At 1,600 km from east to west, Western Australia, or WA, is the largest of the continent’s territories. Because of its size, much of its land is unsuitable for growing quality vineyards: its northwest corner is the hottest area in all of Australia, with its eastern regions not faring much better. But thankfully, the southwestern tract of Western Australia benefits from two oceans – the Indian Ocean to the west and the Antarctic Ocean to the south and east, making its climate similar to that of Bordeaux. It’s no coincidence that many of the grapes that thrive in this section of WA, most notably Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are also premier Bordeaux varietals. Accordingly, Western Australia’s wine style is more decidedly Bordeaux-inspired than that of any other Australian region. Its most famous GI, Margaret River, is especially influenced by Bordeaux, and is celebrated for wines of elegance and balance.
Winemaking debuted in Western Australia as far back as the early 1800s in Perth, the region’s capital city. While the hot climate was not cooperative when it came to growing many popular European varietals, enthusiastic winemakers forged ahead by making fortified wines from nearly parched, concentrated fruit. Decades passed until creativity and necessity came together among the more determined 20th century winemakers who ventured south towards cooler coastal areas and began establishing new, healthy vineyards. Unlike steamy Perth, today’s major wine GIs in Western Australia are the Great Southern and Margaret River, where ingenuity and innovation in winemaking have found their proper place.
The Margaret River region was a popular vacation spot prior to its shift to winemaking in the 1960s. With an ideal Mediterranean climate, sandy soil, inland hillsides and dense, protective forests that keep destructive ocean winds at bay, it couldn’t be more conducive to wine growing if it tried. In less than five decades, the population of vintners has grown over 200%. The wines of the Margaret River region are equally compelling, with its highly finessed Cabernet Sauvignon being the first in Australia to achieve global recognition. Following Bordeaux’s example, winemakers blend Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon to produce even more European-style reds. As for whites, the region favors Semillon, especially when blended with Sauvignon Blanc to create what are called the region’s “SSB” and “SBS” wines, depending on percentages used. These popular whites are as grassy and vibrant as they are genteel. Other varietals found in Margaret River include Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, rounding out its unique array of classic grapes.
The Great Southern is Western Australia’s largest and coolest wine region, although there are variations in climate as a result of its size. Still, the majority of the area enjoys weather conditions similar to those of Margaret River, only with less rain. It grows Australia’s treasured Shiraz, but it is known for its Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Malbec as well.
Before the Great Southern and Margaret River regions were cultivated, the Swan Valley was the primary resource for grapes. Although it still exists, it has been significantly diminished in stature and importance by the expansion of the other two.