50 years, it’s a long time to be in business.
Most local companies don’t manage it, in fact a heck of a lot of national companies don’t manage it either. Those stats are worse when you look at wineries, especially ones that pop up in, what are thought of, as unusual spots. It’s hard for new wineries to get the label out there, and it only takes a couple of bad growing years for the profits to start going south, and the inevitable call from the Receivers and Liquidators.
Vasse Felix in WA’s Margaret River is one of those wineries that have managed to weather those 50 years.
When the Vasse Felix Winery was established in 1967 by Dr. Tom Cullity, it was the first vineyard in the modern Margaret River. No-one had thought about having vineyards there before, and many doubted whether the investment would work, thinking it was only a matter of time before those Liquidators were called in. Over time Cullity found juggling winemaking and his fulltime medical career an issue and employed David Gregg as a fulltime winemaker, who eventually bought the vineyard in ’84, and subsequently selling it to the Holmés á Court family in 1987, with son Paul taking sole ownership in 2007.
He set about expanding the estate vineyards and brought in winemaker Virginia Willcock, in whom he found someone who shares his belief that Vasse Felix must focus on what the Margaret River region does best – chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
In 2012 Willcock, took out the coveted Gourmet Traveller WINE Winemaker of the Year award. It wasn’t an overnight rise in success for Virginia, it’s been years of hard work, long days and nights, cold morning starts and days that finish as the sun is rising. She has evolved the wines from the big fruit driven, broad and powerful chardy, to a wine that has more finesse and elegance. The Cabernet has evolved from being a fruit forward brut, that was blended with Shiraz and merlot, to being, a pure cabernet expression, the wines having a savouriness and a wonderful texture to them now.
The evolution of the wines over the 50 years, has created a huge following both here and overseas especially with their top of the range flagship wines Heytesbury Chardonnay and Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon (renamed Tom Cullity as of this year). Willcock touch to these wines has seen her create world beating drops, her Heytesbury and Estate Chard took out Gold medals at the Decanter World Wine awards in 2014 for example. To put this into perspective in 2014 the Decanter awards received over 15,000 entries, with just 35 being awarded gold medals.
Personally, I’ve always been a sucker for Vasse Felix Classic Dry White, a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend, it works equally well on sitting around the pool with mates in summer as it does sitting around with mates during our warmer winter days, and is a bargain at around $13 at the major bottleshops. Their entry level Classic Dry Red, also around $13, is a Margaret River Shiraz, more leafy and herbal than a Barossan drop, a weekday quaffer that has enough going on the glass to keep you interested.
A few too look for:
Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – tobacco, clove and dark currants, which are the main driver there. There’s also a bit of something in there that I can only relate it to being similar to the dry, scrubby gum leaf/ ti tree notes that you find in the drier areas around the Burdekin. Around $19 shelf price.
Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2015 – the ’16 is the current Filius release, however on the majority of the shelves you will find the ’15 still floating around. It’s the little brother of the Estate chardy but still made in that fuller style, rich lemon and then stone fruit, cashew nut and a lingering vibrant finish.
Vasse Felix Classic Dry White 2016 – Vasse have been knocking out this quaffer since ’87. Its an entry level drop, but nothing about it is entry level, no oak contact gives a wine that shows great purity of fruit: citrus, rockmelon and guava, with a natural acidity. Its zesty, fresh and crisp, perfect lunchtime wine.
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – around mid-$30’s for a serious world class wine. Liquorice, bay leaf, black and blue berries are thrown in there with a faint touch of wood smoke. Bright lively tannin structure and a long, deep insistent finish.