Margaret River: Set in Her Waves

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 Is generational change in Margaret River more blue blood than new blood? Nick Ryan asks the question.

When the moneyed types who own Margaret River vineyards attempt to lure winemaking talent out West they dangle carrots dipped in brine and dried in mild and steady sunshine.

“Just look at these beaches,” they say as they pull out a contract from their pocket.

“And did I mention the last time we had a shitty vintage Chris Judd was playing for the Eagles?”

There’s no denying Margaret River did very well when the natural gifts were being dished out but selling the place with postcards may be missing the point about what really defines the place.

A winemaker in charge of the Western outpost of a large wine company once told me – over a bottle of Krug in a late-night Sydney bar – that the best thing about his job was the fact that nobody made the effort to come over and bother him.

“We got everything schmick and shiny once because we heard a board member from back East might be popping by but he ended up extending his stay in Broome and we never saw him.

“That was three years ago.”

So the place is staggeringly beautiful, has the growing conditions God dials in for her own vineyard and is so proficient at what it does, that it’s pretty much left alone to do its own thing.

And it’s got the Settler’s Tavern.

But can you have too much of a good thing? Does having it easy lead to complacency?

Is it true that ugly people are better in the sack because they can’t just lie there and look pretty?

In my mind Margaret River sits right on the tipping point of the argument between Appellation and Innovation that all Australian regions face.

Its strengths are so apparent – Cabernet, Chardonnay and, in the marketplace at least, those Victa-scented blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc – there seems to be little room for anything else.

Apart from a famously amphibious Riesling, Cape Mentelle’s carnal Zin and the odd splash of Shiraz, there’s not a lot beyond Margaret River’s stylistic triumvirate to sink your teeth into.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

We’re all more than happy to accept Burgundy as a two-trick pony and, despite Jim Chatto’s apostolic advocacy of Verdelho, conventional wisdom says the Hunter would be wise to apply the same rigour.

But how do you balance that with the voracious appetite for something new that exists in both the marketplace and the contemporary media landscape?

Is the fact that column inches and shelf space are still dominated by the region’s pioneers a story of tradition and provenance or an indication of a closed shop?

Is generational change in Margaret River more blue blood than new blood?

I’m prepared to admit I might be a little out of touch. It’s been four years since I was last there and I unpack more samples from smaller players like Canberra and Beechworth than from the West’s bright star.

I’ve always been a fan, and I still am, but the list of my favourite wines from Margaret River I would write now is basically the same list I would’ve written six years ago and I don’t think I could say that about any other region in the country.

But its most ardent supporters probably like it like that.

That its biggest market – Perth  – is so parochial it makes the old boys of the Adelaide Club look like a bunch of orange wine swilling hipsters might seem a blessing to some, but I can’t help feel it’s a curse.

Margaret River is a very special place.

It’s a whole lot more than just Cottesloe South.

Have you been lured to Margaret River? Or maybe the promise of another wine region’s magic has pulled you in? Let us know!

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