Margaret River Wine Connection to Coast Surf

Fraser Gallop Estate’s chief winemaker Clive Otto has a strong connection to the coast.

Clive had an unusual upbringing, having been born in Tanzania then raised in Dubai and later New Zealand. Unsurprising, he had the travel bug in older life and was drawn to Margaret River for the surfing breaks and underwater allure of sea life beneath.

Clive Otto Fraser Gallop Estate
Clive Otto, Fraser Gallop Estate. Photo: Supplied

“I bought a tinnie fairly early on when I moved here and used to fish off the rocks at Contos before that.” Clive’s a keen diver too, often bringing home abalone and crayfish. “I’ve got a good teriyaki recipe for the abalone and the crayfish I cut in half and have a chilli and lime glaze.”

And it’s not just Clive who visits the beaches and bays daily. Sommelier Evan Gill at Vasse Felix will surf most days, Vanya Cullen is a regular swimmer and hiker along the coast around Gracetown, and Flying Fish Cove winemaker Damon Eastaugh has a history of winning some big wave titles. The coastal environment is intrinsically tied to the way of the people in Margaret River, whether it’s surfing, sailing or dangling a line from a dinghy.

Marri Trees Voyager Estate Vintage
Marri Trees at Voyager Estate. Photo: Supplied

Original winemakers were likely drawn to the Margaret River Region for its sea-battered landscapes and rugged beauty, but it was their innovation and foresight that we can thank today for discovering that this maritime influence provides the perfect recipe for good wine.

The recipe itself is in the ocean air that sweeps across the region’s three neighbouring coastal borders in the afternoon and at night – preventing frost and helping to retain the acidity of the grapes.  It’s in the ancient low nutrient soils – well-drained, gravelly loam over a clay sub-layer which allow the grapevines to really sink in and pull moisture from below. And it’s those warm sunny days followed by cool nights that provide perfectly ripened grapes by harvest.

Clive says, “The fact that it is coastal also means that the diurnal temperature variation (the variation between the high and low temperatures) is less than the continental climates inland where the night-time temperature drops more dramatically.” Clive says that it’s the Indian Ocean’s Leeuwin current that helps moderate temperatures as well and aids in the production of high-quality cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and varieties like semillon and sauvignon blanc. 

“That we get strong sea breezes every day also helps cool the vineyards during the day, so they don’t get too hot and the grapes ripen slowly, with longer hang time and more intensity of flavours. The consistency of climate here is also the biggest reason Margaret River can get great vintages year in and year out.”

Ocean Grown Abalone Augusta
Marine life such as abalone remove the sea sediments and organic matter, leaving the water clearer and cleaner. Photo: Russell Ord

The Margaret River Wine Region’s philosophy of sustainable farming practices is partly a product of its distinctly maritime climate. The Margaret River Region has healthy populations of sea life – which, outside of their culinary context, are a foundational part of the coastal environment. Marine life such as abalone and crayfish remove the sea sediments and organic matter, leaving the water clearer and cleaner. Having thriving species at the bottom of the food chain allows the higher-order species of fish and sea mammals to flourish too.

And these sustainable coastlines are better able to support the surrounding lands. Resulting in gravelly and clay soils with moisture below means minimal human intervention for yielding crops for farmers. Vineyards are surrounded by thick karri and marri forests which consist of around 80% of endemic species (meaning they are not found anywhere else). Marri blossoms, which come to flower in the months around vintage, ease the pressure off winemakers as local birdlife remains in the native forests and keeps away from the vines. Silvereye birds and parrots favour the nectar of the marri blossom to the grapes which naturally allows for a redistribution of these bird populations. When you observe all these factors as a complete picture, there is a strong sense of appreciation for the pristine environment and climatic conditions that produce great wines.

Augusta Abalone Photo Credit Samira Damirova
The Margaret River Wine Region’s philosophy of sustainable farming practices is partly a product of its distinctly maritime climate. Photo: Samira Damirova

There are a number of affiliated sensory pleasures to be found when tasting wine that come from such a unique environment. Tasting the varietal in the right location where it was made, breathing in its smells and feeling the texture of the sea air and loamy soils can all help to engage every sense to high alertness and improve the experience. It’s something that cellar door teams are now experimenting with, and winery tours have taken on an almost tactile physicality – with visitors touring farms, taking nature walks along the Cape to Cape coastal track, or stepping into the barrel room to experience the sights, smells and tastes of the vintages.

A new video highlights the coastal elements and sensory pleasures of Margaret River wine and if you can’t get to the region right this minute, then consider it a virtual tasting of sorts to engage your palette at multiple levels. You’ll just need a computer or smart phone with the sound switched on, a glass of Margaret River wine, and your senses fired up and ready to go.

When you’re done watching, make a plan to visit this carefully preserved, ancient coastal wine region. As seasoned traveller Clive Otto will testify; “Compared to other wine regions, Margaret River is very special. The beaches, forests and caves in the area make it a great place to live. And if you love food and wine then it’s got that too in spades with all the great restaurants in the area.”

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