For my 26th birthday, Tim went all-out and treated me to one of the greatest days I’ve ever had, with an all-day private winery tour around some of the most beautiful and exclusive vineyards in the region. Sully of The Flying Corkscrew tour arranged a perfect day, which included an unbelievable helicopter ride along the Western Australian coastline.
Tourists in Margaret River
Despite having lived in Margaret River for nearly five months, our knowledge of the history of Margs was pretty limited. Sully picked us up at 9:45 am and as we headed to the first winery of the day, he told us about the history of the town in a way that only someone who completely knows and loves a place could. Sully’s family were the second to settle in the Margaret River area and his extensive knowledge of the region was engaging (even later in the day when my capacity for intelligent conversation was somewhat… diminished.)
If you’re visiting a winery around Margaret River, chances are you’ll find it somewhere along Caves Road. Even Sully himself who has lived in the area most of his life and whose occupation it is to visit as many wineries as possible admits he has a long way to go. I truly wish I had that problem in my life. As we drove along scenic Caves Road, the sun shining through the jarrah trees, I realised how much more beautiful the scenery is when I’m not grinding past it red-faced and sweaty on my bicycle. I love cycling but in the middle of a Western Australian summer, even the sea breeze can’t save me. One day, I will learn to drive.
Now, I’ve been on a wine tour before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m no connoisseur compared to a lot of people I’ve met and being able to hide at the back of the group while doing tastings was fine by me. I love a good glass of wine but as I sheepishly admitted before we arrived at the first winery, I’m no good at describing what I’m tasting. I’m much more comfortable with the ‘thumbs up or down’ rating system. However, Sully was confident by the end of the day he’d have me using all those flowery adjectives like a pro.
Windows Estate was our first stop. Bright and quiet at that time in the morning, we were seated on the terrace that overlooks the gorgeous green gardens. Although I already knew this day was going to be special, I hadn’t expected such a personal experience. There was no rushed spiel or laminated list of wines and their descriptions, just easy conversation about the vineyard with the friendly cellar door guide and generous tastes of seven wines.
Windows have withdrawn their wines from general sale so apart from in a few select Australian restaurants, they’re only available directly from the winery. It’s a one-man show at Windows Estate, with everything except the grape picking being done by the vineyard owner, Chris. After my four months working on a grape farm- picking, pruning and training vines- I find that incredible. In an industry that’s constantly evolving with endless ways to tweak the product from vine to factory to bottle, Windows keep it simple. Minimal intervention and traditional methods- what a perfect start to a day full of wine.
I would love to write about the individual wines we tried throughout the whole day but despite starting with the best intentions to take notes about everything, I came away from the day with only one piece of paper- from Windows Estate, and I’d spilt water on it. After that, I gave up and fully immersed myself in the complete hedonistic luxury of the day. Also, I admit, halfway through the tastings at Windows Estate, I dropped my first flowery description of the day. The moment I took the first sip of the 2014 Basket Pressed Syrah, the words ‘strawberries and black pepper’ involuntarily fell out of my mouth. Granted, those flavours appear absolutely nowhere in the tasting notes online but, hey, it’s a start!
Sully hinted on the way to Amelia Park that I’d be impressed by the entrance. I had no idea what to expect- perhaps an impressive front lawn? We arrived and although the driveway up to the building was lovely (can a road flanked by rows of green vines be anything but lovely?) I was not expecting what greeted us when we threw open the heavy wooden doors at the cellar door.
A silent, softly lit room, with huge barrels stacked either side forming a corridor to another set of wooden doors. It is impressive. In fact, everything about the cellar door at Amelia Park is impressive, in a way my words won’t do justice to. We were invited into a private tasting room and for once in my life, I wasn’t looking for the wine. The entirety of one side of the room is glass, with a view onto the undulating fields of vines that stretch out into the far distance.
Our lovely French guide poured glass after glass of wine while we discussed Bordeaux and gazed out over the vineyard. Now, I was pleasantly tipsy and taking notes was the last thing on my mind so I have no flowery adjectives to give you. After a tasting journey that really showcased the power that time spent in oak has on wines, we decided that Amelia Park’s Reserve wines are really something special. It took us a while to decide which bottle to buy. Yes, even after splashing out this much on a tour, at wineries like these the question was never ‘should we buy a bottle?’ It was always going to be ‘which ones shall we buy?’
One of my favourite things about the Margaret River region is that wherever you go, there’s a track or trail nearby that takes you to a hidden gem that you’d never imagine was there. We bumped along up a winding red dirt track (Sully said the road had actually been improved since he’d been there last) until we pulled in at Cape Grace, a small winery surrounded by forest and featuring a single peacock guarding the cellar door. The moment you step through the door, you can smell the twang of oak and see the barrels stacked by boxes upon boxes of wine. It feels like you’ve uncovered a secret. Cape Grace is a small winery and there’s no showiness at the cellar door- it just doesn’t need it.
Buddy guided us through the wines and again, we agonised over which ones to bring home with us. The small wooden bar where we stood to taste couldn’t have accommodated more than a few people. It was a truly enjoyable, personal experience and the quiet forest setting was a great contrast to the previous stops of the day.
Margaret River by Air
If I had an inkling of what the rest of the day had in store for us, it was confirmed the moment we pulled off the Bussell Highway towards the Margaret River Airstrip. It was time for the ‘flying’ part of the Flying Corkscrew tour! Sully had arranged a flight with Scenic Helicopters to take us for a ride above the coastline before landing right on the lawn at Leeuwin Estate. This is one time where I wish it were acceptable to use multiple exclamation marks!
We had a short safety briefing before commencing a very windy photo shoot in front of the helicopter, while I tried not to think about how windy it was. I don’t generally like heights or flying, but I was surprised to find that I didn’t feel worried in the slightest. Our pilot was helpful and I immediately knew I was in a safe pair of hands. What I thought would be a ball of nerves in my stomach was actually excited butterflies as I took a seat in the back of the helicopter, with Tim sitting in front with his camera.
The ground soon fell away beneath us as the helicopter rose over Margaret River. I felt the wind every so often but besides that, it was a smooth ride. The view over the region along the coastline was stunning and twenty minutes later (it felt like five!) we were hovering over Leeuwin Estate, about to make the perfect landing on the lawn- right in front of the restaurant. I felt like a rockstar, even though I’m sure the effect was somewhat ruined when my dress started to blow up in the wind.
A whole morning of drinking on an empty stomach was starting to catch up with me and when we were seated at a table overlooking the beautiful Leeuwin gardens, I was extremely excited to see that we were in for a seven-course meal. The degustation we were having at Leeuwin is designed for the Flying Corkscrew tour and is matched with the Art Series, Leeuwin’s premium selection of wines- the very best of each vintage. Again, me being the heathen that I am, never spent too much time thinking about wine pairings but when it’s done right, it’s a beautiful thing. Oysters, asparagus, Black Angus steak, marron, scallops… the menu was perfection. The marron with Szechuan butter and plum stood out to me because it is, in fact, the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Ever. I’ve dreamed of that dish ever since. I want to go back to Leeuwin Estate to specifically request an all-you-can-eat buffet of it.
After we ended the degustation with a much-needed coffee and my almost asking if I could eat it all again immediately (despite being full to the brim) Tim and I wandered downstairs to the gallery where Leeuwin displays the art found on the Art Series bottles. Sully appeared with perfect timing and suggested one final stop for the day- sans tastings. We drove a short while further and found ourselves in the pristine gardens of Voyager Estate. Sully led us through the manicured rows of hedges to stand under what’s reported to be the biggest flag in Australia. It is massive and makes the already spectacular grounds seem even more impressive.
The Perfect Day? Yep.
I’m not throwing that phrase around lightly: this was my perfect day. Every single place Sully took us to was unique and the day felt completely personalised. In fact, it barely felt like a tour at all. I think I gasped more that day than I have done in the past year because everywhere we went had some kind of wow factor that surprised me. I know I’m gushing and if you know me, I’m not one to gush. Believe me, it’s warranted. The Flying Corkscrew tour encapsulated all the things I want to remember about this region when I leave. Also, I’ll admit, I bloody love getting dressed up and treated like royalty on my birthday.
As far as touristic places go, Margaret River is fairly new to the game. It’s a young winemaking region and though I bet some locals would say differently in the heights of the school holidays, it’s unspoilt. You still get stretches of empty white sand, tiny vineyards producing incredible wine that seem to have barely been discovered and tour guides like Sully who are genuinely excited to show you what Margaret River has to offer and keep discovering it for themselves. On the off chance that you’re a reader who isn’t my Mum and wondering if you should book a tour like this for yourself: do it. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.