&noscript=1"/>

Voyager Estate, Margaret River Steve James

Top Vineyards

In the Stevens Valley in the subregion of Wallcliffe, Voyager Estate is one of Margaret River’s oldest vineyards, first planted in the late 1970s (though it was called Freycinet Estate until 1991). Today, under the watchful eye of viticulturist Steve James, the vineyard occupies over 100 hectares, with the regional stars chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon taking the lead, though there are another 12 varieties planted, including tempranillo and grenache. Recent organic certification now applies to the winery and over a third of the vines, with the remainder not far behind.

Planted over 113 hectares, the Voyager Estate vineyard was first established in 1978, but has constantly evolved over the years, with chardonnay, semillon, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris, chenin blanc, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc, malbec, tempranillo and grenache now in the ground.

Steve James has worked as the viticulturist at Voyager for over two decades, and he is now overseeing the transition of the entire operation to organic management. That process initially began with a block of the original cabernet sauvignon plantings, which has been organically farmed since 2004, though not certified.

“We’re always on the lookout for new environmental initiatives,” notes James. “I’m a huge believer in the benefits of revegetation, and we have planted over 70,000 native plants on our property through revegetation programs.”

James was encouraged by the results, with renowned soil scientist Claude Bourguignon also praising the soil structure and the development of deep root systems when he visited in 2018. Bourguignon readily identified that performance as being due to their long-term organic practices, which James had already began expanding through over a third of the vineyard.

“He was particularly impressed with the porosity of the topsoil,” says James, “richness of the clay at depth and the vertical root structure of the vines penetrating deeply into the stony clay subsoil … encouraged by many years of no herbicide use and the ongoing use of compost and natural products. This type of root structure encourages the expression of a sense of place in the wines – this is where the minerality and other earthy complexing elements come from.”

As of 2020, nearly 40 hectares were certified organic (ACO), while the winery was also certified as an organic processor, and James estimates that by 2023 the entire property will have progressed out of conversion. Initially, James didn’t want to overwhelm the viticulture team with new methods, but he notes that the team embraced the process, and therefore began rolling it out more quickly, with benefits that have actually proven to make their job somewhat easier.

Steve James highlights the porosity of Voyager Estate's topsoil and the vertical root structure of the vines penetrating deeply into the stony clay subsoil.
“The wines are now less dominated by varietal expression and are revealing added dimensions such as earthiness and mineral characters without overt fruitiness. The tannins have become finer and the fruit flavours are more savoury, complex and layered… I’ve always loved the term winegrower to describe viticulturists,” he adds, “because that is what we do.”

“One of our biggest challenges is actually garden weevils,” says James, “and we’re combating this through organic farming practices with under-vine cultivation and the encouragement of beneficial insects through flowering cover crops. Interestingly, this has given us natural control, which is achieving a better result than with chemical control.”

The management process doesn’t stop at organics, either, with broader issues very much on the agenda. “Climate Change is an issue of paramount importance,” says James, “not only for the survival of our species, but also in the way it specifically impacts our industry. We are ultimately working towards becoming a carbon negative business. We’re currently building and recording baseline soil carbon levels in the pursuit of this goal.”

Voyager estate is a certified member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia and they have also created an Environmental Stewardship Team, which reports to all aspects of the business to refine operations. “We’re always on the lookout for new environmental initiatives,” notes James. “I’m a huge believer in the benefits of revegetation, and we have planted over 70,000 native plants on our property through revegetation programs.”

The lifecycle of the growing season, from budburst in spring...
...to flowering...
...to veraison (when pigmentation emerges in the grape skins) in summer...
...to harvest of cabernet sauvignon. "I’ve always loved the term winegrower to describe viticulturists,” says Steve James, “because that is what we do.”

Through international offsetting projects, the entire Voyager Estate operation has been carbon neutral since 2017, which includes any air travel associated with the business. Additionally, a 100-kilowatt solar unit was installed on the winery in 2018 to reduce their dependence on the grid. Wastewater is treated onsite and used to water revegetated farmland, while native reed beds have been established to reduce runoff.

James believes that the holistic approach that underpins operations at Voyager Estate is also vital in better expressing their terroir. “Wise land management is critical for a myriad of environmental reasons and is also crucial in enabling us to make wines which express a true sense of place. Ultimately, we want to work with nature rather than trying to manipulate or control it, encouraging biodiversity and ensuring long-term sustainability of the land.”

Sheep grazing through the vineyard in winter.

In the vineyard, James has a very hands-on approach, in that the work is exhaustively manual, from pruning, to thinning, to picking and sorting, which is a significant labour exercise over 113 hectares. No matter the scale, James insists this level of detail is vital in achieving the best wines possible, with each plant tended with a “single-vine mentality” to achieve consistent performance in individual blocks, ensuring even ripening and quality to make the best wine possible.

“We are blessed with a naturally very beautiful site, and I think our focus on producing wines which are a pure expression of place is what I am most proud of,” says James. “This actually takes a deliberate focus and is distilled over time out of many factors, with organic farming being one of them.

“The wines are now less dominated by varietal expression and are revealing added dimensions such as earthiness and mineral characters without overt fruitiness. The tannins have become finer and the fruit flavours are more savoury, complex and layered… I’ve always loved the term winegrower to describe viticulturists,” he adds, “because that is what we do.”