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Meet Carissa Major and Marnie Roberts of Claymore Wines

Get to know the ladies behind Claymore Wines -General Manager Carissa Major and Winemaker, Marnie Roberts

Carrisa, you say you “had the good fortune to fall into” the wine industry days after your 18th birthday – what’s the story behind that good fortune? 

As in real estate – location location location! I grew up at the southern end of the Clare Valley, had travelled throughout my 17th year (thanks to the possibly misguided generosity of my parents) then landed back into the Clare Valley…a little bit jobless and without a sense of purpose. The idea of university for uni’s sake was less than appealing so my one year gap turned into two and through friends of the family I wound up with a position at Knappstein Wines Cellar Door. Tim was still on site then and I found the whole staff tastings both inspirational and intimidating but got enough out of them to want to learn more. Andrew Hardy had a similar approach to staff engagement so what started off as a spark became something a little more…so basically, I had the right door open at the right time. Got sucked in and found this amazing industry that brings people together while opening up the world.

Given the quirky nature of the brand, do you have to bring out your inner quirks too?

Well it’s not hard really…they are never too far from the surface! The best thing about the brand is that link to music informs so much of the fun every day and provides a motivating backdrop to the workplace. There is nothing better than an impromptu Friday afternoon singalong with customers as Meatloaf cranks out of the sound system (and yes that really did and does happen!)

 Are you a Voodoo Child, or do you like a splash of Purple Rain, or do you hear London calling? (i.e. what’s your favourite Claymore wine and does your love of the wine match your fondness for its namesake?)

Oh there are too many to choose from; from a wine perspective though I do have a soft spot for London Calling. It took a few years to win the boss over to Malbec – he’s more of a Merlot kind of guy – but it just shines in Clare and paired with cabernet it makes for such approachable drinking without compromising depth and intensity. One day I may be able to release that straight Malbec…not sure what label I’d choose though.

Can you recall the first wine you tried?

Easy one – we grew up farming on the outskirts of Auburn in the shadow of Taylors wines so it was their white wines that graced our family table for special occasions. From the age of about 12 I was allowed a half pour if their amazingly bone dry, fully worked Chardonnay which I would duly sip over the course of a meal. It was dry, acid and complex for my junior palate and I recall grimacing after the first taste but would never dare leave a drop…it was wayyyy too special!

What do you think is special about your wine region?

There is an easy intimacy to the Clare Valley that you don’t see in many other regions; intimate without being aloof or removed. From a wine perspective there is an underlying elegance to the wines we produce here – even those 15.8% brooding monsters carry an underpinning structure that balances that intensity. Any region that can pull off our delicately structured Rieslings that defy expectation with just how powerful they can be and at the same time produce complex, finely drawn cabernet and nuanced yet flavour busting shiraz has to be special. It’s a multi-faceted little dynamo that continues to surprise and delight..and the locals aren’t a bad lot either!

Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory?

We spent many early years holidaying at Elliston on the West Coast in the family shack – total beachfront, tumble down tiny fibro thing that we’d have to drive seemingly endless distances to get to while listening to the Australia Open on the radio (?). Fishing off the beach and jetty, grandma’s garfish and squid for breakfast pan fried in truckloads of butter and playing tennis on asphalt courts then jumping into the ocean to cool off. Oh – nostalgia overload!

Now I like to recreate that sense of simple pleasure and we still holiday in shacks (just closer to home on the Yorke Peninsula) and chase fish and squid from the jetty and beach while fossicking in rockpools, building sandcastles and eating hot chips. Except now I chase it all down with a Riesling or two – best ever with fresh shucked oysters!

And Marnie, as Claymore Wines winemaker do you have to make the wines to match the songs? Or does lyrical inspiration come after the tasting?

The link of wines and songs seems to naturally evolve. The base constant is always to create the best wine to start with and I suppose, yes, doesn’t everyone get inspired in some way when they are drinking wine?! Certain labels do make complete sense to me. Nirvana is a Reserve Shiraz and drinking it you hope to reach a state of Nirvana. Dark Side of the Moon is our Clare Shiraz and it has the elegance and dark seductive fruit layered over oak.

Do you get to name any of the wines?

We all have input and suggestions which can be quite amusing. I got Skinny Love across the line which came to me in the car while singing it at the top of my lungs….the Claymore version of 'Car Pool Karaoke'.

Was it your dream of being a rock star that drew you to Claymore?

The Rockstar dream is still my back up occupation if the winemaking thing falls through. So far, the music world is safe. I do love the idea of the music and wine. I think to make good wine you have to have an element of love for the arts and the creation of things. Wine and Music just make sense  - both are so evocative and amazing for setting a sense of  place and time. All those great moments, you know the BIG celebrations in life can usually be tracked back in the memory banks tied to a particular wine or song!

What is your favourite wine to make?

I don’t think I could pick a variety or a style as such. I love the process and the chance to follow it the whole way through. From the vineyard basics of pruning and harvesting to ferment to batching to oak to tank to bottle to mouth….it’s an amazing journey that I get to guide these babies through.

When did you fall in love with wine?

Growing up on a block in Mildura that went from citrus to dried fruit to winegrapes, I have always had an appreciation for the fruit. The love of wine was the next step. I remember the cask wine in my parents’ fridge in the 80s and then the big purchases of wine in a bottle. I remember one night, when I was around 19 or 20, going to a friend’s house who was studying to be a winemaker and he opened a 1994 Lindemans Pyrus. A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before.

Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’?

I love to cook. With a toddler and husband that works away, time is limited but when I can, I love to invite friends around and cook. Homemade pasta with a trio of different sauce options is always a winner. The other is a stuffed squid. A recipe I have had for about 20 years and it never seems to fail.

What do you do to relax away from the winery?

I love to chill at home but my favourite getaways are anywhere near the water. I love the beach in winter and the river in summer. Anytime with my family is a bonus and I have great friends who are around for a catch up…which usually includes wine and food!

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Embracing isolation with Frankland Estate’s Hunter Smith
To celebrate the Frankland Estate Riesling 2015 being our October Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Hunter Smith to talk isolation, organics and a special Guinea fowl. What was it like growing up in Frankland River – WA’s most isolated wine region? Looking back, amazing! The concept of isolation was not there, we had total freedom after school (a thriving 60-student primary school) to go horse riding, rabbit trapping and yabbie catching, help out on the farm, kayak down the Frankland River, camp, fish and explore on the spectacular south coast and have big farm picnics where friends would join us at the farm and the folks would drink magnums of red well into the evening around a big fire.   Your parents weren’t always in the grape-growing game – how did that come about? Farming and the land are a big part of both my father’s and mother’s family histories in Australia. My father Barrie grew up on a vineyard in South Australia’s Riverland and his family moved to a farm in the Frankland River region back in the 50s, so I guess it was always in his blood. Fast forward a little and Judi and Barrie met in Perth and purchased a farm in Frankland River down the road a bit from my grandparents and started farming sheep and wheat. Dad was always making a barrel of wine a year and in the early 1980s, Judi and he went on a trip through France with Bill Hardy and let’s just say they got the bug to plant some vines. The first vines were planted in 1988 and, over time, sheep numbers have gone from 15,000 to pretty much just a handful now as the wine business has become our main focus. Did you always imagine you’d end up working in the wine industry? Standing in 5ºC pruning vines in the middle of a Frankland River winter would make any teenager look for greener pastures. I was adamant I would do anything but winemaking and grape growing. I spent 10 years after school in university and travelling and this made me realise how much I loved the industry and the region in which we farm our vines. A vintage with Eric and Bertold Salomon in Kremstal, Austria was probably the point in time when it all changed for me. Given how pristine the Frankland River region is, and the fact that it’s virtually pollution free, is there a commitment among local growers to organic viticulture? I think generally, viticulturists are looking to be as sustainable as possible and this region is very much that way inclined, we have a very complementary climate to help with this. While we remain the only certified organic vineyard and winery in the Frankland River region, there is a big move in this direction.
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The Best Margaret River Wineries and Cellar Doors
Celebrated British wine critic, Jancis Robinson once remarked that " Margaret River  is the closest thing to paradise of any wine region I have visited in my extensive search for knowledge." Not only does it combine all the best qualities for viticulture and produce sublime  Chardonnay  and  Cabernet Sauvignon , but it's also downright beautiful! To help plan your trip to this internationally renowned wine region, we've selected a collection of Margaret River wineries that provide the best cellar door experience, plus we've included a handy interactive map down below. Wine Selectors Tasting Panellist, winemaker, and wine show judge,  Dave Mavor , is certainly a fan of the region, "Margaret River blows me away every time with the incredible quality of its wines."  "One of the reasons for its success is the Mediterranean-style climate, which means it doesn't experience extremes in summer and winter, ensuring superb growing conditions. With the addition of thorough viticulture and winemaking practices, you have what it takes to produce consistently high-quality fruit, resulting in many award-winning wines," Dave explains. Margaret River Wineries List Arima
Located down a dirt road in the northwest of Margaret River's famed Wilyabrup sub-region, Arimia is home to a small organically farmed vineyard, kitchen garden, and a cellar door restaurant. There's a great range of wines available on their tasting menu that encompass both Margaret River classics and emerging alternative styles to enjoy while you learn more about organic farming and winemaking practices. The excellent restaurant has a fantastic menu with ingredients sourced and produced on the property for a complete estate experience. 242 Quininup Road, Yallingup -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm www.arimia.com.au Swings & Roundabouts Cellar Door and Taphouse
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Located in the picturesque Willyabrup Valley, Hay Shed Hill produces single vineyard wines that express the character of this outstanding Margaret River site. There are over 25 wines available to sample, from classic Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay through to emerging alternate varieties such as Malbec and  Tempranillo   - all are perfectly matched to the Mediterranean tapas available in the Rustico at Hay Shed Hill restaurant. And, if you're a cheese lover then you're in luck, as Rustico have what might be the largest selection of European cheeses in the South West! 511 Harmans Mill Rd, Wilyabrup  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Hay Shed Hill website Howard Park
Less than five minutes drive from Margaret River's famous beaches, the Howard Park cellar is the perfect place to unwind after an early morning surf or swim. This striking modern cellar door is set on 138 hectares of native bushland, surrounded by the region's iconic marri and karri trees and spacious lawns where you are able to borrow a blanket or bocce set and enjoy a glass or bottle of wine under the West Australian sun. You'll have the unique opportunity to sample and compare wines from both Margaret River and  Great Southern  wine regions, with excellent wines featuring grapes sourced from Howard Park's four individual estate vineyards. 543 Miamup Rd, Cowaramup  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Howard Park website Killerby Wines
Nestled on the ridge of Yallingup and only 10 minutes from Dunsborough, the Killerby Wines cellar door is home to picturesque views over the Wildwood Valley on Caves Road. A visit here will allow you the chance to immerse yourself in the history of the family in the region over the past 90 years and an opportunity to taste the premium range of award winning wines. With sweeping views across the vineyards and Wildwood Valley, the Tuscan style Cellar door and terrace is the perfect setting to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy our wines on the large lawn area. 2715 Caves Rd, Wilyabrup -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the Killerby website Hamelin Bay Wines
Nestled on a hilltop amongst a beautiful vineyard with views over an idyllic lake, sits the Hamelin Bay winery and cellar door. Hamelin Bay 's wines are estate grown and, with 11 Royal Show Trophies and medals too numerous to count, they have built a reputation for producing wines of distinction. Sample their spectacular wines accompanied by a platter of local produce, while you relax outdoors on the verandah. McDonald Rd, Karridale -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 4:45 pm Visit the Hamelin Bay website Redgate Wines
Bill Ullinger, an ex-Lancaster Bomber pilot, established Redgate in 1977. As for the name Redgate, in keeping with Bill's character, there was once a property close by that had a reputation for producing very good moonshine. In recognition of the service that this farmer offered the community, Bill named his property and wines after the infamous red gate at the entry of that property. This picturesque cellar door is the perfect place to sample the exquisite (and highly awarded) Cabernet Sauvignon and oaked Chardonnay. 659 Boodjidup Rd, Margaret River -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 4:30 pm Visit the Redgate Wines website Credaro
Cesar Credaro's first foray into winemaking was to provide wines for the family table and those of his friends family's after arriving in Margaret River in 1922. 90 years later, Cesar's legacy of sharing excellent wines with friends and family, lives on at the charming Credaro Family Estate . With sweeping views across the vineyards and Wildwood Valley, this Tuscan style cellar door and terrace is the perfect setting to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy our wines on the large lawn area. 2715 Caves Rd, Yallingup -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10:30 am to 5 pm Visit the Credaro website Vasse Felix
When Dr. Tom Cullity planted the first Cabernet vines in 1967 at Vasse Felix, Margaret River arguably got its start as a premium wine region. Today, this extraordinary estate and architectural marvel of a winery is a must visit during any trip to the region. With a famed restaurant, cellar door, wine lounge and a gallery brimming with one of the nation's largest private art collections, Vasse Felix is a destination in and of itself. Make sure to book one of the behind the scenes winery tours, that operate during the week, to learn more about how premium Australian wines are crafted. 2715 Caves Rd, Yallingup -  View on our Margaret River Map Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm Visit the V asse Felix website Margaret River Winery Map Planning a trip to Margaret River? Download our interactive Margaret River winery map. To save on your browser or device,  click here. For more information on visiting Margaret River, be sure to visit the official  Margaret River region website  or stop by the Margaret River Information Centre in the centre of town. But, if you'd like to sample some of the wineries listed in this guide before you visit, explore our wide selection of Margaret River wines and find out more about the wineries listed here in our  Meet the Makers section  . And, with the Wine Selectors Regional Release program   , you'll experience a different wine region each release with all wines expertly selected by our Tasting Panel, plus you'll receive comprehensive tasting notes and fascinating insights into each region. Visit our  Regular Deliveries  page to find out more!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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