Winemakers have always viewed Margaret River as a kind of natural paradise, and the amount of quality wine that flows from the region is proof that they were onto something. Featuring in four of our wine categories in this year’s awards, Vasse Felix is carving out a space for itself in the industry, and that’s credited to the magic touch of Virginia Willcock, who’s taken out the prestigious Winemaker of the Year award at this year’s Best Of awards.
F or a winery to be able to maintain a consistent level of quality across its range – from the
midweek drops through to the ultra-premium labels – seems somehow implausible, almost a
pipedream of sorts. But that’s not the case for Margaret River’s Vasse Felix, headed up by the renowned Virginia Willcock, one of Australian wine’s leading lights and one of our most admired winemakers. We explore the history of both Virginia and her winery to find out what it takes to become a winemaker of the year.
As a teenager, Virginia was thrilled to discover it was possible to turn fruit into wine. In 2020, she’s about to clock her 29th vintage at Vasse Felix, and over the course of her career,
Virginia has been awarded Winemaker of the Year by Gourmet Traveller WINE (2012), the West Australian Good Wine Guide (2013) and the Australian Women in Wine Awards (2017). It’s safe to say she knows her way around a bunch of grapes.
Virginia’s responsible for some of Australia’s most beloved and sought-after wines, from the deliciously approachable, everyday-drinking Vasse Felix Classic Dry White and Classic Dry Red to the stunning fillius and Heytesbury chardonnays, right up to the iconic Tom Cullity cabernet sauvignon malbec, and although she’s sourcing multiple grape varieties from a
diverse range of vineyards, there’s one common thread across the Vasse Felix range: quality.
How do they do it? “Maximising the potential of every patch of vineyard,” explains Virginia. “Overall, the quality of fruit from our own vineyards, as well as our growing standards, is so high. It’s then managed with detail by my passionate winemaking team, with the philosophy that you should only make wines you’re willing to drink, and we have very high palate
Virginia is consistently inspired by watching new vineyard sections at Vasse Felix prove their worth and the old ones showcase new tricks – whether as a result of seasonal conditions or creative handling in the winery, meaning no vintage is ever the same. “We come up with something new every year, inspired by the fruit and wines of the previous year,” Virginia says on
what keeps her challenged. “I also believe that wine is the most natural alcoholic beverage in the world, and that to be this way we must make it as naturally as possible, so I’m constantly working on lowering inputs while maintaining the language of our sites in the most pristine way.”
Virginia is quick to admit that there wouldn’t be many winemakers who don’t look at Margaret River’s seasonal conditions with envy; the region holds a reputation for favourable weather at harvest time – not to mention its gloriously rugged coastline, celebrated surf breaks and laidback lifestyle.
“Although volume isn’t always high, the quality is great to work with,” enthuses Virginia. “As for lifestyle, you can’t beat going for a swim in the most crystal-clear ocean. In Margaret River, everything wants to live – my garden is a paradise, the beach isn’t far away, and the bush is peaceful and majestic.”
When she’s not sampling Vasse Felix’s wines out of a tank or barrel, Virginia keeps an open mind and palate. She’s always on the search for new and interesting wines, and at the moment is particularly enjoying nerello mascalese from Mount Etna in Sicily, riesling from Great Southern in Western Australia, nebbiolo from Piedmont in Italy, and of course the scintillating chardonnays and pinot noirs from Tasmania – those that epitomise the reason she was drawn to wine in the first place: “It was about the never-ending journey of discovery into the most simply fermented fruit that tells such incredible stories.”