International Cabernet Day (#CabernetDay) is coming up in August, and Australians have reason to celebrate.

Often referred to as the king of the red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s most widely planted wine grape and it has certainly found a home in the Margaret River Region.

Cabernet Wine Barrels Margaret River

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted varietal on earth, found in vineyards from California to China, from southern Italy to South Africa and in almost every wine producing country in between. It might just be the world’s most favourite grape.

Cabernet’s origins are in Bordeaux, where it was the ‘love child’ of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Hard to believe that Cabernet derived from the white grape Sauvignon Blanc, isn’t it?

Cabernet Sauvignon now provides the backbone of most of the greatest wines from Bordeaux, the stratospherically priced ‘First Growths’ of Chateau Lafite, Margaux, and Mouton Rothschild.

Australia is home to some of the oldest living Cabernet vines dating back to the 1850’s in the Barossa and Langhorne Creek. But it’s impossible not to argue that the epicentre of great Australian Cabernet has moved west from those hot regions to the better suited mild maritime Mediterranean climate and gravelly soils of the Margaret River Region.

Vasse Felix

If you were to step out a time machine in Margaret River in 1967, you’d have found a remote farming community and some chilled-out surfers and hippies.  You might also have bumped into a single minded and slightly eccentric doctor, Tom Cullity, who planted the first commercial vines in Margaret River in 1967 and called this risky venture ‘Vasse Felix’.

He could scarcely have imagined what Vasse Felix would become. It is now one of Australia’s greatest estates with a lux cellar door, highly awarded restaurant, art gallery and wine vault containing every vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon that Vasse Felix has made.

Their long time and charismatic Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock tells me about where Vasse Felix is going with Cabernet Sauvignon.

“I believe we are at the forefront of pushing Cabernet to where it used to be, where it was elegant and fine but with a powerful tannin line. The world has gone to a bigger style in places like Napa and Bordeaux, influenced by the Parker system. In Margaret River we tried that in the ‘90s and realised that the wine wasn’t pretty anymore. The ‘70s and ‘80s were finer. So we pulled ourselves back.”

Critics like what Vasse Felix is doing. The 2018 Tom Cullity, their flagship Cabernet, was awarded 99 points by Australia’s wine bible, the 2023 Halliday Companion.

Couple walking outside Fermoy Estate. Credit Ryan Murphy

Fermoy Estate

Just a few minutes downstream from Vasse Felix, on the banks of the Wilyabrup Brook, lies Fermoy Estate, with its distinctive gabled winery, nestled in amongst mature native trees.

Winemaker Jeremy Hodgson emphasises the importance of a maritime climate to produce great Cabernet.

“Our original Cabernet vines, planted in 1985, are well ventilated by cooling ocean breezes during the growing season, meaning the vine and fruit never gets too hot, nor too humid.  All these factors – vine age, clone, soil, aspect, proximity to ocean – combine to ensure we have access to a special parcel of fruit each year that speaks of its place and the season.”

Jeremy picks up on Virginia’s point about the changing style of Margaret River Cabernet “I think with most wines, punters are looking for more elegance.  That is, delicate fruit characters, subtle oak influence, moderate alcohol.  The balance as a winemaker is always with your picking decisions – to ensure you get that balance (between fruit tannin ripeness, freshness of fruit and potential alcohol) absolutely bang on!

When asked for food and wine matches for Cabernet?  “Anything cooked over coals!” he smiles. “Whether it be a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, char grilled rib-eye of beef or field mushrooms in butter & garlic.  Also think hard cheeses – cheddar, Manchego.”

Marri Wood Park

Marri Wood Park is a family run, boutique winery but there are some big ideas in their Cabernet Sauvignon.

Natalie Wright and her father Julian make their Cabernet from their Yallingup vineyards which are farmed biodynamically. Biodynamics is a type of organic farming which in practical terms means no chemicals, no pesticides, and no fertilisers.

Julian explained that he has dug deeper into Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s principles, also making his own observations of how nature works to inform how he farms.

“Biodynamics seeks to allow the grape to ripen naturally to be balanced,” Julian tells me.  “That is not possible with chemical farming. The relentless pursuit of yield doesn’t happen in nature. The bush adjusts its yield according to seasonal conditions and we work with that. In good years we make more wine, in poor seasons less.”

While the yields are lower, Julian believes the Cabernet flavours are better and reflect the natural terroir while also making the farm sustainable.

Julian Langworthy Deep Woods Winemaker

Deep Woods Estate

Deep Woods were awarded ‘Best Value Winery’ in Australia by the 2023 Halliday Companion recognising the exceptional price to quality ratio of what they do. Many of their wines under $20 have received critical acclaim and their top shelf Reserve wines are also keenly priced compared to many of the region’s finest.

Highly awarded winemaker Julian Langworthy has described the Margaret River Region as ‘winemaking nirvana’ previously. “Margaret River is blessed in a range of ways some of the most obvious being the extreme maritime nature of the region. It’s the ‘goldilocks’ of the grape growing world- never too hot and never too cold. Diverse soil types and aspects, and unique Cabernet clonal material that seems to suit our region so well.”

Julian explains the key to the Margaret River Region’s Cabernet success; “The main part for me is the resolved nature of the tannins, Cabernet is a tannic variety which makes it so interesting.  We in almost every year can achieve ripe juicy fine grained tannin structures that the wines hang from.”

“Based at Deep Woods in the Yallingup Hills area of Margaret River, we make cassis laden dreams with tannin structures so fine and ethereal it’s as if they were suspended in air.”

Xanadu Restaurant


Glenn Goodall is fresh from winning the prestigious ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award at the 2023 Halliday Companion awards. Xanadu, like Deep Woods, have enjoyed phenomenal success at Wine Shows around Australia collecting over 100 trophies and over 300 gold medals including Australia’s Best Cabernet in different competitions for the last 7 years.

Glenn name checks the “beautiful free draining gravelly loam soils and clonal selection including our heritage ‘Houghton’ clone” as the reasons why the Margaret River Region excels. The influence of the Indian ocean is mentioned again “This cooling maritime influence preserves the vibrant fruit characteristics of Cabernet throughout the long growing season, contributing to the wonderful purity you see in Margaret River Cabernets which has become part of our DNA” he tells me.

Glenn describes Margaret River Cabernet as “Energetic wines offering intense blackcurrants, cassis, and blue fruits with signature bay leaf and dried herb characters. Most importantly I like to make wines that offer regional and varietal integrity, having a real Margaret River fingerprint.”

“The classic hallmarks of Margaret River Cabernet are the purity of fruit and lovely ripe tannins that gets me most excited. They are drinkable while relatively young and fresh yet can be confidently cellared to bring out the wonderful complexity Margaret River Cabernets also offer.”

Passel Estate’s Provenance Unearthed

Passel Estate

Made exclusively from Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from a single vineyard, both of Passel Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignons are pure expressions of Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and the specific site the vineyard. The vines are Margaret River’s traditional Houghton Clone, which contribute elegance and black fruit intensity to the wine, with less herbaceous character than is typically associated with Bordeaux reds; and no other grape varieties have been blended:  These wines are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2018 has been awarded silver medals at the International Wine Challenge and the Australian & New Zealand Boutique Wine Show.

The estate’s limited-production Lot 71 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is only ever made in exceptional vintages and receives extended maturation in the finest French oak barrels, over half of which are new.

Acclaimed and regular wine show judge Emma Farrelly praises the Lot 71 Reserve. “I decanted this for a few hours to allow the wine to reveal itself, and I’m glad I had the patience. This is just starting to develop some subtle secondary notes, warm leather, spice cupboard, tobacco leaf and white pepper. There are layers of dark ruby fruit complexity, with plenty of density and concentration. Tannins are tapered and long. A very smart wine.”

In celebration of International Cabernet Day, Passel Estate offers a complimentary upgrade to all their guided tasting experiences to include a free tasting of the flagship 2017 Lot 71 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cape Grace Wines

Cape Grace

In 1996 Robert and Karen Karri-Davies planted their 15-acre vineyard on the headwaters of the Willyabrup Valley. Just five years later, Cape Grace became a Trophy Winner at the 24th Annual Sheraton Wine Awards for its 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon.

With their unique character, depth and style, the wines from this great little winery have continued to receive acclaim – receiving three trophies, and 165 medals and numerous glowing reviews. The selection of wine includes: A dry refreshing Chenin Blanc, a complex wood aged Chardonnay, and a delicious Cane Cut Chenin Blanc Dessert Wine. All the red wines are hand plunged and basket pressed, a traditional winemaking technique which is rarely used, and include Cabernet Franc, a luscious Cabernet Shiraz, an elegant medium bodied Shiraz, and their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon.

Changing Trends

There is a trend amongst drinkers to lighter styles of red wines such as Pinot Noir and Grenache and an ever-growing list of recently introduced Italian and Iberian varietals. So, a little cheekily, I asked Glenn and Julian if we need to make Cabernet ‘sexy’ again. Glenn sets me straight, “Cabernet has always been sexy!” He light heartedly corrects me.

Julian Langworthy agrees “Cabernet has always been sexy in my eyes……. That said the quality of the Cabernet based wines here in Margaret River are doing it for us. You heard it here first: Cabernet is back baby!”

Given it’s the world’s most planted grape you could say it never went away.