“… as close to paradise as I have been
on my wine travels…making some of
Australia’s best built cabernets…
Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood
and Vasse Felix make an indecent proportion
of Australia’s most refined wines.”
Cape Mentelle has over 150 hectares of its own vines across four vineyards within the Margaret River region. Primary plantings are cabernet sauvignon, semillon and sauvignon blanc, with smaller amounts of shiraz, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet franc and zinfandel.
A pioneering spirit coupled with knowledge and understanding of sound viticultural practice led to the establishment of this 16 hectare vineyard in the early 1970’s. The basic viticultural principles of soil, site and variety, or in this case ‘varieties’, have created quality and consistency beyond all expectations, as evidenced by the iconic Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon. Picking and pruning is carried out by hand in the Wallcliffe Vineyard, to give the utmost respect to these vines and to ensure continued production of the fresh, vibrant and stylish wines that have become the trademark of Cape Mentelle.
Varieties planted at Wallcliffe are sauvignon blanc, semillon, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, zinfandel and shiraz and these vines have provided source material for new blocks as the vineyard has expanded. The site has the luxury of ample water and classic deep gravelly soils. It is sheltered by surrounding bush and fanned by gentle south-westerly winds. The east-west orientation of the rows was originally thought to provide protection from prevailing winds, but in some seasons this orientation necessitates judicious leaf plucking to even out ripeness.
The three cabernet sauvignon blocks are cane pruned. Row spacing is mostly 3 m, with 1.5 to 1.8 m vine spacing with predominantly vertical shoot positioning trellising. There is some bush vine zinfandel.
Evolving from the success of the Wallcliffe Vineyard, Trinders was developed on the eastern side of the Estate entry road in 1988 when Cape Mentelle purchased the 23 hectare site. The same viticultural principles apply, with soil, site and proven varieties being the key to the success of this now well established vineyard.
Plantings are of semillon, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and shiraz. This block has been the testing ground for many early ‘organic’ methods, including making and incorporating compost for vine nutrition, undervine weeding and minimal chemical use for pest and disease control.
Numerous trellis systems have been tried in the past. Vertical shoot positioning is now used in most of the vineyard to facilitate ripening by keeping the canopies upright and ensuring even sun exposure.
Chapman Brook boasts some of the best growing sites in the region. The undulating slopes help to create wines of uncompromised freshness. The 40 hectare Chapman Brook Vineyard is located 20 km south east of the Margaret River township with a predominantly easterly aspect and some south east and north east slopes. Varying depths of sandy loam topsoil overlie ironstone gravel with varying degrees of heavy clay subsoil.
This vineyard was planted in the early 1990s, mostly to white varieties - sauvignon blanc, semillon, chardonnay and viognier. The Mendoza chardonnay clone is planted here along with some newer clones of the main varieties. Vertical shoot positioning is used throughout this challenging vineyard with 2 m vine spacing and row spacing and unilateral cordons.
The steep slopes offer great views from high points as the land slopes down to the Chapman Brook. Soil moisture monitoring equipment is used at all vineyards but is critical at this site due to the limited water.
A new hum of activity from the cellar, blending reds from the previous vintage, transferring red wines from the recent vintage into oak, bottling and the excitement of the pending new releases. Budburst on the vines begins the next cycle of growth.
The forest and coastal heath are ablaze with wildflowers. Some 30 bird species are regularly seen including honeyeaters, brilliant blue splendid wrens, parrots, fly-catching willie wagtails and stunning scarlet breasted robins. Spring is a great time to spot wildlife in the forest too.
The magnificent karri forest is unique to the south-west and home to a rich diversity of wildlife including kangaroos, possums, bandicoots, wedge-tailed eagles and raucous cockatoos. In November, visitors from far and wide flock to forage the region's famed produce as winemakers keep an anxious watch on the sky and the flowering vines.
Vintage is the busiest and most exciting time, culminating all the hard work in the vineyard and the birth of the year's new wines. Typically vintage commences late February. While tourists enjoy the brilliant blue sky, days at the beach and indulge in wining and dining, the winery is all hands on deck around the clock.
The hand-picked chardonnay grapes get the first attention followed by the sauvignon blanc and semillon which are harvested in the cool of the night. Then it's the turn of the reds. Cabernet grapes are carefully hand-picked to ensure individual bunches are at exactly the correct ripeness. By mid-April, all the shiraz, merlot, zinfandel and other varieties are harvested and the cellar is a buzz of activity of pressing, crushing and fermenting.
Elsewhere the mood is much more laid back. The days can be warm but the afternoon sea breeze brings welcome relief. Popular surf beaches are a drawcard but you can always find your own private expanse of coastline to escape. For the more adventurous dive a wreck or snorkel the turquoise waters to uncover sightings of stingrays, schools of dolphins and the occasional seal.
As autumn heralds cooler days and the end of a hectic vintage, the winemakers' craft and technical expertise come to the fore with skilful racking, blending, transferring wine into barrels and monitoring of the maturation of the vintage wines.
Nature marks the spectacular arrival of the humpback and southern right whales at the south of the Cape on their annual migration north to warmer tropical waters. The Capes region has the longest whale watching season in Australia, often extending from June to December. From June to August they frolic - sprouting, breaching and tail slapping.
On the return journey south to their summer haunts in Antarctic waters, humpbacks with calves and blue whales, the giant of the ocean hugs the coast and rests in the north of the Cape between September and December.
Winter brings rising mist over the vineyards in the early mornings and crashing surf along the coast. In the vineyard this is a time for pruning, mulching and managing the vines and the soil.
Most of the annual rainfall (average 1190mm) arrives, and the intense southerly low-pressure systems can generate gale force winds building into spring. The cooler weather (a mild 14-19 °C) encourages cosy nights by a log fire with a glass of red and exploration of the myriad of galleries showcasing local art and hardwood furniture.
If it's really cold outside, escape with a tour of a spectacular ancient limestone cave at a constant 17 °C underground!