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2019 Wineslinger People’s Choice Winner

2019 Wineslinger People’s Choice Winner...

Congratulations to the team at Settlers Tavern Margaret River. They’ve just won the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Wineslinger Awards. We caught up with proprietor Karen Gough to talk about the Tav, Margaret River wine and doing it right. Explore Langton’s portfolio of wines from Western Australia.

On what winning the People’s Choice Award means to her, Karen was a bit lost for words. ‘It’s hard to say. It means so much that it’s a People’s Choice Award. But it was just nice to be standing up there on stage with these young gun winemakers. We have their wines at the bar, we support young winemakers. So it is nice to be recognised.’

‘there's no going back...

And when we asked her what it meant for the Tav, Karen didn’t mince her words. ‘It’s really good. It shows that people like good wine. In the winter, they come here in their Ugg boots. Wine is not stuffy. Anyone who thinks that, I mean, get the hell out of here. Once you taste the good stuff, there’s no going back. Who wants to drink s**t wine? And good doesn’t mean expensive.’

Wine can lend itself to pretence but there’s no room for that at the Settlers Tavern Margaret River. Locals call it “the Tav.” Except in the case of the Tav, its locals are not all local. Fruit pickers, winemakers, tourists and industry people in town to do business, those drawn to the area are drawn to the Tav. On his recent tour of Australia with Nick Stock, James Suckling stopped by.

After returning to Australia from San Francisco in 2003, Karen, who imported Australian wine, and Rob, who sommed at top restaurants, wanted a place of their own. Looking for a different pace from the frenetic world of San Fran hospitality, Margaret River beckoned Karen and Rob home.

‘..all it had was a kitchen and a liquor license.

In the early to mid 2000s in Margaret River, they found it hard to get a good glass of wine and eat casually, but well. Finding wines that weren’t just local wasn’t easy. After taking over the Tav, selling wines from outside the region to people who worked at local wineries was its own challenge. ‘Things are different now. Back then, liquor licencing was quite tricky. When we got here, the Tav was just a surfers’ bar. There wasn’t much to it, it was a bit run down and all it had was a kitchen and a liquor license.’ 

Karen and Sam Winfield of Wines of While.

Karen and Sam Winfield of Wines of While. Photo by James Morgan.

Things have changed. Margaret River wine has changed in the last twenty years. The town has grown, tourism has taken off and the world-class wines and winery experiences are drawing people to the area. Today, the region could hardly be said to lack confidence. Winemakers in the region are happy, if not eager, to show their wares next to the wines of their contemporaries in Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley. Many of them are on show at the Tav. 

Karen insists on knowing as much as possible (her staff too) about where the wine she serves comes from. ‘We have an open and honest approach to what we sell and we know exactly where the wine is from.’ Young winemakers looking to put their wares and talents on show have to be on their toes. 

Repeat visits are rewarded with a changing roster of wines on pour or under Coravin. ‘You can come in and taste all these wines. Like when the James Halliday awards came out and all those Margaret River wines won best of category, we had them. So we put them on because people wanted to taste them. And we always have the Leeuwin Art Series.’ 

There is no single box to tick to make the cut to get on the wine list, but a clever label isn’t going to be enough. What’s in the bottle, the substance, is what matters. And that goes well beyond the wine. One of the most memorable parts of a visit to the Tav is the welcome. That comes from Karen making sure that everyone who works there, knows what the Tav is about. It’s something she (and Rob) have built over 15 years, and they’re always looking forward.   

‘Once you start doing things right, you can’t go back.’

A year before it was required by law, they called time on smoking at the venue. After that, they stopped using plastic bags and straws. As evidenced by the menu, they work with a host of local producers. ‘Once you start doing things right, you can’t go back.’ That extends to her 80 staff. ‘You just have to pay them, treat them and train them well. Getting good staff who are experienced in hospitality is a challenge out here, so we have to train them. A lot of places don’t take the time to get that right. The most important thing is that the people who come here feel welcome.’ 

Margaret River Wine has built a reputation for premium wine in a relatively short time. Classic Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are, of course, the mainstays of the Langton’s Classification

Karen Gough of Settler’s Tavern. Photo by James Morgan.

With growing international standing, confidence and more producers in Margaret River, are things changing in the region? ‘Chardonnay is still the queen. What we’re seeing are more refined styles. Some winemakers are playing with amphora and how they are making the wine. Virginia (Wilcock, Vasse Felix) is doing interesting things with more textural Sauvignon Blancs. Vanya (Cullen, Cullen Wines) is using Verdelho. There’s a lot of Chenin Blanc. Malbec is very popular. In fact, at the moment I’d have Malbec over a Cabernet.’ 

Afterwards, Karen added that her all-time favourite is Nebbiolo/Barolo (a bold admission in Margaret River) and has stacked her list at the Tav with the king of Italian wine–a hard-earned and welcome indulgence. 

Langton’s is proud to partner with the Young Gun of Wine for their 2019 Wineslinger Awards. As wine slingers ourselves for more than 30 years, we have helped grow the Australian fine wine market through our Auctions, our expert Wine Brokerage and the Langton’s Classification, now in its 7th Edition.   

To find out more, visit Settlers Tavern Margaret River.

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ABN: 77 159 767 843. New South Wales: Liquor Act 2007. It is against the law to sell or supply alcohol to, or to obtain alcohol on behalf of, a person under the age of 18 years. License Number: LIQP770010303 Victoria: Victoria Liquor Control Reform Act 1998: It is an offence to supply alcohol to a person under the age of 18 years (Penalty exceeds $17,000), for a person under the age of 18 years to purchase or receive liquor (Penalty exceeds $700). License Number: 32055289