Today we are traveling the only way we can, through the wine in our glass, and we are thankful to do so. No passport required, no long airplane flight, no jet lag. Two wines from Vasse Felix in South West Australia’s Margaret River will introduce us to the region and begin at the beginning. Vasse Felix is the the first winery established in Margaret River. We received both wines as tasting samples.
The Margaret River wine region sits in Western Australia about 170 miles south of Perth on a cape that lies at the southwest corner of this enormous country. The region is just 62 miles in length and is surrounded by the Indian and Southern Oceans. Constant ocean breezes keep the region cool and provide a climate described as Mediterranean.
Soils are predominantly red gravelly loams and gneiss, schist and granite-based soils that are the result of the aging of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste ridge that runs the length of the region.
Rainfall is generally adequate for growing wine grapes and falls mainly in winter.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz are the main grape varieties grown in the Margaret River region, which which covers more than 525,000 acres with just over 14,000 acres under vine. The region grows 2% of the Australian crush annually.
Vasse Felix was founded in 1967 by Dr. Thomas Cullity who had been experimenting with grape vines in this corner of Australia during the two years prior. When an article appeared in the local paper in 1966 reporting the findings of UC Davis professor Dr. Harold Olmo identifying the South West Region of Australia as suitable for winemaking and Dr. John Gladstones’ (University of Western Australia) comparison of the Margaret River to Bordeaux, Cullity began looking for a suitable site to plant a vineyard. His first vintage was 1971.
What is a Vasse Felix or what does the name mean? You must be as curious as we were. Here is the explanation.
By 1984 Dr. Cullity sold his winery, but not before winning gold medals at the 1972 Perth Royal Show for his Riesling and in 1973 for Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery would change hands again in 1987 when it was purchased by the Holmes à Court family. Paul Holmes à Court has been sole owner of Vasse Felix and its parent company, The Heytesbury Group, since 2008.
Estate vineyards now include four sites. Home Vineyard is the first vineyard planted by Dr. Cullity and the site of Valle Felix’s winemaking facility, cellar door and restaurant. The Watershed Vineyard, Karridale Vineyard and Adams Road Vineyard offer additional unique sites and growing conditions in Margaret River.
Over the years Vasse Felix has won many wine awards. In November 2017 Wine Enthusiast announced it had named Vasse Felix the New World Winery of the Year. Since 2006 Virginia Willcock, who has won numerous wine awards herself, has been chief winemaker.
2017 Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay, Margaret River — pale yellow in the glass with aromas of Meyer lemon, melon, nectarine and hints of asphalt. The flavors follow the aromas with hints of spice, a bit of roundness, very good acidity and a medium length finish. 12.5% abv. SRP $28
This Chardonnay is bright, lively and balanced. Its weight in the mouth is very appealing, as is the acidity. Technical notes indicate 2017 was a cool and late vintage.
Multiple parcels were harvested and fermented separately using indigenous yeast. Batonnage followed with aging in new (15%) and used (85%) French oak for 8 months. This is the second vintage in a row to go through malolactic fermentation due to high acidity at harvest.
2016 Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River — medium ruby in the glass with red fruit, cedar and roasted jalapeño aromas. Flavors of red currents, raspberries and blackberries are supported by dusty earth and dried herbs. The finish is medium in length with drying tannins in a medium body. 13.5% abv. SRP $28
The background notes of roasted jalapeño and dried herbs are very appealing blended with the red fruit character of this wine and not at all overwhelming. It’s easy sipping on its own, but pairs well with food as you would expect.
Multiple vineyard sites were harvested and fermented separately in stainless steel followed by aging in French oak (13% new, 87% used) for 12 months. After blending the wine aged for 6 months in bottle before release. The blend is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec.
We paired these lovely wines with a recent happy hour celebration for two at home. I prepared Paul Prudhomme’s hummus recipe and combined it with ground lamb spiced with cumin, harissa and ground coriander inspired by a dish we enjoyed many weeks ago at Beit Rima in San Francisco. To be honest I can’t choose which wine I preferred with this meal. Both were delicious.
As we enjoyed our happy hour meal and the wines we couldn’t help but reminisce about a happy hour we enjoyed while we were in Australia. We discovered a dynamite wine bar in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, called Stone House where we enjoyed food and several glasses of wine over the course of a late afternoon. The day was very warm and the sun very strong. Among the wines we enjoyed in the cool of the wine bar was a glass of Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. Oh that wine was just what we needed to slake our thirst. Wine and travel memories are the best.
Thanks to Winebow for the opportunity to taste these delightful wines from Vasse Felix and to reminisce about our time spent in Australia. There is more to come.