Juniper Estate – The Rise and Rise of Malbec

By Fergal Gleeson

Mark Messenger, Juniper Estate’s veteran winemaker

The Rise and Rise of Malbec

Malbec wine is ‘hot property’ in Margaret River right now with demand exceeding supply. I spoke to three winemakers in the region about this ‘trending’ grape.

But first a brief history of Malbec …

Malbec goes right back to the start of the Margaret River winemaking story. It was blended with Cabernet in the region’s first red wine made by Tom Cullity of Vasse Felix. In a nice piece of symmetry Vasse Felix’s current Winemaker Virginia Willcock has reintroduced Malbec into the blend with Cabernet in their greatest red ‘Tom Cullity’.

Malbec’s origins are in the southwest of France. In Cahors it makes rustic, tannic wines that require ageing.  In nearby Bordeaux, it is rare and is used as a blending grape. Argentina has popularised Malbec globally in the modern era making a ripe, full bodied and fruit forward style.

Today Malbec is the fourth most widely planted red varietal in Margaret River after the ‘big three’ of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot.

Juniper Estate

Experienced Juniper Estate Winemaker Mark Messenger has seen the rise in interest in Malbec. “There is a real appetite for different varietals and Malbec ticks a lot of boxes with its approachability yet also its ability for a dense, rich, ripe red too,’ Mark tells me.    

Juniper Estate released their first single varietal Malbec in 2014 as a cellar door release to gauge consumer response. It was overwhelmingly positive.

Mark now makes three different Malbecs. He jokes, “So you could say I am strongly committed to Margaret River Malbec!”

“The Juniper Estate Malbec is a serious style with structure and will age, but we have introduced an easy early drinking style under our Higher Plane label which is made using carbonic maceration (whole bunch ferment) and is bottled shortly after vintage for immediate drinking being a soft, juicy and spicy style.

I also make a Malbec under my own label, ‘Beneath The Kite’”.

Does the style of Malbec made in Argentina or France influence yours?

“No. The climate and soils of Margaret River are my influence. Argentina is continental and usually high altitude so a complete contrast to Margaret River and they have different clones too with a similar story in France.”

Mark tells me that Malbec is known as a versatile grape with winemakers as it can be blended with any of the Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) and also Shiraz,

 “Recognition of this wonderful variety is still growing,” Mark says.

“When you have neighbours (Vasse Felix) reintroducing Cabernet Malbec as their flagship wine the future for Malbec in Margaret River is assured. We are planting more Malbec for our straight varietal wines for Juniper and Higher Plane as demand is out stripping supply.”  

Mark Messenger, Juniper Estate – Grilled mushrooms, to pasta to barbecued/grilled meats, to just a lovely glass on its own!

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From Margaret River Region Magazine.

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