Day One in Margaret River (MR), and any remaining fear that I had about this new path quickly subsided as we pulled up at Mr Barvel. With great timing, we arrived alongside the 6am morning hand harvest of the Malbec grape, which was a pleasant surprise as MR is better known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. We watched the de-stemming which creates the first free run juice, a true delicacy that I was lucky enough to taste.
I bubbled with excitement as the tasting notes from my WSET level 3 swirled through my mind in readiness for taste. This was to be my first knowledge test, and it tasted like overly sweet Ribena. Rob and Candy from Mr Barvel, however, were thrilled at the taste of potential – a sallow reminder to me that there is still so much to learn.
And then it occurred to me, here I was with a wine-maker, amongst his elements, watching him pick out the unwanted grapes, whilst listening intently to his expectations of this year’s vintage (the name for Harvest used in MR). His enthusiasm was addictive, inspiring and invigorating. I realised that this trip was only going to encourage me and give me the momentum to reach for my dream.
Rob’s wine is all handpicked small batch grapes from different plots in the Margaret River region. He doesn’t own any vines, but buys his grape from a grower and rents his cellar door building. In order to label wine as Margaret River, it must be 85% made from the grapes of the region.
A Mining company had visited earlier in the year, and enjoyed Rob’s 2016 Reserva so much that they had flown back by helicopter, landed on the front lawn and bought the whole lot. They had asked Rob to bottle it and then added their company logo to the label – I mean that’s pretty impressive.
Later, we headed onto Xanadu Winery which was sadly not as great as last year. But I had different expectations this time around and with so many other vineyards to see (roughly 215 c.2015 registered in the region) we headed on McHenry Hohnen. McHenry Hohnen has an interesting differential. They offer Chardonnays that are all made from the same grape and with the same method, but they all taste different! (https://www.mchenryhohnen.com.au/About/PHILOSOPHY ) How I hear you ask, well, it’s all about location and terrain (soil for us non-wine people). For instance, I tasted the “Apiary Block Chardonnay” which is made from grapes planted near the bee hives. This gives the wine a pronounced honey flavour. One taste and you will know why Berry Bros and Rudd are stocking them in London.
Our last mentionable stop on our first day was Woodlands – and their fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon was a wonderful way to finish a first amazing day. Here, the first vines were planted in 1973 by one of the first five families in the region. Their award-winning wines named after family members were made in the Bordeaux style – my first indication that my French wine knowledge is really not up to scratch – thank goodness that I have signed up for my French Wine Scholar course in May.
From classroom to vineyard my applied learning was was bursting, and I could hardly wait for Day Two.