When it comes to famous wine regions, many of us immediately think of France or Italy. But also wine from Australia is equally popular, namely from the Margaret River region. The region has climatic conditions that ensure that the vineyards produce the best grapes needed to make some of the most famous Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wendy Stimpson, one of the owners of the Passel Estate, talks more about what Margaret River has to offer and takes us through the journey that she and her husband set out to establish their little paradise Passel Estate.
You and your husband Barry hail from England and South Africa respectively. How did Margaret River discover and fall in love with her?
While in Hong Kong, we visited a childhood friend of Barry from Cape Town, who is now based in Perth. He took us to Margaret River, knowing we would fall in love with the beautiful scenery and amazing wine. The area reminds us of Cape Winelands where Barry grew up.
She settled in Margaret Valley in 2005. When did you formally establish Passel Estate and start running it as a business?
We built our house in Margaret River in 2005 but we still split our time between Western Australia and Asia. We found the amazing property in 2011, it is now Passel Estate, and have been managing it ever since. We expanded the vineyard, built a tasting room and started producing wine under our Passel Estate brand from the 2015 vintage collection.
The Margaret River wine region is located in the remote southwestern corner of Australia. It stretches for 100 km from north to south, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. How important is the marine impact on viticulture in the region?
Passel Estate’s proximity to the ocean and the regional climate influenced by the sea are essential elements of our land. This means heavy rains during the winter to fill levees and create soil to feed the growing vines during the later growing season. Later, cool sea breezes cool the summer temperatures, allowing the grapes to ripen gently until harvest, producing fruits of exceptional quality. The consistent ripening conditions offered by the sea-influenced climate are especially important for Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the margaret River varieties for which we produce two stunning examples of this wine on the Passel Estate.
The vineyard was first planted in 1994 and housed 1.5 hectares each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz at that time. Additional farms were established for Shiraz (1.1 ha) and Chardonnay (2.6 ha). How is the vineyard operating as of today, do you have additional expansion plans?
When we acquired the property, there were well-established vineyards in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, which with the help of our expert viticulture expert, Andy Ferreira, now produce some of their best fruits. Since then we have greatly expanded our vineyard, most recently planting new farms in Chardonnay. We have plans to grow another aromatic white grape in the near future and to produce a sparkling Crémant pattern to add to our collection.
Experienced winemaker Bruce Dukes works closely with you and your spouse. How strategic is his contribution to Passel Estate over the past years?
We have approached Bruce to create our wine because of its stellar reputation as a world-class winery and our shared philosophy of producing the finest wines that respond to the specific grapes and conditions of each wine. We have a lot of fun working with Bruce. It is a very collaborative relationship, but we will always follow his guidance on specific winemaking decisions to ensure that we deliver on our promise to produce the most elegant and balanced wines that express the vineyard’s standing and unique Passel Estate location in the Margaret River region.
As part of your commitment to sustainable and ESG-focused viticulture, you recently welcomed a flock of local sheep to graze on your vineyards during the winter. Is this the first step towards sustainable viticulture, are there other actions and transformations planned?
Combined with the ongoing care and preservation of large tracts of the estate’s native bushland as part of our commitment to wildlife conservation at the Passel Estate, we have followed sustainable viticulture practices from the start and will soon receive official sustainability certification for our wines.
We receive sheep from a nearby farm to our vineyard every winter to graze. Sheep keeps our vineyard tidy without using machinery and improves soil quality by looking for fodder and excrement as natural fertilizer! Sheep farming at Passel Estate benefits the animal, farmers, our vineyards and the environment.
We have also set up beehives on our vineyard to help pollinate our cover vineyards and ensure a healthy and diverse vineyard ecosystem. The chrome honey that we collect by hand is available for purchase in the tasting room and all proceeds go to further preservation on the property.
Our conservation efforts predate the release of our wine and are an important aspect of our sustainable vineyard operations. Passel Estate has been a haven for the endangered Ringtail Possums since we acquired the property, after a devastating wildfire in the Margaret River destroyed much of their habitat. We’ve continued to work with conservation groups to help Western Ringtail Possums since then. We’ve installed easy-release containers on the estate and a family (or passel) of opossums that we’ve rehabilitated through them thrive. We are also seeing an increasing abundance of wildlife, birds and frogs on the farm as we continue to nurture and enhance the natural bushland areas.
Do you welcome visitors and wine lovers at Passel Estate?
Yes, we do have a beautifully appointed tasting room, where we welcome visitors to sample our wine surrounded by views of our vineyards and bush haven. The tasting room is open daily, and we offer a range of guided tasting experiences, including a nature walk and wine that includes a private tour of the bush conservation reserve and on-site tastings along with the vines that entered the wine.
As spring arrives at the Margaret River, we have just relaunched Wine Sunsets on the Passel Estate, a great way to spend the evening during the warmer months. Upon request, guests enjoy an after-hours tasting on a Friday or Saturday evening, followed by a glass of their favorite Passel Estate wine along with a plate of local and artisan cheese as the sun sets over the vineyards. Then as dusk falls, they leave with a complimentary bottle of Passel Estate wine and a chocolate-covered bonbon designed to pair perfectly, to finish the evening at home.
It is necessary to pre-book our tasting experiences (and it is very easy to do this on our website website). A portion of the fee for all of our expertise goes directly to our conservation projects on the property.
During quieter periods, visitors are welcome to enjoy a glass of wine and a plate on the deck or a blanket for a picnic in the park.
Which estate wine would you choose for a formal dinner consisting of beef or wild game?
You can’t go wrong with the Passel Estate Lot 71 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Made only in exceptional wines in small quantities, this special wine is a stunning expression of Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. Produced from a single block of our sauvignon cabernet fruit with extended ripening in fine French oak hedges, more than half fresh, followed by further ripening in the bottle before being released.
The velvety, soft tannins of this wine, with flavors of black fruit and secondary notes of coffee and fig, will pair perfectly with a delicious roast beef or wild game dish.
Which estate wine would you choose for a light lunch?
For a light lunch here in Singapore – I’m thinking goat cheese salad and a light salmon or fish platter – the Passel Estate Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect choice. Partially fermented from oak, this sauvignon blanc has the complexity that makes it balanced with your lunch, yet the fresh citrus flavors and vibrant acidity keep the appetite light, light and delicious throughout a warm tropical afternoon.
How do you view Margaret River wine lovers in Asia versus regular European or American wine drinkers? How do their tastes or requests differ?
Our visitors from Singapore and Hong Kong are very familiar with the Margaret River and many of them have excellent taste, with a preference for whole red wine and Chardonnay; Visitors from faraway regions are often less familiar with the region and are often surprised by the exceptional quality and elegance of our wine. Few realize that Margaret River is the smallest major wine producing region in Australia, yet it accounts for the highest percentage of premium Australian wines.
Where can our readers buy wine from Passel Estate in Singapore? Which wine-focused e-commerce platform would you recommend?
We have a wine club here in Singapore, and it can be joined online. Interested buyers can also buy our wine directly through our website website.
Other Singapore vendors include Le Rouge, The Cheese Shop and Surrey Hills Grocer, and we are glad our wine can also be found on the wine list at some of Singapore’s leading restaurants.
Your favorite personal memory of working with your husband on the Passel Estate?
Creating the Passel Estate together, growing our wine business and looking after our amazing property provides us with regular moments of joy. One of my personal favorite memories is the evening we celebrated the Passel Estate wine launch and officially opened the tasting room.
Waddy’s cultural guardian Josh Whitland ran a wonderful Welcome to Country party to welcome us to our ancestral lands and blessed us with amazing sunsets and moonrises, surrounded by our friends and local community members who helped make it all possible. . It was the culmination of one long and ambitious journey together and the beginning of a new one. As Barry said during his speeches that evening, “Be careful about chasing your dreams, they have a way of getting to the next dream, the next…”
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