Green Guy’s Perfect Day: Biodynamic Margaret River, Western Australia
Western Australia is the biggest state in Australia, stretching from the open bush of the Kimberley region all the way down to the Southern Ocean. Perth is the capital and locals are happy to tell you it’s the most remote big city in the world. They’re not kidding. I recently spent a week there to check out the inaugural Margaret River Gourmet Escape Food Festival and explore all that the state had to offer.
The Margaret River area is on the southern coast of W.A. (as residents call it) and encompasses a huge swath of land. It’s about three hours from Perth by car with small flights cutting the travel down to under an hour. As soon as I got there, something felt familiar. It took a little while to pin it down, but when I figured it out, my whole perspective changed. It’s exactly like the Pacific Northwest. Beautiful forests sit right next to the Indian Ocean and there’s an emphasis on wine that’s neither snobby nor forced. If South Australia’s Barossa region is the Napa of Australia, then Margaret River is Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
My perfect day starts in downtown Margaret River on a Saturday morning. Just a few blocks off the main drag, you’ll find the Margaret River Community Resource Center where they hold the weekly farmers’ market. As you stroll through the various stalls, you’ll find the usual mix of produce vendors, but you’ll also get a wide range of meat (organic grass-fed beef, goat, and humanely-raised pork) and specialty producers selling everything from pickled walnuts to heirloom seedlings for beets and tomatoes.
Spend the rest of your morning walking through Margaret River’s tiny downtown. You’ll quickly realize that this place hasn’t forgotten its surf town roots with small, independently-owned surf shops all over. The oldest is the aptly named Beach Life, which has been open for 25 years. If you didn’t get your fill of artisanal goods at the market, stop in The Larder, a well-curated gourmet food shop brimming with olive oils, mustards, and pastas. The watchword here is local, so pick up some goat cheese and venison sausage to pair with all those fresh vegetables you just bought to get a true taste of the region.
Lunch is a bit of a drive away, but it’s worth it. Cullen Wines in the Wilyabrup sector is one of Australia’s best labels and they also happen to be completely biodynamic. Get a tour from Trevor Kent, one of the down-to-earth winemakers here, who’s more than happy to talk about the finer points of being a biodynamic winery. There’s also a stellar restaurant serving food from their organic garden. If they’re offering the Sustainable Seafood Plate with local squid, scallops, and whiting, you absolutely have to order it. It was the best thing I ate all week.
After lunch, keep your mind on wine as you travel to some of Australia’s best cellar doors. There are over 50 different wine producers in the region and you’ll be remiss if you don’t stop at Vasse Felix and Howard Park. In addition to Cullen, both are incredible examples of what the Margaret River produces and you’ll know why when you try their respective semillion/sauvignon blanc blends – they’re among the best in the world.
At this point, you’re tired. Head to Pullman Resort Bunker Bay for some relaxing whale-watching. You can sit on the back patio and scan the ocean for the mammoth creatures who make regular visits in November. If you’re a little tense, the resort’s Mii Spa will give you much-needed stress relief, but don’t take too long because you’ve got a bit of a drive to get to Pemberton for dinner at Foragers, a kind of rural Chez Panisse in the Southern Forests region where anything and everything fits squarely in the category of slow food.
As you enjoy bites of organic roasted kale and wood-fired bread fresh out of the oven, take a moment to close your eyes and appreciate where you are. It may feel like the coast of Washington State, but you’re really in a W.A. a world away.