Everyone knows that Margaret River is really good at what it does best, but there are a few people who are pushing the boundaries beyond Cab Sav. Mark Warren of Marq wines is doing just that, exploring the potential of alternative wine varietals in Margaret River. He has taken time out of this year’s vintage time to tell us about the possibilities!
What’s your official job title?
My title at Happs is Winemaker and that basically describes my life. Be it for Happs, Marq Wines, as a consultant or lecturer.
Can you summarise your career to date?
I studied at UWA completing a double major in Biochemistry and Microbiology, then studied at Charles Sturt University in NSW, completing a degree in Wine Science.
After completing my studies I worked at Lamont’s in the Swan Valley and took on the role of Winemaker. After 13 vintages there I moved to Dunsborough to work at Happs where I have been for the last 10 vintages.
I have been lecturing for the past 9 years in Winemaking at Curtin University Margaret River Campus, have judged numerous wine shows, won some significant show awards and finally started my own wine label, Marq Wines.
Walk us through your day.
A winemaker’s day depends very much on the time of year. At this time of year it’s Harvest (vintage) so right now it’s crazy!
A typical week is 70-100 hours for the 8-10 weeks of Harvest. We start at 6.30 when the family are still sleeping and usually begin by firing up the coffee machine, caffeine is essential! Next is all manner of crazy and it finishes when everything is ticked off. Morning Tea and lunch is on the run, though we will stop for a glass of wine or a cold beer! Dinner is a pie from the pie warmer accompanied by a glass of staff morale. When the day finally ends you return home to find the family asleep as you left them.
You make many different wines, but today we will focus on the Marq range. Tell us about your Marq wines and the inspiration behind them.
Marq Wines is a self indulgent, side project of mine which is about my love of the diverse style of wines throughout the world. I think we should celebrate diversity in wine, diversity in food and diversity in culture and that involves looking beyond what you are familiar with.
Food and wine are inexplicably linked so I think as our food culture expands so must our appreciation of the wines that compliment them. It’s no coincidence that the wine styles throughout the world match their local cuisine. If you enjoy the cuisine of a particular region it’s probably worth trying the wine style.
Where do alternative varietals sit in the Australian wine world? What about within the West Australian and Margaret River wine industry?
Alternative varietals are a miniscule part of the market but I like the idea that the people doing it really believe in it! I make these wines because I want to drink them.
You also teach others the joy of winemaking. Is making wine an art or science?
I love the way these two elements come together. The science side of things is essential to ensure technical wine quality but it’s the passion and art that elevate wine. I think great quality wine requires good technical knowledge, some artistic flare and of course great fruit!
Would a Spaniard recognise your Tempranillo? An Argentinian, your Malbec?
I don’t know, good question! Probably not! But then again I think it doesn’t matter.
Celebrating diversity is not about comparing and conforming, it’s about doing something different and letting people decide if they like it.
Diversity seems to be a recurrent theme for you now. Does Margaret River succeed or suffer from the power trilogy of Cab Sav, Chardy and SSB?
I think it’s an unquestionable reality that great appellations are made and survive on their classic varietals but to me the interesting thing is what constitutes a classic varietal?
In Australia we tend to think about the classic French varieties and styles but in reality if you look a little more broadly you have classic appellation/varietal combinations such as Rioja and Tempranillo, Barolo and Nebbiolo, Chianti and Sangiovese, Sardinia and Vermentino, Alba and Barbera etc. So if you think about it, there are many, highly regarded varieties throughout the world making classic styles but many are not yet part of the Australian consciousness.
Margaret River is quite an amazing viticultural area, it certainly makes world class Cab Sav, Chardonnay and SSB and it’s very unusual for an individual region to be highly regarded for three classic wine styles. There is no doubt the success of these varieties in the region and the marketplace is what underpins the whole Margaret River wine industry. In recent times Margaret River Shiraz has been getting some much deserved attention, particularly as the desired Shiraz style has evolved into something with a bit more finesse rather than the ‘blunt force trauma’ wines of the last decade. In reality, I think the region could grow many other varieties exceptionally well and that is why it’s the perfect place for me to experiment with these alternative styles.
You still make a Chardonnay. It’s not exactly an ‘alternative’. Is it a soft spot for you?
Chardonnay is a soft spot – I love it! We want to explore non-conventional winemaking as well as alternative varieties. For someone like me to make wine and not intervene completely goes against the grain; there is definitely risk with the technique but also a significant gain when it all works out.
It seems strange to attempt something risky like using wild yeasts to ferment your Chardonnay when you are in the business of selling wine. Can it go wrong?
In short yes! Wine fermentations can be difficult to get to completion even with the typical addition of yeast, so not adding any yeast significantly increases the risk of something going wrong. I have been using a small portion of wild ferment in my Chardonnays for years so I have seen the benefits and the risks. I really like the added complexity and texture that the technique gives to wine and I think it is worth the risk on a small scale. I don’t know that I would embrace the ideal for commercial application because of the risks, but it fits perfectly with my Marq Wines label. There is certainly an element of ‘fingers crossed’ with the technique but I do think the result is worth it.
What and who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who enjoy what they are doing. Making wine isn’t just something you do it’s something you are meant to do! I get disheartened when I see a winemaker that thinks this is a job!
An Amarone style Shiraz-released this year. AWESOME!!!!
A what style Shiraz? Can you explain?
As well as alternative varieties I am also interested in non-conventional winemaking techniques. The Wild Ferment Chardonnay is an example of that. So to is the Cut and Dry Shiraz to be released this year. Amarone is an Italian wine style where the grapes are harvested and then laid out to dry before finally being crushed and fermented into wine. The drying process causes the berries to dehydrate and shrivel which has the effect of concentrating the colour, flavour and tannin in the wine. I’ve been making this style for years for a contract client from Cabernet (called Cassiodorus) and have always been amazed how the technique puts a truly unique twist on a familiar variety. Having already done Cabernet, the Shiraz was the obvious variety to try next, and the wine in barrel looks amazing! I can’t wait to show off this wine later in the year.
We can’t wait to try it too. Thanks so much for giving up your time at the busiest time of year.
We got our Marq wines from the East Freo Wine store and Old Bridge Cellars in North Fremantle. The Classroom in North Perth sell the Marq Tempranillo by the glass. Check it out. Read on for Ben’s tasting notes too. Dave.
Marq Tasting Notes
Marq wines are beautifully presented, with very tasteful labeling, the kind that looks quite swish brought to a dinner party. Keep an eye out for the sleek and stylish bottles. As Dave and Mark have discussed, all of the wines we tried are very unusual in style for Margaret River. While they are not standard, Western Australian varietals, Mark has put a Western Australian stamp on them, making it a really interesting bunch to taste!
A very good Western Australian interpretation of this beautiful, Italian varietal. Clean and crisp with orange and lemon flavours. There is a wonderfully European, steely minerality with this wine too, with a very good and very long finish also. Ideal as an aperitif to wake up the taste buds, it would also have the acidity to cut through and pair well with a curry.
Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010
I am a big fan of these wild yeast Chardonnays generally, but found this one to be quite different to what I was anticipating. The expected juicy, tropical fruits are replaced with dried apricot, more reminiscent of a Viognier. There was some of that baked bread and biscuit that is synonymous with a wild yeast wine. This one would pair well with a cheese soufflé or (for the less adventurous) a quiche.
A brave wine maker indeed to attempt this delicate, cool climate varietal in Margaret River. I believe we can say mission accomplished with this one. Different to the Southern Burgundian classic in that it is a fuller and more savoury style, it is still light enough to quaff as an afternoon tipple, and still abounds with lip smacking cherry flavours. We tasted it at room temperature, but, like its French master, I believe you could lightly chill this wine too.
This is a hedonistic brute of a Malbec about as subtle as a head-on with Aaron Sandilands! Big, stewed fruit flavours, and a very big, warm mouth feel. At 15% this wine will certainly shake up any party and it will pair well with a cheeseboard (not the actual board, the cheese on it). Very different to the hailed Argentinian equivalent. Ben.