The picturesque rolling hills of Wilyabrup in the heart of the Margaret River wine region are considered by many to be prime ground for vineyards, and for any visitor to the region the meandering drive through this area along Caves Road is a must do.
As you cruise along Caves Rd through Wilyabrup just south of Metricup Rd, it is difficult not to spot the majestic lone tree on the hill overlooking the rows of vines, and marking the home of Woodlands Wines.
Woodlands vineyard was one of the first five vineyards to be planted in the Margaret River Wine Region, established in 1973 by David and Heather Watson, and is today still owned and operated by the Watson family with sons Stuart and Andrew overseeing the wine making and operations.
Family is at the forefront of tradition at Woodlands, with many of the award-winning wines recognised by their heritage name. For example, Woodlands outstanding Chardonnay is the “Chloe”, named after Stuart and Shelley’s first daughter, while the “Clementine” Cab Merlot is named after Andrew and Marie’s first child. There is also Benjamin, Matthew, Emily, Margaret to name just some of the other wines.
This break from conventional protocols is a reflection of the Woodlands philosophy around wine and winemaking – to be successful there needs to be passion, feeling, and a love of good wine, as is reflected in the wines Woodlands produces and as evident in the awards Woodlands Wines has achieved in quite a short amount of time.
A visit to Woodlands Wines is an opportunity for visitors to experience a fully working winery and to sample a range of some of the best wines produced in Australia.
From the very beginning, the Watson family have grown all their own grapes used to produce the range of Woodlands wines, using bio-dynamic principles and organic practices
to maintain the vines, an intensive process that may not produce obvious benefits to the casual drinker but is of great significance in helping to produce high quality wine year after year.
Woodlands charming cellar door, with its sensational views across the vineyard, provides a delightful yet casual setting to sample a variety of the Woodlands wines. Attached to the winery, visitors can view the vats and barrel room and depending on the time of year may see production in full swing and for those interested in provenance, the history of Woodlands Wines is also on display as are successive vintages of various wines.
Woodlands benchmark wine is the “Matthew” Cabernet Sauvignon, which is still made from the original vines planted in 1973 and proving year after year to produce exceptional quality fruit. The Margaret River region is renowned for its Cabernet Sauvignon and the “Matthew” repeatedly ranks amongst one of the best. The current vintage, 2014, is an excellent example of a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and will be best served between 2028 to 2040 so is a wise choice for those wishing to update their cellar collection.
While there are over 120 wineries in the Margaret River region, not all are the same. What makes one winery consistently better than another can be put down to numerous factors, but to be classed as one of the best as Woodlands is requires outstanding results across a range of factors.
So what makes Woodlands different?
Firstly, the location – Wilyabrup is considered to be prime terroir within the Margaret River region with a unique microclimate. The Wilyabrup Brook creates a consistent soil temperature, while prevailing southerly breezes dry fruit after rain, reducing rot and eradicating harmful frosts.
Woodlands rolling hills and directions they face provide optimum setting for vine growing.
Woodlands vineyard is one of the few (along with the likes of Cullen, Mosswood and Leeuwin) to be non-irrigated.
The original block was planted in 1973, with remainder in 1998, and these old vines mean they have deeper roots which in turn makes them more drought resistant and producing finer tannins. The high clay content of the soil also means the grapes retain more natural acidity. All this leads to better quality fruit production and less need for intervention or additives during production.
The other key factor is vineyard craft, and when it comes to management of the vines, Woodlands attention to detail is uncompromising.
It all starts with the trellising, using more labour intensive vine training but which ultimately produces better growth. The vines are maintained by hand with many passes through to thin and position shoots and fruit, and high amounts of leaf plucking in fruit zones to reduce green qualities in Cabernet in particular.
Only organic, slow release fertilisers are used where necessary and years of experience and knowledge of the site means the vineyard is balanced. Fruit is picked using bio-dynamic principles and at optimum times for flavour, not at a time for optimum yield or convenience, and imperfect fruit is removed from the vine by hand before picking. Unlike fully machine-harvested fruit, the hand picking ensures best quality and completely reduces possible cross contamination by foreign bodies.
The third factor is the wine making craft itself.
Woodlands Wines uses start of the art fruit handling equipment and traditional methods – fruit is moved only by hand, gravity or vibrating until reaching the press, ensuring grapes are kept damage free and thereby reducing oxidation.
The hand sorting removes any leaves, stems or unripe/imperfect berries not removed in previous processes and a fastidious cleaning regime is enforced.
Whereas old oak barrels can masks flavours and rob aromas, Woodlands insists on high use of new French oak, resulting in wine with a bright taste. The Cabernet Sauvignon has 21 months in new barriques before bottling.
No fining or animal products used in many other wineries added (such as egg whites, fish emulsion, milk etc) added, and no added tannins or flavours whatsoever. Only low amounts of sulphur required for preservative reasons is added, generally around half that used by majority of wineries and which often results in a sharp tang on first taste from many lesser quality wines.
These are just some of the methods Woodlands employs to create outstanding quality wines year after year but to really appreciate the difference, a visit to the cellar door itself is the best way to understand the significance of these practises and sample the range for yourself.