The Margaret River: Glorious Wines in Western Australia

- John Nielsen, For John Nielsen, luxury hospitality and tourism has been part of his life since he recalls. Having been fortunate to travel extensively during his childhood in Denmark, it was almost a natural choice for John to join the Scandinavian travel company, Spies Travels in 1983. This journey and a beginning of his career, took John to Madeira & Portugal, where he gained his love of luxury hotels. From there three years were spent studying in Switzerland, then to South Korea at Hotel Lotte, to Hong Kong with hotels including the Mandarin Oriental and Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, Hyatt Carlton Tower in London, Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, Crown Towers in Melbourne and Grand Hyatt Melbourne. Throughout the years in senior management John developed a passion for wine and in 1998 co-founded Liquid Assets Wine Storage in Melbourne. In 2006 John joined Kiwi Collection as a Regional Director in Asia Pacific and today continues to consult as well as contribute to WOW Travel. John recently completed his Master of Business with an added Master Degree in Tourism. These days John is based in Melbourne with his family, working for the Australian PGA Links company as General Manager of Hospitality. The travel bug will forever stay and with family based across three continents, there is always a good excuse to seek out new destinations and new wines.

The French wine region of Bordeaux is well known for producing some world’s great Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but in recent years, boutique producers from Australia’s Margaret River region have begun to convince Cabernet lovers to look elsewhere.

Western Australia LandscapeI had the pleasure of meeting the passionate founder of Leeuwin Estate’s Dennis Hogan a few years back and ever since have always wanted to visit the Margaret River. Dennis explained that it was the in 1972, following an extensive search for the area most suitable to produce the best varietal wines in Australia, legendary American winemaker, Robert Mondavi, identified the future site of the Leeuwin vineyard. Originally a cattle farm, Leeuwin Estate evolved with Robert Mondavi acting as consultant, mentor and life-long friend.

It was with great excitement that I set off from Perth and headed south along the coast. After a four-hour drive the scenery began to change and vineyards appeared. Names including Brooklyn Valley, Devils Lair and Howard Park to name few were found on signs and the excitement began to grow.

Western Australia (WA) is the biggest state of six in Australia. Known for the pristine beaches, rugged coastline, wine regions, the rich mineral fields and the capital of Perth are often missed by many Australian on their travel plans. Perth is a five-hour flight from Sydney and six from Brisbane, where as the long and white beaches of Queensland are just a couple of hours away.

Moondance Lodge Western Australia HotelsFor visitors to Western Australia, the rewards are rich and fascinating. Perth is located on the coast and a great place to be based as you explore. The state has in many ways changed the Australian economy with the huge mining resources found in the northern part of WA. Global mining giants, BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals and others have made fortunes come true for many Australians, exporting large amounts of natural minerals to China and India. Another natural export of great significance has been the in form of bottles of wine. The regions of Great Southern, Frankland River, and the Margaret River, are regarded by wine experts as some of the finest in Australia. The words ring true when 20 percent of all fine wine exported is from the Margaret River.

The climate of Western Australia is warm with maritime climate having excellent effects on the soils around the wine regions. The spectacular scenery and stunning coastline with wide beaches and warm waters has also made WA a favorite with surfers. Cape Leeuwin is one of the most famous places and bears the name of one of the region better wine producers. It is not only wines that Leeuwin Estate’ is known for, each year Leeuwin stages a series of spectacular alfresco concerts in the picturesque grounds of the Estate as part of the Winery’s ongoing association and sponsorship of the Arts. The tradition of the Leeuwin Concerts began in 1985 when Leeuwin Estate provided financial support for the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s tour to Australia. As part of the visit the Orchestra performed in this unique vineyard setting, thereby launching what was to become an institution – the annual “Leeuwin Concert Series. The award wining Chardonnay is part of a collection of wines named “Art Series”, a reflection of the label and the music.
To celebrate 2008, Australian country and blues singer Kasey Chambers will be performing at Leeuwin Estate with her full band on December 30th.

I arrived at the Moondance Lodge, boutique accommodation at its best! Hidden away in a forest there is a great sense of tranquility and calmness that owners, Geraldine and Richard Riley have created. The suites are decorated with Jim Thompson Thai silks and original art pieces, creating a luxuriously peaceful ambiance to infuse and soothe the senses. I set off to the many cellar doors and tasted my way through a few bottles. It was great meeting winemakers and having their guidance. Sandalford Estate winemaker Paul Boulden explained just why this region has become so iconic for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but its third success factor has been the white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, a dry and refreshing white that perfectly compliments seafood. The cellar doors are in-general superb, with excellent dining facilities and now also great venues to be married at.

Cape Lodge Western Australia Luxury HotelsI decided to concentrate on Cabernet and Chardonnay, and I was not to be disappointed. Cabernet Sauvignon is often said to be very dry or tannic. The rich deep, but soft concentrated flavors were found in iconic wines of Moss Wood and Cullen. Winemaker Vanya Cullen has become a cult winemaker and has created a brand that today rates globally amongst the very best. It proved a common theme as I drove around and explored the fine wines of the region.  I loved the finesse of winemaker Janice McDonald’s Stella Bella’s Chardonnay and the soft tannins of Houghton’s Gladstone Cabernet 1999, a glorious wine to salute the acclaimed viticulturalist Dr John Gladstone and his pioneering work in identifying the winegrowing potential of the Margaret River.

Knowing that I will return, I decided to explore accommodation options and came across the majestic Cape Lodge and a real hidden treasure, Chandeliers on Abbey, the brainchild of Jody and her husband, ex-touring golf professional Glenn Parry. The private and beautifully decorated cabins all have private spa pools and as a feature a chandelier in each room.

After a packed day out I relaxed at Moondance Lodge, having dinner on my balcony with a glass of Vase Felix Chardonnay, finishing off a brilliant day.

Chandeliers on Abbey Western Australia AccomodationAs I set off for Perth I smiled and new that this was not a goodbye, but see you again soon feeling. I reached Perth late in afternoon and headed to the private residence of Eight Nicholson, a true boutique hotel with only three rooms, located opposite Kings Park and in the shopping suburb of Subiaco. Owner and interior designer Cheryl de Jong turned a private historic house into this excellent home away from home. The dark rich wood tones are combined with a strong interior use of colors and the upstairs suite is quite divine. The private garden is ideal for breakfast or afternoon tea. Cheryl’s second home is a family vineyard in the Margaret River, her collection of wines in the cellar are good incentive to stay in for dinner!

As dark descended over Perth and restaurants came alive, the city lights and backdrop to the Swan River provided an ideal city to explore and enjoy.

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