Located three hours south of Perth, Margaret River is Western Australia’s most prestigious wine-growing region. Serious vineyard development began only in the late 1960’s following the publication of a report by John Gladstones in 1965 stating that the area had a similar climate to Pomerol or St Emilion, with low frost risk, plenty of sunshine and equable temperatures within the growing season promoting even ripening. Margaret River’s climate is warm and maritime, with some cooling influence provided by southeast trade winds. The soils derive from granitic and a gneissic rock over which laterite has formed. The region can be divided in three sub-regions: the cooler south between Yallingup and Karridale with predominantly lateritic gravelly loamy sands and sandy loams; the warm and sunnier Willyabrup in the centre with predominantly gravelly loams, but some gritty sandy loams and granitic gravels; and Margaret River in the north with similar soils, but slightly cooler temperatures. This is entirely consistent with style; the wines from Willyabrup being more generous than the highly structured wines of the north and the elegant styles of the south. Margaret River is best known for high quality Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends and top notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. Over the years, the region has established an astonishing reputation illustrating a consistency in quality and a strongly focused winemaking culture.
In 2002, husband and wife Bryan and Jocelyn Martin, and David Martin (Bryan’s brother) bought a vineyard in Murrumbateman. They undertook a programme of regrafting, pulling and planting vines. Today, the lion’s share is Shiraz but there’s also a good measure of Riesling, Sangiovese, and some select white Rhône regulars like Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Then there’s some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently some Gamay and Nebbiolo. Most everything grows well in the region.
The long and arduous task of revitalising the soil began in earnest. Not overworking the soil, getting rid of the heavy machinery, and manging the vineyard in a way which Bryan describes as ‘what could loosely be called natural forestry principles.’ His approach is to understand that the vines are ‘used to clinging to life in the competitive arena of a forest’ rather than a well-ordered monoculture of the typical vineyard’. To this end, they’ve planted a diverse range of plants with long taproots to work with the vineyard and interact with the vines beneath the soil.
Shortly after purchasing the vineyard, Bryan joined Tim Kirk fulltime at Clonakilla and has been his righthand man during a period of incredible success in the winery.
In 2010, the Ravensworth brand was established and two years later, their first wine won the International Riesling Challenge in Canberra in 2012. Putting Ravensworth firmly on the map.
Since then the range has grown considerably. Estate fruit makes up about half of the output with bought fruit from Tumbarumba, Hilltops and Gundagai with doubtless more to come. The wines using ceramic eggs, (for the Riesling) concrete vats and a variety of oaks. This all suits his winemaking style which is driven by curiosity; it’s creative, even playful.
Bryan, an ex-chef and an experienced forager, makes wines with food in mind. He’s not looking for maximum extraction, rather balance, savouriness and, most importantly, drinkability.