Voyager Estate
27 April 2023 | Voyager Estate


April marked the 25th anniversary of the official opening of the Voyager Estate Cellar Door to the public, and to commemorate this milestone, our Proprietor Alexandra Burt shares a little insight into how one man's vision came to life…

“My father and founder of Voyager Estate, Michael Wright (1937-2012), was a wheat and wool farmer, an entrepreneur and a keen traveller. He was inspired by the grand cellar doors he visited in the Cape area of South Africa. Arguably well ahead of Australia at that time, they had a focus on creating high-quality yet accessible visitor experiences. Most of the cellar doors in the Cape winelands were welcoming people seven days a week without needing an appointment – quite different to the more exclusive approach taken by the French and Italian houses. Immediately, he saw the connection between this broader approach to tourism and the burgeoning scene in Margaret River.

Armed with this knowledge from his experiences in South Africa, Michael embarked on one of his most treasured projects: building the cellar door and garden at Voyager Estate. It was a vision that came to life in multiple stages over many years and was realised with limitless passion, determination, and an unwavering commitment to detail.

Michael chose the Cape Dutch style of architecture and landscaping simply because he really, really liked it. The blend of highly-detailed, crisp, white edifices with formal yet verdant gardens had an aesthetic appeal that he thought would surely be attractive to others too – a place people would want to see and experience for themselves and a memorable way to introduce people to Voyager Estate wines.

Many gifted designers and practitioners played a role in the creation of our cellar door and garden. Perhaps the man of that hour and very much Michael’s partner-in-crime was the celebrated WA architect, Geoffrey Summerhayes. Our builder, and the local hero of this story, Gordon Temby, was also virtually a permanent staff member for the better part of ten years and knows where every pipe and conduit is buried.

Geoffrey Summerhayes’s connections in South Africa opened the door to numerous other collaborators, each an expert in their field and many of whom also became dear friends of the family. Two among these were Michael Olivier and Jay Smith. Celebrated restaurateur and chef, Michael Olivier, brought a lively and different approach to the restaurant offering, as well as the bonus expertise of his wife and front-of-house partner, Maddie, whilst Jay Smith brought warmth and hospitality to the fore with his authentic interiors.

For the first phase of the extensive, traditional Cape Dutch gardens, Michael used the expertise of the local doyenne of landscape architecture, Marion Blackwell. Marion laid out the original landscaping master plan and conjured the initial essence of the plantings that would eventually take shape. Subsequent to Marion’s contribution, Michael engaged the South African duo of Ian Ford and Deon Bronkhorst to complete the design and oversee the planting out of the garden. They, too, made an extraordinary commitment to this project, bringing passion and humility with them.

Here it is worth a special mention to our Gardens team, headed up for many years now by Lynden Davies. In particular, I’d like to shine a spotlight on our long-time in-house horticulturist, Sandra Thomas, who was part of some of the earliest developments in the garden and planted many of the mature plants you see today. 

The whole project was a long labour of love. Although the building and garden were completed in 1996, it wasn’t until 1998 the Estate officially opened to visitors. Michael thought the plants and trees were too immature and not ready for public viewing so, true to his preference of getting timing right, he put the opening on hold by two years. Stage one was soon followed by a renovation, with the Restaurant opening in 2001. Also, around that time, part of the existing garden was temporarily removed to make way for the excavation and construction of an underground barrel cellar, believed to be Western Australia’s largest.

For Michael, the Cape Dutch aesthetic brought something distinct and timeless to the region. Whitewashed walls feature throughout the property, constructed in meticulous detail. These originated with the early custom of waterproofing mud brick with mortar using sand, lime and shell grit. A piece of wood and a bath sponge created the ruffled effect on the surface. Cobblestone pathways were paved with grey cobbles imported directly from South Africa, to remain true to the Cape Dutch style. (In fact, importing those cobbles was one of my earliest jobs in the business and it was so complicated that I felt qualified for my own import-export licence by the end.)

In the garden surrounding the Cellar Door, the Cape Dutch influence can be seen in the balanced axial design, which runs north-south and east-west and features distinct walled garden beds, or werf gardens, as they are known in South Africa. These are inspired by the ancient walled gardens of Persia and, as the story goes, were traditionally built to keep out lions and other predators from farms and homesteads. At the centre of these axis lines is a tranquil pond for symmetry. Thousands of plants were sourced and planted by the team to fill the iconic garden, which have taken on a new life under the organics program.

And then there is the famous lawn. In former days, so perfect was the green that many a visitor would caress the lawn under the palm of their hand to see that it was real. Since our move to organic gardening, we have had to learn to embrace imperfection as it simply isn’t possible to fashion that flawless carpet of green without chemicals. I know my father would be disappointed – he was always so proud of the lawn – but times have changed and, I suspect, so would have he. 

The cellar door experience we offer today, in the Wine Room and in the Restaurant, has come a long way from those first offerings in 1998. I recently welcomed some guests whose last visit was 21 years ago – in 2002 – and they remarked how much it had changed, and yet how much it still felt the same. To me, it’s a proof point that we have, over 25 years, managed to stay true to Michael’s original promise of an exceptional wine experience, delivered with warmth and generosity, for people from all walks of life to enjoy. I know that, for as long as we maintain our dedication to sustainability, to innovation and to our team, we will always be able to offer that same spirit of welcome to anyone coming to visit this special patch of land we call home.”



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