Western Australia’s Margaret River wine region needs to promote itself more actively in key export markets to prevent it becoming overlooked, believes David Hohnen from the area’s McHenry Hohnen Vintners.
McHenry Hohnen Vintners was founded by David Hohnen (foreground) and his brother-in-law Murray McHenry
Hohnen, who founded Margaret River’s pioneering Cape Mentelle winery – now owned by LVMH – told the drinks business during an interview yesterday that the Western Australian region, famous for its white and red Bordeaux blends along with Chardonnay, was not publicising its wines as strongly as it should be.
“We are a preeminent Assie region but Margaret River must remain hungry, and we are looking for leadership from the region in the next generation,” he said.
Looking back, he recorded that Cape Mentelle had built Margaret River’s reputation in the key UK market because it was the first winery in the region to base someone in Britain.
The winery’s pioneering approach to the UK was then strengthened by other early operators in Margaret River who had an export focus, such as Vasse Felix, Cullen and Leeuwin Estate.
Today, he said, Margaret River “is much more diverse, with many more producers, but the first producers are still creating excitement.”
In particular, Hohnen highlighted the evolution in Chardonnay styles from the region, describing a new approach focused on harnessing natural acidity, lowering alcohols, and using less new oak.
This, combined with other techniques employed in the last 3-4 years, such as the use of natural yeasts, is producing “more minerally wines and a better expression of Chardonnay,” said Hohnen.
David Hohnen said there was “no appetite at the moment” for Margaret River’s Sauvignon/Semillon blends in the UK.
However, he said that there was “no appetite at the moment” for Margaret River’s other flagship white: Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon “Bordeaux blends”.
“We pour it for potential buyers and they always love it, but there is a reluctance to buy it because Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is all powerful,” he said.
As an example of Margaret River’s lack of representation in the UK for its white blend, he noted that The Wine Society has just a single listing for Australian Sauvignon – a Margaret River Semillon/Sauvigon under the retailer’s exclusive Blind Spot range.
Describing the retailer as one for “65,000 Brits who enjoy wine” and a business that “is extremely supportive of Australian wine”, he noted that when he searched The Wine Society catalogue for Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon/Semillon blends he found 14 wines from the Loire, nine from Bordeaux, nine from New Zealand, six from Chile and only one from Australia.
“I think the British consumer is missing out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hohnen stressed the quality of Shiraz from Margaret River and said that his “most successful” wine in the UK market was made from this grape.
“The UK consumer is discovering Margaret River Shiraz, and we do a good one, Cape Mentelle has always done a good one, and Voyager do a good one,” he said.
Stylistically, he said that Margaret River Shiraz “has never gone down the track of American oak and the varietal characters have always been to the fore.”
Continuing, he said, “It sits comfortably between the white pepper of the ripe Grampians Shiraz and the bigger jammier characters of McLaren Vale and the Barossa.”
He also noted that more Shiraz was being planted in Margaret River, which was historically reasonably widespread in the region, but pulled out and replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon over the course of the last two decades.
“Shiraz has come back big time,” he concluded.