Five Fast Facts about the Margaret River Region

Vineyards in the Margaret River Region

The Margaret River is many things. It’s a town! It’s a river! It’s a wine region!

Here at the Bubbly Professor, we are mostly interested in the wine region, but the region (of course) is shaped by the river. It’s a fascinating spot, so let’s explore five fast facts about Australia’s Margaret River wine region.

#1: Look to the far west of Western Australia. The Margaret River Region is located in the far west of Western Australia. It consists of a long, narrow stretch of land (about 60 miles/96 km from north to south) jutting out from the Australian landmass, surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Indian Ocean. Its namesake—the town of Margaret River—is pretty much a surfing town (it was featured in the 60s surfing flick Endless Summer) and is home to just over 6,000 permanent residents. To reach the town (and the wine region) you will need to drive about 170 miles/275 km south from Perth—the nearest city—and as such, many people describe Margaret River as “the most geographically isolated wine region on earth.”

Wine map of Western Australia via WineAustralia

#2: The Margaret River runs through it. The Margaret River—just 37 miles/60 km long—flows from its source in the Whicher Range across the Margaret River Plateau until it meets the Indian Ocean. The Whicher Range is not too tall (the average height of the hills is just 558 feet/170 m above sea level), and the typically calm river changes its character with the seasons as the volume of water varies and causes the banks to expand and contract. The point where the river meets the sea—River Mouth Beach—is an interesting spot, as the calm river waters meet the wild, surf-worthy waves of the West Australia Coast.

#3: It’s young—at least for a wine region. Commercial viticulture did not arrive in the area until the 1960s, when several people—notably Dr. Tom Cullity, a Perth cardiologist influenced by a paper written by Dr. John Gladstones of the University of Western Australia—took note. Dr. Cullity planted vines that would become the Vasse Felix Winery—often called Margaret River’s founding winery—in 1967. Other endeavors soon followed, including Moss Wood (1969), Cape Mentelle (1970), Cullen Wines (1971), and Leeuwin Estate Winery (in 1973).

Cape Leeuwin

#4: Its more maritime than most. The area is greatly influenced by the surrounding ocean—and has what n described as “the most marked maritime climate of any region in Australia in terms of rainfall.” The area enjoys an average of 1,000 mm (almost 40 inches, about the same as Seattle, Washington) of rain a year. Other aspects of the climate are, however, a tad more Mediterranean—with most of the rain falling during the winter, followed by a warm, dry summer and little chance of frost or freezing temperatures.

Other aspects that contribute to the local terroir include the latitude—the area is situated comfortably within the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere at 33.5°S—and the region’s relatively low elevations (the average is just 131—744 feet/ 40–227 m above sea level). Soils include well-drained red loam topsoil dotted with gravel atop gneiss, schist, and granite-based sub-soils.

#5: In terms of grapes, it’s more Bordeaux than Barossa. The top three grape varieties in the Margaret River—Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Semillon—hail from Bordeaux. As is typical of Bordeaux, many of these grapes make their way into blends, including Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. Also noteworthy is that Margaret River is one of the few regions in Australia (in addition to the far more famous Hunter Valley) with a focus on Semillon. As for those grape varieties considered more typical of Australia: Chardonnay makes a good show in the Margaret River Region (by most accounts, it is the fourth-most-widely grown grape). Shiraz, however, only takes up just 13% of the total acreage (compared to 27% country-wide).

The area of Western Australia has been inhabited for over 50,000 years. Its first inhabitants—the Wadandi people—are considered the traditional owners of the land, collectively known as Wadandi Boodja, meaning Saltwater People’s Country.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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