The Margaret Rive Wine Region is one of the jewels in the crown of Western Australia’s tourist industry. It’s a thriving wine-growing region, with a well- deserved brand recognition which it owes to its pleasant Mediterranean climate. Yet the Margaret River brand only turns 50 years old this year – a marked contrast with regions such as Victoria’s Yarra, which has produced wine since the mid-19th century.
The Margaret River wine story begins with a report by a Californian academic, who recommended the planting of wine grapes in Australia’s south-west. A subsequent report by the University of Western Australia narrowed the focus of this recommendation to the Margaret River region, on account of its warm climate, strongly influenced by the nearby sea, which is characterised by a low diurnal temperature range and an agreeable absence of large temperature fluctuations.
These reports came to the attention of a cardiologist and amateur vigneron by the name of Thomas Cullity, who had been experimenting with vines elsewhere in the south west. He bought 8 acres at $75 an acre, and planted Margaret River’s first vines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec and Riesling. The first, eagerly-awaited vintage was 1971, and it was all but a disaster. Much of the crop had been eaten by birds, and what remained was badly affected by rot.
Undeterred, Cullity produced a Riesling the following year which won favour with the judges. That was also the first year the wines were named Vasse Felix, in memory of a French sailor by the name of Vasse who was swept overboard in a gale in 1801. At first thought drowned, rumours of Vasse’s survival have endured to this day. Cullity seems to have wished Vasse well, because “Vasse Felix” means “Happy (Lucky?) Vasse”.
After its redemption in 1972, Vasse Felix went from strength to strength, eventually being acquired by the Holmes a Court family, who still own the winery. As Vasse Felix continued to demonstrate the excellence of the Margaret River region for wine growing, other wine growers took up the challenge. Today they number over 200, and many boast kitchens and larders serving world-class food made from local produce.
A private hire with Perth Luxury Tours is a great way to experience the wines and foods of this fascinating region. From pick up in the morning to drop off in the evening you should allow around 12 hours. Just send us a contact request here, and we’ll discuss the options for winery visits and the all-important lunch.