Stay in touch with the latest news and happenings at Vasse Felix, in Margaret River and on tour around the world.
The first half of 2016 has seen Vasse Felix Restaurant named in three publications’ top Australian restaurant picks for 2016/17.
Announced in May 2016, Vasse Felix Restaurant was named in the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Top Restaurants for 2016 as one of only five other restaurants from Western Australia. Of those five, we were the only regional restaurant listed. These awards are unique as the votes are cast by the chefs and restaurateurs themselves, with each restaurant in the Top 500 being individually contacted and their votes cast.
In August, Vasse Felix Restaurant was included in The Australian’s Hot 50 Restaurant Awards 2016. We were honoured to be named alongside our friends at Wildflower - where our 2014 Chardonnay and Black Label Blanc de Blanc feature on their wine list. Again, we were the the only regional Western Australian restaurant to be included, and one of only three restaurants in WA to make the Top 50 list.
The Gourmet Traveller - Australian Restaurant Guide Awards 2017 saw Vasse Felix Restaurant pick up a 1 Star rating which translates to "a restaurant with an element of sparkle as well as professionalism that raise it beyond the everyday". We were also named Number 1 in Regional Western Australia for our efforts, being described as "a bona-fide attraction in its own right" and the "perfect accompaniment to the equally progressive handiwork of winemaker Virginia Willcock."
Aaron Carr and the team continue to create incredible dishes which showcase the extraordinary array of local produce available in Western Australia, in ways that challenge and delight visitors from around Australia and the world.
A truly Western Australian celebration of food and wine at Como, the Treasury's Wildflower restaurant.
Executive Chef Aaron Carr and Wildflower's Chef Jed Gerrard collaborated to create a five course dinner featuring the best of Western Australian produce, paired perfectly with wines from Margaret River's founding wine Estate.
Set against a backdrop of sweeping views over the Swan River, menu offerings included South West marron, dry aged lamb, and Davidson plum.
James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion 2017 has officially been announced, with both Vasse Felix Heytesburys receiving a score of 97 Points.
"The leader of a great trio of Vasse Felix Chardonnays. A magical combination of grace and power." (2014 Heytesbury Chardonnay)
"The icon red of Vasse Felix, a remarkable medium-bodied wine." (2012 Heytesbury)
The Halliday Wine Companion, recognised as the industry benchmark for Australian wine is eagerly anticipated year after year for winemakers and wine lovers alike.
James Halliday's Reviews:
2012 HEYTESBURY - 97 Points
The icon red of Vasse Felix, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot, bypassing merlot. The perfumed bouquet stands on its own considerable merits, but it is the implacable insistence of the blackcurrant fruit, wrapped around the juicy malbec, that lifts this wine onto another plane. Is it medium-bodied, medium to full-bodied or full-bodied? It all depends on which facet you concentrate on, but for my money, it’s a remarkable medium-bodied wine.
2014 HEYTESBURY CHARDONNAY - 97 Points
The leader of a great trio of Vasse Felix Chardonnays, hand-picked, chilled, basket-pressed to French barriques (64% new), with some natural, although unintended, mlf, barrel sorting after maturation is the key. Here energy and drive are easily matched by the complexity that is the ever-present fingerprint of Heytesbury. A magical combination of grace and power, with prodigious length to close.
2013 CABERNET SAUVIGNON - 95 Points
Interesting, very interesting. The colour, the freshness of the aromas and flavours, the fi nely sculpted tannins and the overall harmony suggest 13.5% alcohol, not 14.5%. All this conjecture is, of course, irrelevant: it is the outcome that matters here a distillation of elegance.
2014 CHARDONNAY - 95 Points
Hand-picked, chilled and whole bunch-pressed, cloudy juice to 50% new French barriques for fermentation and 9 months maturation. This is more about complexity than single-minded energy, and suggests some accidental mlf may have formed a part of the blend assembled at the end of maturation. It is rich with cashew, fig and white peach fruit seamlessly flowing through the palate.
2014 'FILIUS' CHARDONNAY - 94 Points
The entry point for Vasse Felix, hand-picked, chilled and whole bunch-pressed, cloudy juice to 21% new French barriques for wild fermentation and maturation for 9 months. Throws down the gauntlet with its mouthwatering energy and power. Its acidity guarantees it will thrive in bottle, but there is a strong argument to say it is as ready as it will ever be right now.
2015 SAUVIGNON BLANC SEMILLON - 94 Points
57/43%. The undergrowth of herb, grass and capsicum to the canopy of gently tropical fruits produces a complex wine, delicately pointing to the 20% fermented in new French oak and matured there for 14 weeks.
2013 SHIRAZ - 94 Points
Let no one doubt the potential of this wine, but I was slightly surprised that the tannins weren't polished a little more? This has a slightly savoury shroud to its flavours. Or did I jump before I looked, for there is also a pepper/licorice/earth component that is very attractive.
2015 CLASSIC DRY WHITE - 93 Points
One of these days Vasse Felix may put a foot wrong, but the odds against it are prohibitive. The harmony and seamless fusion of snow pea, Meyer lemon, passionfruit and built-in acidity are all precisely proportioned. Drink now or in 5 years: your choice. Semillon leads (62%), with 35% sauvignon blanc and 3% chardonnay.
2014 CLASSIC DRY RED - 92 Points
Strikes that lovely balance between serious complexity and fruit-filled sunshine. Its red fruits flirt with black, but are only teasing; it plays the same game with oak and tannins. Great value..
The Vasse Felix Wine Collection was showcased alongside five exquisite courses at Bistro Guillaume on 30th August 2016, as part of Crown Melbourne’s prestigious Wine Dinner Series.
With similarities noted between Vasse Felix wines of Margaret River and those of the Bordeaux region in France, Bistro Guillaume provided the perfect setting to see these similarities come alive and celebrate Australian wine.
Blanc De Blancs was served on arrival with canapes, followed by current vintage Sauvignon Semillon Blanc, Chardonnay and Heytesbury Chardonnay for the first and second courses.
The third course of braised Waygu brisket, bone marrow, Paris mash and merlot sauce was paired with current vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a back vintage favourite - 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
To finish, a selection of cheeses were served with a 2008 Heytesbury.
Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock was present on the night to discuss the wines and Margaret River terroir in more detail, and guide diners through the collection as each course was served.
This year's Margaret River Region Cabernet Tasting featured over 50 local producers and 100 barrel samples of Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage.
The annual Cabernet Tasting invites all Margaret River producers to submit unfinished barrel samples from the previous vintage. A variety of technical information is provided for each sample including where it in the Margaret River region it was grown, the clone and age of the vines, the type of yeast used for fermentation and type of oak used for maturation.
With all this information and samples at their fingertips, winemakers and viticulturists are able to examine different techniques for making great Cabernet in Margaret River, thus enabling all producers to continue to make even better wines each year.
And as for the 2015 vintage? It's looking like another great year for Cabernet Sauvignon in Margaret River. More details on that soon.
View a video from this year's event here.
Vasse Felix wines were showcased in Los Angeles in May at a special event promoting Australian wines to the USA market.
The tasting, held on the rooftop of Australian owned EP restaurant in LA was part of a national tour of the USA organised by Wine Australia.
Vasse Felix Market Development Manager Thomas Begault travelled around the tour sharing Vasse Felix wines with buyers, sommeliers and press. Thomas is pictured in the bottom left of this great image from the LA event.
Another superb vintage in wine paradise is complete.
2016 has been another Margaret River vintage of action and patience, starting with harvesting Chardonnay on 2 February and finishing with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot on 8 April. It was possibly the longest harvest period of any region in Australia this year. The spread out timing was favourable from a winemaking perspective - allowing every tiny batch of fruit to be managed with the nurturing and attention it deserved with minimal stress. Overall, it has been another lovely season in terms of fruit quality and also yields. The previous two vintages have presented low yields due to Spring storms. Moderate Spring conditions at the end of 2015 helped establish a healthy fruitset and as a result yields are up a little this year.
January temperatures were warm, interrupted by one rainfall event late in the month. This type of event at this time of the season can be very stressful for increased disease pressure, particularly with the earlier ripening varieties. Great viticulture management throughout our vineyards with clean, open and well-trimmed canopies helped prevent disease risk. In a couple of blocks, the late lifting of nets to tend to the vines then replacing them ensured we were able to ripen all fruit to its full potential and harvest totally clean. Excellent weather followed the rain bringing warm, sunny days and moderate conditions, assisting quality ripening.
Actual February temperatures were slightly below the long term average, though it was dry and sunny. Night temperatures were cooler than long term average, including the coldest February night recorded in Margaret River (5.5°C). As a result all white varieties (Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc) were harvested throughout February with elegant flavours and high natural acidity. This stimulated the desire to let a little malolactic fermentation occur in the Chardonnay. March delivered ideal conditions with a long term average temperature of 25.6 degrees and a lower than average rainfall, perfect for long, even Cabernet ripening.
The February and March temperatures were ideal to finish off the reds with vibrant, fresh fruit perfumes. The typical extended season allowed tannins to ripen perfectly with a refined profile. At early stages it appears possible that the lack of high temperature extremes this year has preserved our fruit flavours exceptionally. Harvest timing toward late March to early April for our Cabernet is similar to previous vintages. It is certainly an exciting Cabernet Sauvignon vintage to look forward to.
A decade-long project has been transforming Cabernet Sauvignon at Vasse Felix, with the final pieces coming together to finally reveal all.
There have been various chapters of The Cabernet Project at Vasse Felix since 1967. The most recent has aimed to evolve our three-member ‘family’ into a truly world-class suite of Cabernet Sauvignon. That is, a collection that can stand alongside that of the Great Wine Estates of other great Cabernet regions to demonstrate the extraordinary capabilities of Margaret River. On face value it may seem like a small difference in names and blends. It is so much more than that. The evolution behind the scenes to make the Tom Cullity, Cabernet Sauvignon and Filius Cabernet Sauvignon has touched every element of winemaking at Vasse Felix from vineyard to bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon has always been at the heart of Vasse Felix. The first plantings in 1967 were dominated by Cabernet vines and a Cabernet Malbec was one of the first finished and labelled wines made by Dr Tom Cullity at the Estate (1972 vintage). Every vintage since we have been evolving this wine, learning how to best express Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon.
By the 40th anniversary of Vasse Felix it was clear that Margaret River was no one-hit-Cabernet-wonder region. It had proven its quality consistently over a short timeframe to the point that leading critics, like Jancis Robinson MW from the Oxford Companion of Wine include Margaret River among the few regions in the world that can grow Cabernet brilliantly. “Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Cabernet Sauvignon is its ability to produce a wine that is so recognisably Cabernet, even if remarkably few wine regions, considering its ubiquity, have so far proved reliable sources of seriously top-quality expressions of this potentially top-quality grape: Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains, Washington State, Bolgheri, Coonawarra, Margaret River, and part of Penedès spring most readily to mind."
Since early days Vasse Felix winemakers had explored various schools of thought around how to make the best red wine, based on experience and knowledge at the time. By the mid-2000s the standout quality of Cabernet Sauvignon from Tom's old blocks in our Home Vineyard had become unquestionable. In taking the reins of Vasse Felix, Paul Holmes à Court was ready to make some ambitious strides in support of Margaret River’s future as a leading global wine region for Cabernet and Chardonnay. In 2006, at a time most Estates were downsizing, Paul was carefully searching for land to increase the Estate’s viticultural footprint and the volume of ultra-premium Estate-grown fruit for our Premier and Icon Cabernets. Chief Viticulturist Bart Molony and his team have been on the ground making all of the viticulture developments happen.
“When growing grapes, we don’t only look at taste and flavour as a measure of quality – we are working pragmatically with the relationship between the soils and environment and the vine. Practically, Cabernet is well-suited to Margaret River from a basic farming perspective,” Bart explains. “How do I explain The Cabernet Project? Fundamentally, we needed more Cabernet in Wilyabrup. That was the main thing, and it needed to be Houghton clone like Tom's vines.” “Ten years ago the Home Vineyard comprised of only Tom’s block. Today the Vineyard is four times that size. We have vines that are 50 years old, 20-30 years old and 1-10 years old. We have been establishing new blocks at the same time as pulling less-suited varieties on prime country and replacing them with Cabernet. We have also been changing the pruning and canopy management programs to optimise the old blocks.” “Getting vineyards established in Wilyabrup is very hard work. We’re working with some of the toughest ancient gravel loam clay soils here, which just happen to be the best Cabernet soils. There’s so much rock. Even trying to put posts in can be difficult, or trying to level the ground to get tractors across them – it’s tough and very labour intensive. Some days we're putting 45 people to work. Everything has to click and work smoothly because all of the results are in the details.”
Choosing clones and planting vines is one thing. The weather is the element that is always beyond control. Fortunately Margaret River has delivered a run of excellent seasons since 2007, ideal for biological viticulture. “We have always tried to let the grapes be expressive of where they are grown. We haven’t wanted to interfere too much with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides – if you pick the right site then you shouldn’t have to. It's been a slow road to establishing fruitful yields from the young vines in tough soils and with the elements. The reward comes when you see the yields slowly increase and the quality improve through our touches here and there,” As for what comes next in the vineyards? “We’re still moving on it – it’s not over. The future is about fine-tuning. How we can further add value to our vineyard resources and our grape resources and how we can continue sustainable production for the long-term. The fact that practical farming can make a world-class wine is a mere bonus,” Bart finishes.
In the winery the Cabernet program has been revolutionised under the leadership of Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock and her team. “One of the reasons for me starting at Vasse Felix was to work with the oldest vines and heritage in Margaret River, a region so promising for Cabernet," Virginia says. “When Cabernet is great, it has aromatic perfumes unlike any other variety. It is full of fragrant red berry fruit, sometimes blackberry, floral notes, wonderful savoury, gravelly, earthy characters and light notes of winter herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme). The palate can be succulent and juicy on entry with a wonderful build of voluminous powdery tannin leaving the mouth dry but full of perfume. It has the ability to have elegance and finesse but with fruit power and tannin simply building to the finish." “Cabernet in Margaret River doesn’t want to be pushed into a heavy place. It doesn’t lose its power and strength, despite its elegance. Minimal inputs and judicious handling is the key.”
Since 2007 boutique, small-batch handling through the entire winemaking process, a state-of-the-art static fermentation facility and the adoption of 100% Bordeaux barrels into the Cabernet program has accelerated wine quality at a rapid pace. “The first thing when I got to Vasse Felix from a winemaking perspective was to develop a specialised fermentation program for our red wines to isolate the individual sections of older vines and develop the promise of every section of vine in both a vineyard management and winemaking context.” To achieve this all blocks of fruit are kept separate from harvest, through fermentation and maturation. At the end of maturation each parcel is graded and blended into the best wines working from the Icon wines through to the Premier and then Filius. Parcels of fruit are defined in the vineyards and vary in size. An example of a smaller block is 0.1 Ha of Malbec which turns into only a barrel or two of wine.
"We know this Malbec will be a blending component for our Cabernet, but we nurture it as if it could be a stand-alone wine," Virginia explained. “There was a breakthrough moment for our Cabernet in 2007 when on the tasting bench we realised it was the strength of Malbec and Petit Verdot, not Merlot, Cabernet Franc or even Shiraz that best complemented our Cabernet as blending components. Heytesbury then became a Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec blend." "Over subsequent vintages Malbec began to shine over the Petit Verdot, to the point we recognised the Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec combination was ready to be something more."
"Paul always had an idea that one day Vasse Felix would make a wine in honour of Tom. The wine had to be the best, befitting of Tom's pioneering accomplishments for Margaret River. The magic of the original vines fermented naturally and the Cabernet Malbec combination made it clear that it was time for the next Cabernet era." When the Tom Cullity is released in May 2017 the Cabernet Malbec style will flow through the whole Vasse Felix family, from Icon to Premier and the new Filius Cabernet Sauvignon being released here.
Qantas and a group of 70 of their guests and best customers visited Margaret River in March for the relaunch of Qantas EpiQure.
The event included a pop-up market in the Art Gallery showing gourmet wares of artisan producers from around Australia. This was followed by a six course degustation lunch in the Vasse Felix Restaurant matched with Vasse Felix wines.
We hosted the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s ACO2 for Sound & Sense, A Festival of Music, Wine and Culinary Art at the Estate.
The program included three performances and various dining options, a highlight was a spectacular dinner staged in the Vasse Felix Barrel Hall. More information about tickets for the 2016 series will be released soon.