This small, isolated region surrounded by the ocean in Western Australia produces Australia’s finest wines.
Getting a Lay of the Land
Margaret River is 3 hours south of Perth in Western Australia, sitting at 34°S. It's the most geographically isolated wine region on the planet.
There are 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of open ocean to get to Africa to the west, 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of freezing Southern ocean to hit Antarctica to the south, and Sydney is a 43-hour drive to the east.
Surrounded by water on three sides, from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin in the south, Margaret River is only 68 miles (110 km) north to south and 17 miles (27 km) east to west. It's a stubby peninsula sticking out into the waters where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.
How is this possible? The combination of ocean currents, isolated geography, Mediterranean climate, and ancient soils make Margaret River an instant classic for high-quality wines.
Despite only making wines here for the last 50 years and only having 14,400 acres (5,840 hectares) planted out of a possible 526,000 acres (213,000 ha), Margaret River is already well on its way to international acclaim.
Where are the vineyards?
Vineyards are spread throughout the peninsula but are concentrated mainly with the best free-draining soils, known locally as Forest Grove soils. These ironstone gravels retain heat, are perfect for ripening grapes, and are free draining.
Though these soils are famous in the region, Margaret River has a mosaic of soil types. And though it doesn't have any official sub-regions, some areas are known and can be mentioned on the wine label.
The areas that have the most plantings of vines are Yallingup, Wilyabrup, and Wallcliffe. These tend to have the highest proportions of Forest Grove soils, but they can vary drastically from vineyard to vineyard.
Unofficial Sub-Regions of Margaret River
Research over the past 25 years has divided Margaret River into smaller subregions. In 1999, Dr. John Gladstones, a respected Australian agronomist, saw the potential to divide Margaret River into six sub-regions based on climate and soil differences. However, there's been no official consensus defining the boundaries of these sub-regions.
The six areas outlined based on soil and climate are:
Situated in the warmer northern part of Margaret River, mainly on Forest Grove Soils, which are ironstone gravels, this is a great place for high-quality and riper styles of red and white grapes.
Found in the north, just east of Yallingup, it has a mixture of calcareous and alluvial sands. The sandy soils can give floral nuances to both red and white wines.
This area is considered one of the top sites in Margaret River, with a high percentage of Forest Grove soils. Its proximity to the cool ocean and unique soils results in some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes.
The only landlocked sub-region, it’s a bit warmer here because of the distance from the ocean. It has mostly Mungite soils, which is a sandy complex along with some Forest Grove soils. There’s some great Chardonnay to be found here, amongst the multitude of dairy farms.
With vineyards surrounding the town of Margaret River, Wallcliffe is considered the heart of the region. Sitting further south, it gets cooler, so we see a bit more Chardonnay, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc here. There are a lot of fresher styles of Cabernet Sauvignon too. The soils are diverse, with Forest Grove, Mungite, and sandy soils, which allow for many different varieties to be grown.
This is the largest area with the fewest vineyards in the southern half of Margaret River. The vineyards are mostly found on Forest Grove soils because many other soils in this area tend to be waterlogged. Being the furthest south, it's much cooler, producing fresher, grassier styles of Sauvignon Blanc.
Margaret River Wine Region Facts
- 14,400 acres (5,840 hectares) of vines are planted in Margaret River. Highest elevation is 760 feet (231m).
- Produces 2% of Australia’s wines.
- There are over 200 wine producers throughout the region.
- First vines planted in 1967.
- 12% of all wines made are organic (which is high).
- There are no official sub-regions within Margaret River but there are 6 areas with different climates and soils.
- 80% of the plant species in Margaret River are found nowhere else on earth.
- Margaret River is Phylloxera free, and most vineyards are planted on their own roots.
- Harvest begins in February and lasts until late April.
- The main grapes planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Shiraz.