It is just six months shy of 40 years since Keith Mugford first rolled up at the gates of Moss Wood. And it was very early days for Margaret River as the local timber and dairy industries began their terminal decline and the locals first saw the odd vineyard planted in the surrounding and picturesque rolling hills. No doubt the many surfers did not know what to make of the influx of vignerons buying up parcels of land with dreams of crafting world class wines.
Local visionaries Bill and Sandra Pannell had started planting Moss Wood in 1969 and ten years later Bill began the search for a qualified viticulturist and winemaker to assist. He made enquiries with his friends, including Bill Hardy of the famous Hardy winemaking clan, looking for some talent and the young Hardy knew of a local Doctor’s son whom he thought may fit the bill.
Keith Mugford had grown up in McLaren Vale, surrounded by many winemaking families, which no doubt lead him on the path, first for formal wine study at Roseworthy, and secondly to find himself at Moss Wood under Bill and Sandra Pannell. Keith and Bill worked closely together and formed a strong bond crafting many wines that still drink well to this day. Clare and Keith Mugford first leased and then went on to purchase Moss Wood in 1985 from the Pannells – that bond forged between the two families as they laid the foundations to Moss Wood remaining strong to this day.
Keith timed his move to Margaret River exquisitely and as one of the first trained viticulturist winemakers in the region he was at a distinct advantage. The region had already attracted a group of passionate and skillful enthusiasts who would between them set Margaret River on its meteoric rise from holiday destination to global superstar.
“It was a wonderful time to be part of, everybody prickled and sparkled with the enthusiasm for the excitement of a new shiny produce that was interesting, cool, exciting to grow, steeped in history but so, so new for this area. All the early wine pioneers were idealists, perfectionists in their own careers and determined to bring that resolve and those high standards to what that they chose to pursue in their spare time. Keith and I were privileged to be swept along with them.” They may have been swept along at first but it was not long before the wines of Moss Wood were also considered amongst the region’s finest – particularly the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. And today, while many of the region’s pioneers have stepped away from the day to day management of their wineries and vineyards, Keith and Clare remain intimately involved in all steps of the winemaking process at Moss Wood, with sons Tristan and Hugh keen to follow.
But it was not only the skill and hard work or its first vignerons that drove the region’s success – Margaret River also enjoyed a spectacular natural advantage in terms of its climate and natural environment. Located close to the coastline, with the moderating influences of water to the North, West and South, the wines from Margaret River manage to retain a sense of elegance in even the warmest vintages and from a wide range of grape varieties. Moss Wood, located 3 kilometers from the coastline, also enjoys gravelly loam soils that provide an elegant savoury style for the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and four percent Petit Verdot when vintages permit, as does a gentle hand in the winery.
While red wines from the original estate red wine plantings have long been the stars at the winery, recent vintages have seen the rise of new vineyards, particularly Ribbon Vale, and white wines in the Moss Wood stable. Ribbon Vale is planted close to and on similar soils to the Moss Wood Estate and creates superb reds if in an earlier drinking style to the Estate vineyard. The Moss Wood Chardonnay, grown on the original estate, is also seemingly gaining greater refinement and delicacy with every vintage.
The wines from Moss Wood, much like their proprietors, are never flashy and brash; they never jump out of the glass and demand attention. But what they do invariably do is show understated strength and power yet in a reserved and elegant style. That combination of power and finesse is at the core of what makes the wines from Moss Wood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in exceptional vintages such as 2015, worth seeking out.