Cape Mentelle is the hidden gem inside Australia's greatest wine region

With more than 60 designated wine regions in Australia, we're spoilt for choice when it comes to holidays in the vineyards.

But arguably, one region trumps the rest. Set against some of Australia's most stunningly beautiful and rugged coastline, a trip to Margaret River offers much more than just world-class cabernet and chardonnay.

Yet for eastern states folk, it remains among the least visited wine regions. This is purely by reason of its remoteness, which is also part of its appeal.

Worth the trip

All told, it's currently about a day's journey from Sydney or Melbourne, by the time you fly to Perth and get a hire car for the three hour drive south.

The region is about to get closer for Melburnians, with the news that Jetstar will begin direct flights to Busselton Margaret River Airport in March 2020.

But Cape Mentelle Vineyards, which was among the founding Margaret River wineries, is not waiting to spread the message that visitors to the region will be handsomely rewarded.

Bring the word east

This year Cape Mentelle collaborated with outdoor chef and author Sarah Glover on a series of events in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne that aimed to bring a taste of Margaret River to travel shy folk on the eastern seaboard.

The events took the form of long lunches at off-the-grid locations with a menu highlighting West Australian produce and ingredients such as saltbush and marron, in dishes created to match Cape Mentelle wines.

An enjoyable experience, for sure, but clearly no substitute for visiting firsthand.

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The chance to dine in the vineyards and on the beach; touring the namesake river by kayak; and bush walking along the pristine coastline from which Cape Mentelle takes its name.

It's the sort of experience that highlights while you can enjoy visiting all of Australia's premier wine regions, Margaret River remains unequalled in terms of its natural setting.

A global anomaly

Cape Mentelle Vineyards' winemaker Ben Cane says the region is unique not just within Australia, but globally.

And he is qualified to say, having worked in prestigious wineries in Australia, California, France and Italy for 22 years prior to joining Cape Mentelle.

"I'd visited Margaret River as a 15 year old in 1989 and it always stuck with me how beautiful this area was," he says.

"The region as a whole just blew me away, and that was before I'd even considered working in the world of wine."

A vino with a view

Cane reckons California's Sonoma Valley is about the only region that can hold a candle to Margaret River.

"The true Sonoma coast, right by the ocean has a breathtaking feel to it. You replace the gumtrees here in Margaret River with redwoods, and you've got a fairly similar lay of the land," he says.

"But Sonoma doesn't have the stunning white sand, pristine beaches that we do here.

"In Margaret River, you have this unique combination of stunning coast, beautiful old vineyards and great forests all located within a 100km by 30km peninsula.

"It does stand pretty uniquely in the world of wine."

Sea change

The cool, maritime influence of the Indian Ocean helped sway Cane's decision to take the job at Cape Mentelle in December last year.

"One of the things that stopped me from wanting to come back to Australia earlier, was that I felt a lot of regions were getting warmer and warmer," he says.

"I didn't want to come back from working in cool climate viticulture and winemaking to a hot region.

"But here was another situation, having worked on the Sonoma Coast, where you have a very strong influence from the ocean and therefore cooler and more elegant wines."

Untouched and pristine

In further contrast to Sonoma – and many of the world's great wine regions – Margaret River's vines are able to grow on their own root systems, because the region is thankfully untouched by vine pest phylloxera.

"It's not very often that you find 50-plus year old vines grown anywhere in the world without rootstock," says Cane.

"Rootstocks can sort of change the characteristics of a variety. Own-rooted vines give you a clear lens into the terroir here."

The word's out

Word is finally starting to get out about the uniqueness of Margaret River, but according to Cane, its best wines are yet to come.

"The reality is it's still a very young region. What is not immediately apparent is how many small microclimates there are, with different soils and aspects," he says.

"It attracts a high level of viticulturists and winemakers, because there's this feeling that we're still figuring out what's best for the area."

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.

The writer travelled to Margaret River as a guest of Cape Mentelle.