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Margaret River WA 6284, Australia
|Wine region||Margaret River|
|Varietals||Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Shiraz|
|Tasting||Open to public|
Vasse Felix was the first vineyard and winery to be established in the Margaret River wine region of Western Australia. Founded in Cowaramup in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity, it is recognised as a pioneer of the region, and also features an acclaimed restaurant. Vasse Felix is situated in the Wilyabrup sub-region of Margaret River, with vineyards also located at northern and southern sites of the wine appellation. The first vineyard blocks were planted in August, 1967.Margaret River experiences the unique combination of a Mediterranean climate, maritime influence and perfect soils for viticulture. Together, these conditions are ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.The estate is recognised as one of Australia's drawcard winery destinations and includes a Cellar Door, Restaurant and Art Gallery.
The Vasse Felix Story
‘Naturaliste’ and ‘Geographe’ were the maiden ships in the ‘Baudin expedition’ which was undertaken by the French to map the coast of Australia (New Holland) from 1800-1803. The expedition was the first to discover the south-west coast of Australia, arriving from Mauritius in the peak of winter to storms and monstrous 8 foot swells.
Disaster struck on 8 June 1801 when the Naturaliste’s Assistant Helmsman was swept up by the waves and thrown into the vast and treacherous ocean. This was the disappearance of Thomas Timothèe Vasse. While originally thought to have drowned, rumours of Vasse’s circumstances emerged in the following years. His became one of the most curious nautical stories in French and Australian history.
Was he lost to the wild ocean, or did he wash ashore and live with the local Aborigines? Did he grow old in Australia or was he picked up by an American crew, taken to England and subsequently imprisoned? It became a much-publicised story in the French Journals. The public was divided. What happened to the unlucky and unfortunate Vasse?
An avid historian, and hopeful that his vineyard would enjoy a happier fate, Dr Tom Cullity named it Vasse Felix, meaning ‘lucky/happy’ Vasse.
The first Vasse Felix vintage in 1971 from four year old vines was disheartening, with most of the fruit either destroyed by rot or eaten by native birds. To protect the grapes from bird damage during harvest, falconry was attempted. The exercise, however, proved unsuccessful, as the first time the falcon was released to circle the vineyard it flew straight into the surrounding forest.
In 1966 following the Professor Harold Holmo (University of California Davis) report recommending Australia's south-west to plant wine grapes, Dr John Gladstones (University of Western Australia) publishes a report isolating the Margaret River cape for its climatic similarities to Bordeaux. His report was published in the local Margaret River newspaper. In 1967 Dr Thomas Cullity had been trial planting vines in the South-West since 1965. Upon learning of this report, he spent around a year searching for the perfect site of “red gravel in redgum country, with clay about 18 inches below the surface.” Finally locating the ideal site, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec and Riesling to establish the Vasse Felix vineyard; Margaret River's first and oldest vines. By 1971 "The first vintage, off 4 year-old vines, was in 1971. The winery vats and machinery were built and purchased in the preceding months. The harvest was a disaster due to bunch-rot and silver-eyes. I will not forget the exhaustion and disappointment." Dr Thomas Cullity. The first Vasse Felix - and Margaret River - wines are made in 1972 including Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon."In 1972, off a small crop, we produced a Riesling wine that created quite a stir at the Perth Show [it won a gold medal]... It was this wine and the subsequent publicity that brought Margaret River wines to the attention of the Australian public. We had similar success with the Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973." Dr Thomas Cullity. Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon wins a Gold Medal in 1973 at the Perth Royal Show. David Gregg is appointed winemaker of Vasse Felix. (Pictured centre, newspaper article, 1973). The Gregg family purchase Vasse Felix in 1984 from Dr Thomas Cullity. This vintage Vasse Felix turned global, with headlines reading 'Vasse Felix hits the big apple'. After noticing the estate listed for sale in the classified section of The West Australian newspaper, The Holmes a Court Family acquires Vasse Felix in 1987 and have remained owners of Vasse Felix since. The first vintage of Vasse Felix Classic Dry White is made.
The Vasse Felix Restaurant opens in 1989. It was originally built as a 'champagne room' which had been the dream of former owner David Gregg. The Restaurant today is recognised as one of Australia's best. In 1990 The 1988 Hermitage wins the 'Chairman's Trophy for Best Wine at the WA Wine Awards' and sells out in three days. Clive Otto joins Vasse Felix as winemaker (he becomes Chief Winemaker in 1992). The first Heytesbury is made in 1995, and is a runner up for the Jimmy Watson Trophy at the Melbourne Royal Wine Show in 1996. In 1996 a Reserve Chardonnay is made and is relabelled as Heytesbury Chardonnay in 1997. In the year of 1999 a new state-of-the-art winery was built and opened and the old winery and barrel hall converted into an Art Gallery. Vasse Feilx's Wilyabrup Vineyard is expanded in 2006 as the estate narrows its focus to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Virginia Willcock is appointed Chief Winemaker (October, 2006). 2010, Vasse Felix acquires a new vineyard in Karridale, a 'sub-region' located at the south of Margaret River's cape which experiences a slightly cooler climate due to its increased cloud cover and sea breezes off the Southern Ocean. The vineyard is a specialty vineyard for white varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. A glorious year, 2012, The 2010 Heytesbury Chardonnay wins 11 trophies in wine shows to become one of the most awarded in Australian history. A year of significant critical acclaim:Top 100 International Winery, Wine & Spirits USA Wine, Winery & Winemaker of Year, West Aust. Good Wine Guide Australian Winemaker of Year (Virginia Willcock), Gourmet Traveller WINE Regional Restaurant of Year, West Aust. Good Food Guide.
Vasse Felix focuses on Margaret River’s regional strengths of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, along with Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends and Shiraz. The wines are made to best express the unique terroir of Margaret River and the Vasse Felix vineyards and winemaking philosophy.
Grape variety and row alignment have been placed by soil and aspect within each vineyard, for the pairing of vine and earth is fundamental in making great wine. The iconic Wilyabrup Vineyard is a winemaker’s paradise. It has a patchwork of small blocks reflecting its hilly terrain and the intricacy of its unique site influences. The Karridale and Carbunup Vineyards provide complementary parcels. Karridale provides vibrancy and delicacy and Carbunup brings volumes of opulence and intense flavour.
The fruit is harvested, fermented and matured in small parcels, where every decision is made to reflect the vintage and the journey of the individual barrique. Grading is a continuous activity from the vineyard, through maturation, until the final composition of each wine is determined, working from the Icon wines through to the Premier, Filius and Classics tiers. Bottling is completed within the Estate to ensure the most rigorous quality control and reduce unnecessary movement of the wine.
Vasse Felix Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock has over two decades of Margaret River winemaking experience. Among her many ahievements, Virginia was awarded ‘Australian Winemaker of the Year’ in 2012.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong history and heritage at Vasse Felix, as one of the first red wines made at the Estate, and as Margaret River's first Cabernet Sauvignon. All Cabernet vineyard blocks are fermented and matured in separate parcels and undergo different amounts of time in skins (extended maceration) to extract the optimum fruit and tannin characters. The parcels are matured in French oak for 12 or 18 months depending on the fruit style. Post-maturation, the Cabernet is graded into three tiers and the blend percentages are determined.
Vasse Felix Chardonnays take a modern Margaret River style. All three wines follow the same winemaking philosophy for which Vasse Felix has become renowned. Site influences contribute the distinguishing differences to each wine. The fruit is harvested, chilled and gently whole-bunch pressed. It is transferred to French oak barriques as unclarified juice for fermentation with only natural yeasts from the vineyard. Each parcel matures on lees in barrel for nine months with battonage. Post-maturation, the Chardonnay is graded to make three distinct wines from the vintage.
When placed in a pristine region, there lies both the opportunity and obligation to utilise the most natural methods possible.
Vasse Felix supports organic and sustainable viticulture, where every practice is guided by the philosophy of achieving ‘fruit quality through plant health and plant health through soil health.’ A constant focus on soil biology and environmental health is maintained in all vineyards. This is enhanced with Margaret River’s natural suitability to viticulture as a result of its climatic and environmental attributes.
Some examples from the environmental program include:
- NATURAL FERTILISERS A natural compost program is operated for recycling matter. This fertile mixture is used for topsoil enrichment.
- WEED CONTROL Sheep grazing of pastures at Carbunup vineyard throughout winter offers natural weed management.
- WATER CATCHMENTS The sole water supply for Vasse Felix comes from dams and rainwater tanks.
Packaging & Production
Vasse Felix is dedicated to optimising the use of resources in production and packaging.
- RECYCLING An extensive recycling program for all plastics, glass and cardboard materials that are used in the wine production process is in operation.
- NATIONAL PACKAGING COVENANT Vasse Felix is a signatory within the Australian Packaging Covenant. This participation places Vasse Felix as an industry ambassador to continually source and utilise more sustainable and recyclable packaging, while encouraging suppliers and consumers to also adopt sustainable principles.
Vasse Felix is located in the Wilyabrup ‘sub-region’ of Margaret River. Vasse Felix vineyards are also located to the north of the region in Carbunup, and to the south, in Karridale.The vineyard sites have been selected for their unique topography, micro-climates and natural irrigation. The best suited grape varieties have been matched to each vineyard, and specific rows and blocks have been planted to correspond with topography and soil type.
- Soils: Deep gravel loam soil over clay.
- Unique Site Influences: Wilyabrup fruit is typified by its superb balance.
- Soils: Sandy loam with a deep top soil over high calcium clay.
- Unique Site Influences: Experiences a slightly cooler climate due to sea breezes off the Southern Ocean and increased cloud cover. This provides an extended ripening period for whites, and the fruit is characterised by more elevated perfume and higher natural acidity.
- Soils: Deep red to pale sandy loam with gravel and clay in isolated areas.
- Unique Site Influences: Carbunup receives slightly warmer temperatures through the growing season. Fruit is characteristically riper and richer in flavour.
The Cellar door at Vasse Felix is a unique experience that welcomes guests from around the globe to enjoy a glass of wine be it in the vineyard, art gallery, restaurant or wine lounge. From time to time a selection of pre-release and museum wines are made available exclusively for Cellar Door visitors. The team at Vasse Felix is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about Margaret River wine.
The Vasse Felix Restaurant offers a beautiful setting to indulge in regional flavours, textures and creative cuisine. All dishes are created from local, seasonal produce, to compliment Vasse Felix wines. The menu is modern Australian and draws inspiration from international preparation techniques, fused in a unique Vasse Felix / Margaret River style. The Vasse Felix Restaurant has served lunch daily since its opening in 1989.
Executive Chef of the Vasse Felix Restaurant since 1995, Aaron Carr has seen Margaret River’s culinary scene mature to become one of Australia’s leading gourmet destinations. Under Aaron’s guidance, the Vasse Felix Restaurant has been positioned as Western Australia’s top regional restaurant for many years. It has been consistently featured as one of Gourmet Traveller Magazine’s Top 100 Australian Restaurants, and rated four stars by leading Australian Critic, John Lethlean, who named it “The benchmark winery restaurant in Australia.” Aaron was awarded “Chef of the Year 2015” by The West Australian Good Food Guide. Aaron prides himself on a menu that can, “cross the boundaries of cuisine by blending flavours that offer a cutting edge. The art is to create a dish that has simplicity of flavours, thus letting our outstanding produce be the centre of attention.” Aaron has hosted Vasse Felix events in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, working with chefs including Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), Peter Gilmore (Quay), Shane Osborn (Pied a Terre / St Betty). He is a regular contributing Chef to some of Australia’s most esteemed culinary events.
REVIEWS '2015 Chef of the Year' - Aaron Carr, The West Australian Good Food Guide 'Hot 50 Aust. Restaurant, 2013' The Weekend Australian 'Top 100 Restaurant' Australian Gourmet Traveller ’2012 Regional Restaurant of the Year’ The West Australian Good Food Guide "The benchmark winery restaurant in Australia” John Lethlean, The Weekend Australian '2 Chefs Hats' The Australian Good Food Guide
In 1999, Vasse Felix built a new winery and converted the ‘old’ winery into an art gallery and performing art space. The Vasse Felix gallery exhibits some of the Holmes a Court Collection, as well as other invited exhibitions and various performances, such as the annual Australian Chamber Orchestra performance.
Robert and Janet Holmes à Court began collecting Australian art in the early 1970s. The Holmes à Court Collection has grown over time into an internationally renowned collection. Today, the Holmes à Court Collection is made up of over 3,000 artworks, including one of the largest privately owned Indigenous Art collections.
Currently we have three curated exhibitions per year, each running for approximately fifteen weeks. Our exhibitions are primarily collection based but we do invite artists outside the collection to participate and we have an ‘artist- in- residence’ exhibition every year in the winter months. Our aim is to share our collection with the general public through exhibitions that encourage conversations about Australian culture and contemporary issues, and to support living artists by displaying and selling their works.
Everyone is welcome to taste their way through all Vasse Felix wines at our Cellar Door. All current vintage wines are available to taste, complimentary. Enjoy a glass of wine or wine flight in the contemporary new Wine Lounge overlooking the vineyard at Vasse Felix.
- Australian wine
- Heytesbury Pty Ltd
- Janet Holmes à Court
- Robert Holmes à Court
- List of wineries in Western Australia
- Western Australian wine
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- Vasse Felix – official site
- Virginia Willcock’s phenomenal rise takes Vasse Felix to the top – article by Angus Hughson in The Australian