the early summer. The Margaret River Farmers Market located at the grounds of the old hospital was postcard perfection. Already bustling with activities at 8 A.M, shopping for organic produces in this part seem to fall under the heading of “passion” rather than “necessity” and I couldn’t wait to pop some fresh strawberries into my mouth. Staining my fingers, they tasted of sunshine. Not a bad way to start the day, I deduced. The market, which happens only on every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, features a host of food and wine stalls manned by the producers themselves. A perfect opportunity to meet the faces behind the wonderful produces while one takes in the vibrant community atmosphere.
Street barrows laden with garden-fresh, seasonal produce; there were little wicker basket filled with aubergine that gleamed like patent leather here, drew-dressed lettuce there, green “applecue” – a strange looking apple and cucumber hybrid fruit mounted on one corner, orbs of vine tomatoes over the next pile; a table selling circles of soft French-styled cheeses like friesette, ashover, brie and camembert, in the next tent; a flaming red-haired lady grilling corn-on-a-cob dressed in a tarty salsa (the corn, not the lady) and wrapped with a delicate twist of paper; earthy mushrooms which are just as meaty as the beef and lamb selling in the opposite tent, and of course, bottles of adult grape juices from nearby wineries.
Animated Aussie voices made everyday exchange lyrically charming, despite their odd accent. Busker music and tiny children laughter fills the air – making it all festive and charming at the same time. And before we knew it, the morning has come to an end as we grabbed the last sticky slice of home-baked fig chocolate cake and a crafty brewed cup of Yahava Koffee. Now, we were all set to continue stuffing our faces with a gourmet Margaret River-styled lunch.
Under an intense azure sky we paused for lunch next to grape vines and espaliered roses at the picturesque Cape Naturaliste Vineyard in the town of Yallingup, famed for its award-winning burgundies and its mascot, Monte the drunken Jack Russell, which has a signature brand of muscat to his name. Us urban folks were spoiled by the quaint countryside picnic spread, courtesy of The Larder, the region’s resident premier specialty gourmet retailer runned by the passionate Andrea Illot, A treasure box for any fine food lover, the gourmet hamper packed an entire eskie (that’s Aussie for cooler box) with wholesome delicatessen cuts; freshly-made dips like caramelized onion and balsamic relish, rocket and basil pesto, hummus with pistachio dukkah; fresh wood fired bread; along with the yummiest salads ever (Organic Quinoa with charred corn and Raw Beetroot, Wild Rockets and Walnut Salad with Pomegranate dressing); and hot items like BBQ Lebanese spiced organic chicken skewers. Sipping the Cape’s celebrated wines, we were inspired to dance among the scenic rows of vine in the sun.
Not to be out-shined, the petite Heydon Estate in the Wilayabrup Valley had a few secret gems hidden behind its cellardoor too. Our guide, Chris O’Hare of Top Drop Tours who customizes full/half day private wine tours to his client’s taste and preferences, introduced us to this boutique wine producer. Chris later told us that this was definitely one of his favourite vineries around and it wasn’t hard to see why. Being small has never been a hindrance to the Heydon family, who owns and manages the 100-acres property; it only means that they can concentrate on cultivating the best fruits and transforming them into magnificent wines.
The adoption of organic, biodynamic practices in the vineyard and with the help of the finest winemakers has combined perfectly to express the philosophy of the estate. Their passion can clearly be seen in the complex dark brick red-coloured 2004 “WG Grace” Cabernet Sauvignon with its luscious rhapsody of brooding red berries, lavender, bay leaf, peppermint and floral aromas and the elegant fruity bouquet 2006 “The Willow” Chardonnay. Both has resulted in world-class honours with the 2006 Willow being named as the finest 21 chardonnays in the world at the prestigious Cullen International Chardonnay Tasting. Their range of curiously cricket-themed wines are most definitely made to excel with the fine food but being lovers of dessert wines, the Panda and I brought home bottles of their deliciously saccharine 2006 “The Urn” Botrytis Semillon.
Keeping it personal, quaint, quirky and yet producing world-class quality that is enviable by any larger producers seems to be the winning formula of these artisanal wineries.
Stay tuned for the second installment of our mouth-watering journey through the rest of the Margaret River wine region to discover both fancy and off-beat dining spots tomorrow.
***MARGARET RIVER WINE & DINE DIRECTORY Margaret River Farmers Market Tunbridge Street Margaret River, WA, 6285 Tel: (+61) 8 9757 9095 Website: www.margaretriverfarmersmarket.com.au Opens every 2nd & 4th Saturday mornings from 8am — 12pm Top Drop Tours Margaret River, private wineries tour. PO Box 396, Cowaramup, WA 6284 Tel: (+61) 407 443 860 Email: email@example.com Website: www.topdroptours.com.au Twitter: @MargaretRvrWine Cape Naturaliste Vineyard 1 Coley Road (entrance off Caves Road), Yallingup WA 6282 Tel/Fax: (+61) 8 9755 2538
Cellar Door opens from Monday to Sunday 10:30am – 5pm
Website: www.capenaturalistevineyard.com.au Heydon Estate 325 Tom Cullity Drive
Wilyabrup, WA 6284 Tel: (+61) 8 9755 6995 Website: www.heydonestate.com.au
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