John Lewis | Margaret River semillon hits mark

A FAVOURITE: Clare and Keith Mugford . . . “unsung hero” semillon is close to their hearts.
A FAVOURITE: Clare and Keith Mugford . . . “unsung hero” semillon is close to their hearts.

SEMILLON brings the Hunter Valley great international renown but it’s not a noted variety in Western Australia’s Margaret River.

Sure Margaret River semillon-sauvignon blends have wide popularity, but cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the area’s poster children.

To Clare and Keith Mugford, however, semillon is the “unsung hero” that has been pivotal in their Moss Wood operation in the northern Wilyabrup sub-region.

At a time when Margaret River has been marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 planting of its first vineyard at Vasse Felix, Moss Wood has enjoyed the distinction of being the area’s second vineyard – established in 1969 by Busselton medico Dr Bill Pannell and his wife Sandra.

With the recent release of the Moss Wood 2017 Margaret River Semillon, Clare and Keith have highlighted the 40th birthday of the marque and its impact on them.

In their early Moss Wood plantings, the Pannells couldn’t get chardonnay cuttings and in 1972 they defied the conventional wisdom favouring riesling and put in semillon.

In 1976 the vines produced a tiny batch of wine that was oak barrel-fermented, but didn’t please the Pannells. They refused to sell the wine but allowed experienced tasters to sample it. 

Among them was them was the WA Governor, Sir Wallace Kyle, who was so impressed he persuaded the Pannells to supply the wine for a 1977 Silver Jubilee tour Government House dinner for the Queen.

It was the only wine of that style and was quickly replaced from the 1977 vintage to the present by semillon made in classic Hunter unoaked manner.

That 1977 wine was to have a profound impact on avid surfer and McLaren Vale-bred Roseworthy College winemaking student Keith Mugford.

As a final-year student in 1978 Keith was introduced to the wine at a dinner with two colleagues from Western Australia.

Keith, who as a student had done vintages in the Hunter with Tullochs and in the Barossa with Orlando, was much impressed and after his 1979 graduation eagerly accepted the Pannells’ offer of a job as Moss Wood winemaker and viticulturist.

When the Pannells retired in 1984 after 15 years running a winery and meeting the demands of family and a busy medical practice, they sold the business to 26-year-old Keith and his wife Clare. 

Today the couple say semillon is close to their hearts.

“It grows like a weed, ripens reliably and produces wines that are lively and vibrant in their youth, but cellar for decades – a true unsung hero,” the Mugfords say.



THE Moss Wood 2017 Margaret River Semillon has more minerality than its Hunter counterparts, but is fine drinking with green-tinted straw hues, gooseberry scents and crisp grapefruit front-palate flavour. Lime zest, mineral and lemon curd meld on the middle palate and the finish has slatey acid. It’s at and fine wine stores.

PRICE: $35.

DRINK WITH: oysters.

AGEING: 10 years.

RATING: 5 stars


THIS Gartelmann 2015 Diedrich Orange Shiraz won best red trophies at the 2016 and 2017 Orange Wine Shows and is at the Lovedale Rd cellar door and It’s deep garnet and has 14.6% alcohol, lavender scents and lifted cassis on the front palate. The middle palate has mulberry, spice and savoury oak and the finish minty tannins.

PRICE: $50.

DRINK WITH: steak.

AGEING: 12 years.

RATING: 5 stars


WITH 12.5% alcohol, ruby red hues and gamey scents, the Mr Mick 2016 Nono Sangiovese-Malbec is perfect for Italian cuisine. The front palate shows spicy cherry flavour, the middle plate rhubarb, licorice, cloves and toasty oak and the finish peppery tannins. It’s on, at the 7 Dominic St, Clare, cellar door and bottle shops. 

PRICE: $17.

DRINK WITH: lasagne.

AGEING: four years.

RATING: 4 stars