Yallingup, Australia

Photo: Empire Retreat
Photo: Empire Retreat

Hey, wino! Searching for your next wine vacation? It has to be an area to which you’ve never traveled (so most of Europe is out). It has to have amazing wine (of course). And beautiful scenery is an added bonus. So this time you’re heading Down Under. Pass over the Hunter Valley, the Yarra Valley, and the Barossa Valley. Keep going until there’s nowhere left to go. That’s when you know you’ve reached the Margaret River wine region.

You’re in the southwestern corner of Australia, close to where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Western Australia, the country’s largest state, makes up a third of the land area, but only about 11 percent of the population lives here. The Margaret River valley is full of karri forests (the world’s third-tallest trees), surfing beaches, and kangaroos. Dairy farms used to dot the rolling hills. And then a wine-loving doctor planted vines on his property in the late 1960s. The maritime region turned out to be an ideal location to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Chardonnay. How quickly can you get there?

Unfortunately, not very quickly at all. Fly to Sydney, continue to Perth, and then drive three hours south to Yallingup to finally reach the Empire Retreat. The old farmhouse only has 10 suites. They have hardwood floors, stone walls, and views of an olive grove. A couple of kangaroos are relaxing by the trees. The time difference has wiped you out, so spend your first afternoon unwinding on the property. Soak in a stone bath, loosen up in the steam room, and have a firm Revive massage at the spa. Walk through the garden to find the secluded jacuzzi. Sit on the deck with a bottle of Empire Estate Cabernet Merlot and a gourmet hamper of local produce. And fall asleep listening to slender tree frogs outside your window.

Photo: Gnangarra...commons.wikimedia.org [CC-BY-2.5-au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org [CC-BY-2.5-au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Since you slept right through dinner, you’re starving when you wake up in the morning. A mushroom omelet, warm muffins, raspberry compote, and, of course, strong coffee is ready in the dining room. You devour breakfast as you make plans to explore the area. Start with the wineries. Throw in a brewery or two. And check out the natural surroundings.

Arimia Estate is a boutique winery that focuses on single-vineyard wines. Begin the day on a light note by tasting their Verdello and fruity Rosé made of Grenache. At Wills Domain, try the citrusy Sémillon and the Reserve Shiraz while enjoying a panoramic view of the valley and the local artwork in their gallery. Stop for lunch at Vasse Felix. The Margaret River valley’s first winery has a sculpture-filled garden, an Asian-inspired menu, and probably the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the area. And complete your tasting at Aravina Estate with a glass of dark Nebbiolo on the deck overlooking the hillside and the golden-hued vines. It’s autumn here, remember.

Begin the next day at Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Hike to Sugarloaf Rock, the Canal Rocks, and Ngilgi Cave, one of the many limestone caves in the area. Follow the trail to Meekadarabee Falls, a former Aboriginal bathing spot. Have a seaside lunch at Bunkers Beach Cafe—their tile-fried pizzas have interesting toppings. Go surfing on Smiths Beach. Fish on Yallingup Beach. And try to find remote Injidup Beach. Sample a Chilli Beer (a classic Australian bitter) and a Twisted Lemon Lager (a pale ale) at the Bush Shack Brewery. Or, if you’re still craving wine, sip more local vintages with a half-dozen freshly shucked oysters at Must Winebar.

The Margaret River valley feels like Bordeaux, looks like California, and is so worth the travel time.


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