Vasse Felix Wines Vineyards Winter

A winding 15-minute drive from the Margaret River township sits a quartet of winery cellar doors that formed the foundation of contemporary Margaret River Region identity—wine.

From that Wilyabrup sub-region has evolved 100 cellar doors, 200 wine producers, and almost 6,000 total hectares of land under vine stretching from Busselton in the north, to Karridale and beyond in the region’s south.

The early story of the region is wrapped up in these vines: actions taken by the founding wineries to plant vines off the back of the now-legendary 1966 research paper by agronomist Dr John Gladstone that identified the region’s Bordeaux-like climate as being ideal viticulture territory.

Now we identify it as an ideal region to get your wine on. Visit these four founding wineries to get a taste for the differing approaches that have supported growth of one of Australia’s most visited and highly awarded wine regions.

Tom Cullity Winemaking History Vasse Felix Margaret River

The OG

Those gnarled vines you’ll spot to the car’s right as you pull up to the Vasse Felix restaurant? Margaret River Region first plantings.

Vasse Felix founder Dr Tom Cullity dug those cabernet sauvignon vines into the soil in 1967, birthing an industry that currently accounts for 55 five-star Halliday rated wineries. Today, multi-awarded winemaker Virginia Willcock keeps his legacy alive via the Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon—an iconic match.

That first vintage 1972 Cabernet bottle is safely behind glass in The Vault—the original Vasse Felix cellar door-turned-wine museum. It’s the starting point for the winery’s Original Tour: a 90-minute daily experience that gets you inside the history, literally between the vines, and tasting the soil via the glass in a guided tasting. You’ll fall in love with the history, the vine-clad cellar door and restaurant—the 2021 WA Good Food Guide Awards Regional Restaurant and Chef of the Year.

The art gallery curated by Janet Holmes á Court speaks to the Vasse Felix fine cultural focus.

Intimate Cellar Door Experiences - Moss Wood

The Second Coming

Bill and Sandra Pannell turned an obsession with French wine into a 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon planting resulting in a 250 case, 1973 first vintage under the Moss Wood label.

Whether or not Keith Mugford had ownership aspirations when he joined as winemaker in 1979, it is now his family that continues a winemaking tradition focussed on hand produced, hyper focussed wine artistry—by-appointment-only visitation is a private affair led by current winemakers Hugh and Tristan Mugford (sons to Keith and Clare).

The hands-on nature of the Mugford family philosophy—everything from trellis control, to pruning, to picking—means drop-in visits take away too much time from the vines. Plan ahead and expect an intimate experience of a family-run winery that knows the land’s relationship to the grape and the glass.

It’s a founding family approach that can be seen across the region in the myriad boutique wineries run by likeminded small-scale producers as concerned with sustainable relationship to landscape and vine as sales and growth.

Cape Mentelle Vineyards Margaret River

The Innovator

Before David Hohnen OA was a Margaret River Region legend, he was the owner of a promising but as-yet unplanted 16-hectare plot now known as Cape Mentelle.

It was 1970. David was in legion with his two brothers Mark and Giles. And the trio took a different approach to plantings that spoke to David’s innovative approach—shiraz and zinfandel joining the cabernet that is now the winery’s flagship.

More than 50 years on and the property now owned by Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton has become a local summer hot spot as much as a year-round vino nirvana for the region’s visitors: outdoor screenings at the Cape Mentelle Movies run through the summer months—a starlight, tree-lined night of wine and top-rate screen dramas.

If it’s wine you’d love to focus on, there is bookable back vintage tasting. Tutored private tasting in the original cellar. Tours that will take you between the vines. And a private picnic option on the treed Cape Mentelle grounds—wine included, of course.

Cullen Wines Vineyard Cellar Door Wilyabrup

Sustainability Pioneer

Awards came early to Dr Kevin and Diana Cullen—the couple’s farm seemed lined up for lupin and cattle before Dr John Gladstone recommended wine. A successful 1971 planting saw Diana win a gold medal Riesling at the Melbourne Wine Show in only its second vintage. More accolades followed.

By 1981 Diana would become Cullen’s chief winemaker, ceding only to daughter Vanya who took over the reins in 1989 and has continued the award-winning tradition. Of course, cabernet and chardonnay are the wine highlights. But as much as the Cullen legacy lives on in the bottle, it’s the winery’s approach to regenerative practice that has made it truly iconic.

As the region’s sole biodynamic and carbon positive winery, Cullen leads the charge for the growing hoses of vineyard’s working toward and attaining organic vineyard status: as of 2022 more than 12 percent of the region’s total area under vine is officially organic and / or biodynamic.

Cullen’s timer and stone restaurant speaks to its cause, as does a menu that highlights biodynamic produce from the on-site garden. A self-guided biodynamic walking tour around the winery spiral garden is an opportunity to learn more.

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