Stay in touch with the latest news and happenings at Vasse Felix, in Margaret River and on tour around the world.
By Chief Viticulturist Bart Molony and Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock
Vintage 2019 was a cool and labour-intensive season where we benefited from precise canopy management and the diversity that comes with having four specialty vineyard locations throughout Margaret River. It is a year for great cool climate chardonnay, concentrated Sauvignon Blanc, spicy Shiraz and aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cooler than average temperatures during Spring and Summer, coupled with reduced solar exposure and an increase in afternoon humidity during ripening made canopy management critical to mitigate disease pressure and optimise sun exposure for the fruit.
With these conditions, a fastidious and regular leaf plucking program was vital. The success of this enabled us to harvest ripe, clean fruit with slightly lower alcohol and great natural acidity.
In contrast to 2018’s ‘megablossom’ season, Marri Blossom was non-existent throughout the region in 2019, similar to 2015. The resulting bird pressure required the largest netting program ever seen at Vasse Felix to protect the fruit. Harvest timing was similar to the 2017 season, commencing approximately three weeks later than the last 10 year average in mid to late February. Interestingly, the timing is akin to classic Margaret River vintages prior to 2006.
This season the variation of temperature from the north to the south of Margaret River has been more pronounced than recent vintages. As an example, the Chardonnay harvest took nearly six weeks, rather than the usual four. Harvest at our most northern vineyard in Carbunup commenced 13 February.
Chardonnay has a beautiful cool climate style with slightly lower alcohol, high acidity and lovely flavour ripeness. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc have been quite varied around Margaret River. Sauvignon Blanc blocks that were plucked and allowed to ripen with patience are looking fantastic. Semillon characteristics differ more than ever around the region; from light and herbaceous in the south, through to gentle and ripe in the north. Shiraz has a cool climate spiciness to it, while Cabernet is rather aromatic with well-preserved colour due to no extremes of heat and long ripening allowing tannins to soften.
Liven up a roast with this unique Cabernet lover's twist on a classic english condiment - Gentlemen's Relish.
“This recipe incorporates olives and bay leaves to accentuate the flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon. We took a lot of inspiration from the traditional combination of lamb and anchovy, using those flavours without being so ‘in your face.’”
Head Chef Brendan Pratt
500ml Cider Vinegar
170g Pitted Kalamata olives
250g Tomato Ketchup
130g Brown sugar
100 ml worchestershire sauce
6 spring onion
6 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillet
12 tbl Dijon
4 tsp ground allspice
1 pinch cayenne
2 tsp ground black pepper
80 ml water
1 Bay leaf
Place all ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil, simmer for 40 minutes.
Blend in an upright blender or food processor until very smooth.
Serve with a lamb roast and any of the Vasse Felix Cabernets.
After a huge few months of accolades for the Vasse Felix Restaurant, Head Chef Brendan Pratt, whose journey has included stints at Michelin Starred ‘The Fat Duck’ and ‘The Ledbury’, shares some insights into creating a highly acclaimed, wine-led menu.
It’s been quite a journey to evolve my food style with wine pairing at the core. It has involved a lot of tasting, creating and getting really familiar with how the winemakers describe the intricate flavours and textures of each wine, in order to develop dishes that honour them, highlight their strengths and create a memorable dining experience.
With the boundaries of wine in place, you can’t go crazy, you have to be restrained. It challenges you to think, ‘how else can I make this dish taste good?’ For instance I recently thought a chilli flavour would be great in a dish, but when pairing with wine we don’t want that heat and intensity. So instead, we set upon a process of roasting and ‘salting’ (half-fermenting) chillies to extract a subtle essence that brings the chilli’s flavour profile without the heat.
Perhaps the biggest evolution for me has been simplicity of presentation. I’ve thought a lot about the depths of texture, flavour, aroma and palate that are concealed within a wine’s simple package. It’s the opposite of food, where often you aim to present the details visually.
So I set a boundary of showing only a couple of key ingredients on the plate in an unmanipulated style. Instead we incorporate flavour, depth and body through complex culinary techniques behind the scenes. Fermenting, creating emulsions, vinegars, infusing. Thinking of ways to capture layers of intricate and surprising nuances in our menu, similar to a wine.
The idea draws somewhat from my time in London with Heston, and his ways of using music, aromas and other sensory experiences to encourage diners to try something new. For me, it’s simple presentation that makes a dish understandable and inviting. With our mushroom pappardelle dish, you’re literally eating pasta and sauce, yet it’s hearty, full of body and flavour from elements like a vegan XO sauce that is developed using 60 ingredients and two days preparation time.
For inspiration, I’ve been looking to Japan and Korea a lot lately. The unrefined, yet layered dimensions, particularly in Korean cuisine, interest me greatly, and I feel also draw parallels to the winemaking approach at Vasse Felix.
A new team at Vasse Felix is squabbling for the coveted job of bug manager.
The animated flock of ducks are being trained at the Gnarawary blocks of our recently acquired Watershed Vineyard in Wallcliffe (central Margaret River), by Vineyard Manager James Harris.
“Our aim is to create the healthiest ecosystem in our vineyards and ducks are a great input, to keep snails and similar bugs at bay in a natural manner,” James said.
A lot of training is required to get this new system in place, but results that are better for the earth, long-term make it all worthwhile.
“The most challenging aspect of training my ducks? Breeding up numbers to ensure maximum efficiency of insect control in peak periods! Also teaching them to adventure further then their beloved home.”
On Friday 3 May, we dived into the world of Margaret River Cabernet, tasting unfinished Cabernet barrel samples from the 2018 vintage. Close to 50 producers from across the region generously shared samples for the annual tasting.
The discussion was led by Mark Messenger from Juniper Estate who gave his perspective of the vintage that was, while Vasse Felix Chief Viticulturist Bart contributed his insights from a viticulture perspective.
The verdict? 2018 was an exceptional vintage across the board for all varieties. With beautiful spring flowering, a mild summer and an explosive marri blossom season each contributing to what can be considered a 'classic Margaret River vintage.' 2018 was a particularly good vintage for fresh, bright Cabernet with super fine tannins and excellent potential for longevity.⠀
As our Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock put it, "Margaret River is one of the most amazing Cabernet making regions in Australia, something we should all be immensely proud of."
We are now one month out from the official global release of the 2015 TOM CULLITY (1 May 2019) and thrilled with the most recent critic reviews of this wine. Most recently, Ray Jordan (The West Australian) awarded the 2015 TOM CULLITY 98 points, describing the wine as "a powerhouse".
We have also received glowing reviews from Gary Walsh (The Wine Front) who said this vintage is "the best Tom Cullity to date for me" and David Prestipino (Sydney Morning Herald) which you can read in full below.
The 2015 TOM CULLITY is available exclusively to our Alumni members and visitors to the Cellar Door until the official global release on 1 May.
2015 TOM CULLITY REVIEWS
The West Australian
"This wine is a powerhouse. Has elements of the 2013 with the graceful lines of the 2015 vintage. This was a low-yielding vintage and fruit was all wild fermented. Has a long, savoury structure, although the palate remains supple. Defined and poised in a classic cabernet profile. 98/10. Best Drinking: Now to 2040."
The Wine Front
"20% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, and the rest is Cabernet. This is the best Tom Cullity to date for me. Red and black fruits, dried roses, peppermint tea, cedar and spice. It's medium bodied, fleshy and perfumed, succulent in fruit, polished fine grained tannin, oak present but not dominant, clean almost cranberry acidity, and an earthy savoury Malebc infused finish with a fine length. Has a delicacy and distinctive character."
The Age, SMH, WA Today
"The wine presents a totally different level of sophistication. It's effortless and subtle in the mouth, showing superior finesse and plushness. It's not overpowering, with no bravado of oak and tannin on show, but with apparent fluidness and consistency of oak at its heart. The fruit here is wonderfully soft, ripe and juicy and the wine long, luscious and incredibly complex. Very shapely and open-ended with savoury notes and fluid fruit and tannin."
Ray Jordan also shared his thoughts on the Vasse Felix Cabernet range saying "..if you wanted irrefutable evidence of the impact of malbec on cabernet sauvignon, the latest three releases from Vasse Felix provide it in spades. From the super value Filius, through to the Tom Cullity, cabernet forms the foundation, while malbec completes those finishing touches with its juicy plushness and firmish tannins. And in each case the price represents extraordinary value. The Filius punches well above its weight and is often a go-to cabernet when I'm looking for some modestly priced drinking. The premier cabernet could nudge $100 and still not be considered outrageously expensive, while the Tom Cullity is worthy of $250. Still, I'm delighted Vasse owner Paul Holmes a Court has taken a slightly philanthropic approach with his pricing. We all win."
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon - 97 points
The West Australian
"Elegant and stylish, with grainy tannins and a touch of leafy oyster shell. Great oak and fruit integration, with a minerally purity. It's a most polished wine showing the increased wild fermentation contribution. Benefits from some old vine material that doesn't make the Cullity. 97/100. Best drinking: Now to 2035."
2016 Filius Cabernet Sauvignon - 95 points
The West Australian
"This has slightly more palate grunt than the previous wines but still with that distinctive angular style. Plenty of leafy fruit, with an edge of svoury black olive. Slightly more wild ferment and a subtle increase in new oak have contributed to a meaty mid palate. So bright. 95/100. Best drinking: Now to 2027."
“In the Margaret River region, where the maritime breezes flow in from the Indian Ocean just a few miles away, a new focus on viticulture has helped with making elegant cabernet sauvignons.”
Eric Asimov, New York Times
NYC is waking up to what we’ve known for a while now.
Earlier this year, Vasse Felix hosted the New York Times’ Eric Asimov as part of his rediscovery tour of Australian wine regions.
In his article, titled: “Australian Wine Today: Fresh, Crunchy and ‘Smashable’”, Eric writes of the diversity and quality of Australian wine and its regions.
It makes for a great read to discover interesting and classic producers, and is also a barometer for the growing enthusiasm for Australian wines overseas.
You can view the New York Times article here.
Vasse Felix has won two gold medals at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, and the 2014 TOM CULLITY was named as the ‘Judges’ Selection’ for the Australian Red category.
The gold medal winning wines by Vasse Felix were the 2014 TOM CULLITY and 2016 Chardonnay. Both the 2017 Heytesbury Chardonnay and 2015 Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon received Silver in their respective Varietal categories.
258 gold medals were awarded, placing these Vasse Felix wines in the top 8% of total entries, globally.
TEXSOM is one of the world’s most respected wine awards competitions. Entries are blind-tasted and judged by 66 internationally renowned tastemakers from five countries including 16 Sommeliers and 17 Masters of Wine. Entries from all over the world included wines priced from USD $2.99 to $700 and vintages spanning 36 years, with the oldest red being 1983.
The results can be viewed online here.
Now widely recognised for premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River wines have won prestigious awards and accolades around the world. Cabernet in Western Australia was originally founded on ‘Houghton clone’ selections, which is the predominant clone of Cabernet grown in Margaret River. Many of Margaret River’s greatest Cabernets (including the TOM CULLITY) have been made with a focus on this clone.
In Western Australia the introduction of Cabernet Sauvignon grapevine material is thought to have occurred between the years of 1836 to 1895 (Ward and Cameron, 2013). The direct origin of the material is unknown, however its likely origins are thought to be from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in 1836, where Tomas Waters brought grape vine cuttings from a Constantia vineyard near Cape Town.
In 1911, a catalogue by J.Hawter listed Cabernet Sauvignon among 111 varieties of grapes, describing it as “the choicest red wine grape of the Bordeaux class, but a shy bearer.” Cabernet Sauvignon remained an insignificant variety in Western Australia until the 1930s due to the low bearing nature of the variety.
West Australian cuttings are believed to have come from the original bush vines at Houghton Vineyard near the Swan River, which was driven by Jack Mann in the 1930s. All cuttings derived from this original source are now known in Western Australia as the ‘Houghton clone’ as this is its only ‘known’ origin. These eventually became the source for the first Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Margaret River in 1967 at Vasse Felix and most of the region’s vineyards planted up until the 1990s.
‘Houghton clone’ Cabernet often displays lower vigor vines with lower yields, and offers a lovely density, displaying both power and elegance. This clone is now a focus for premium Cabernet Sauvignon in Margaret River due to its clearer, finer distinction.
Much of this historical information was taken from “Cabernet Sauvignon in Western Australia”, compiled by Glynn Ward and Ian Cameron, Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia.
Summer in Margaret River means beach mornings, stunning (albeit breezy) sunsets and the palpable feeling of anticipation as the region’s viticulturists and winemakers study the weather night and day to nurture their grapes through their ripening.
In addition to the wine tours, long lunches, caves, lighthouses, ancient forests and beaches, the Vasse Felix Cellar Door team have put together a selection of their favourite places and activities to help you make the most of your next visit.
In town? Grab a coffee or breakfast at the boho meets shabby chic, Margaret River Bakery. Also find great coffee at Sidekick or Witchcliffe's Yardbyrd.
Stroll from Prevelly to White Elephant Cafe for breakfast with unrivalled beach views.
Not a surfer? Hire a SUP board or kayak and explore Margaret River from the Rivermouth or head to the sheltered waters of Castle Bay.
Have a morning swim, then a coffee and pie at Gracies General Store or Yallingup Coffee Van.
Saturday AM, visit Margaret River Farmer’s Market to grab farm-fresh produce for a picnic.
Hike along Conto’s Clifftop Walk, part of the Cape to Cape Track. Sunscreen, water and sneakers essential! Image @capetocapeexplorertours
Stock up on biodynamic bread, baked daily by Yallingup / Margaret River Woodfired Bread.
Hike or bike the Wadandi track, part of the international Rails to Trails collection that runs along the former Busselton to Flinders Bay Railway.
Buy gourmet, local meat from The Farmhouse for a BBQ at Surfer’s Point to catch the sunset. (Top with condiments from Providore and Vasse Felix wine!)
Check out local and Australian art at Jah Roc Gallery, such as their bespoke wooden furniture.
Walk the Southern Hemisphere’s longest wooden plank jetty; Busselton Jetty. Fun fact, its original beams are used in the Vasse Felix Restaurant.
Play it cool at new-generation concept stores like Sugarman or Margaret River Collaborative.
The kids will LOVE Simmos Ice Creamery, Dunsborough or Candy Cow fudge, Cowaramup.
Capture the ultimate sunset photo or selfie at Sugarloaf Rock, Cape Naturaliste or at Redgate Beach.
Explore local studios like Sensei Pots (makers of Vasse Felix tablewear) or visit in April for Margaret River’s Open Studios to meet esteemed local artists.