Readers of this magazine will know we are usually invited to an annual review of the wines of Voyager Estate. It is one of the highlights of our year.
The team from the winery in WA’s Margaret River host masterclasses for us Eastern Staters which not only give us the chance to taste their latest releases but also some of the work-in-progress and experimental wines as they toil diligently to improve their breed. Very generously at these tastings they present wines from other premium producers in Australia as well those from France, Italy, New Zealand and the USA alongside their own, fearlessly opening themselves to comparison with some of the world’s best.
A change in direction
This year the format was slightly different. It was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first plantings in the Stevens Valley. Alexandra Burt, daughter of the Voyager Estate founder Michael Wright welcomed us to our table.
The smiling faces of winemaker Travis Lemm and his assistant James Penton were with us once again. As they speak you appreciate the sheer mastery they have of their operation; sites, soils, weather and the precision of their planted varieties, almost down to having a birth certificate and a blood group for every one of their many thousands of vines.
This day they took us back in time and flashed the future in front of us. They poured their wines only. In three groups, showcasing the varieties for which the Margaret River is justifiably acclaimed.
First the chardonnays
Six glasses. Six chardonnays. Winking from old pale gold to the faintest lemony whiteness. Similar wines but we can see how they have developed. Not only from the natural ageing, but how the team has refined the winemaking over the years.
Yes 12 years old, but full of chirpy life. Plenty of white blossoms, citrussy but smooth and supple with a soft and gentle finish.
Travis tells us this was the coldest in 53 years. Good for whites. Tough for the reds.
A more serious wine with some nuttiness and hints of nectarine. Pure rich fruit long and delicious with a touch more acid to finish.
This was a warmer year and the first vintage at Voyager for James.
An even more sturdy white. Rich and deep with a hint of smokiness. You can find cashews, peaches and almonds if you look. Lovely lifted ripe and floral. This was an awesome year and the first of a shift in thinking – a new oak regime. 9 months in barrel. “At its prime” says James, “ Savoury, grainy texture.”
An even warmer year than 2010 increasing the sugar and acid. Requiring a careful condensed picking programme. Rich and intense, cashew with deep white fruits. A long, refreshing mouthful coating the mouth with flavor.
Aroma of white blossoms with a touch of earthiness. Deeper notes of white spicy flavours. This one has progressed to 95% wild yeasts. Specifically matched oak barrels were used for different batches before blending says James.
White blossoms with a touch of vegetable and honey plus oak nuances. Similar to the ’15 with an almost creamy richness. The boys are on top of their game here. Immaculate fruit, structure, perfume and power.
And now for something completely different: Mixed Varietals
Not quite unknown territory, but certainly letting their imaginations run loose. Some may not be generally released but could lead to bright things in the future.
2013 VOC Chenin Blanc
Bright aggressive ripe and rich the flavor rolls across the palate. Their first ever. Cellar door only. Just one block of grapes using clones from the Swan Valley. A wine for a new generation.
2015 Project Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
A popular combination from many makers in WA. This one is soft and friendly with a nice refreshing lift. Gently sweetish fruit with a savoury twist. Super interesting approach to this blend.
2006 VOC Semillon
A pure expression of this fruit. The WA versions almost always richer than their Hunter cousins. Clean fine and citrusy. Spicy and minerally. Bring on a platter of your finest seafood.
2016 Project Syrah
Rich dark plummy and peppery like a good shiraz should be with a lighter weight in the mouth than the nose suggests. Mulberry and raspberry notes fleshy and juicy with a brushing a dusty tannins. A lovely wine. Hope it becomes a regular.
2016 Project W5 Cabernet Sauvignon
Margaret River makes some of the best cabs in the world. This one is light and fresh with a touch of green leaf. Medium weight and elegant. This is just a small batch. May be a larger release next year.
2012 VOC Petit Verdot
One of the grapes allowed in the classic Bordeaux blend. A one off, only 6 barrels produced. No more will be made. Intense, smoky dark blackberries and blackcurrants. Serious flavours in a mid weight wine. Firm finish.
Now the reds that made Voyager Estate famous
Six of the best. The earlier three were made when the team were still working on how to deliver the very best of this blend from their unique plots. The last three show the transition to the new and now favoured style. Oak regime reduced from 24 months in barrel to 17 or 18. More careful hand-picking of the grapes. More walklng to pick small pockets of each vineyard at perfect ripeness.
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Machine picked in a nice cool year. Elegant with dusty nose leads to modest but pretty red fruits with some herbiness and spiciness. Classic claret ‘pencil shavings’ detectable.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
A much sturdier wine with darker berry flavours. Much more weight, earthy and strong but that cabernet fruit is still pure and fine. “ A phenomenal year” says Travis.
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Fresh crimson fruit on the nose. Classic cassis and blackcurrant. Weighty and robust more flesh but not quite as sweet. A nice astringency on the finish.
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
First of the new styles. Lighter lifted and more refined. Medium weight and firm tannins. 100% handpicked with up to seven passes through the vineyard. A fresh look with more serious textures.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Heady red perfumes on the nose. A firm but full mouthful of ripe blackberries. Sturdy mid weight and long. Says James: “Handpicking gives us better control over skin colour, tannins and acid. We can balance harmonius fruit and tannins. More soft edges with no angularity makes for more approachability.”
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
This where they want to be. Picking just 4 tonne to the hectare. Concentrated . Wafts of dark red vapours draw you in. Floral, violets. Blackcurrants dominate. Similar to the ’12 but tougher and darker with youthful power. Will live longer than most of us.
Interesting? How about this beauty?
The Pet Net was born from a desire to produce something unique and interesting from part of the original plantings. It’s Voyager’s first petillant-naturel and a nod to the future of experimentation and innovation in their winemaking.
The fruit was handpicked from the original Estate Block 4 Merlot 1978 vines. Whole bunch pressed and bottled while fermenting.
The winemaker says: “Soft savoury tones entwined in mixed berry compote mid palate. The wine finishes with lively natural acidity and a hint of sweetness.”
We say it’s a cracker.
Proving that even a company so well-established in the time-honoured and traditional ways of winemaking is now up there happily sparring with the youngsters and the young thinking of this ever-changing business.
Check them for yourself
Well that’s it. The current Voyager Estate vintages should be in your shops now and worthy of your attention. There are a lot of good winemakers in this country but none could be more dedicated to the intimate knowledge of their vineyards and vines coupled with such a cheerful obsession with the minutae that must be mastered to make great wine.