Planted in 1969 Moss Wood is an important, founding estate of the Margaret River wine region, located in the northern sub–region of Wilyabrup, Western Australia. Chief winemaker & viticulturalist Keith Mugford has been making wine & tending the vineyard at Moss Wood since 1979. In 1984 he was joined by his wife Clare. Their exacting viticulture ensures the production of grapes of excellent quality & they have created a stable of fine wines distinguished by their consistency over each vintage & their ability to age superbly. The Moss Wood & Mugford names are synonymous with uncompromising quality & since 2000 their admirable viticultural holdings include Ribbon Vale Vineyard. By going to our Purchase tab you can purchase our current wines. By becoming a Moss Wood member you can enjoy further benefits, including 15% off all wine purchases. We hope you enjoy the experience.
Clare and Keith Mugford.
In 1984 Clare and Keith Mugford married, leased and became managing partners of Moss Wood Vineyard and Winery followed by ownership in 1985. This was the beginning of a journey of great excitement and adventure working with one of the finest vineyards in Australia.
This land was previously farmed, from 1868, firstly by an American Whaler, John Adams and his new young Wife Mary, who as Mary Smith had travelled to Ellensbrook with Ellen Bussell, from Busselton to help her with her family. Adams had jumped ship from one of the passing Whalers, apparently a not so infrequent occurrence and had been welcomed with open arms by the Bussell family who had been struggling in the absence of their patriarch who was away droving cattle. Mary and John farmed the Moss Wood property, which they had named Marylands in honour of his homeland, until it was taken up by the Kisella family who in turn farmed it until 1904. The land remained vacant for some years until a German immigrant Ernie Rapts took it up. He was interned during the Second World War but returned to his farm until his death at which time the land was sold to the Guthrie family from whom Bill and Sandra Pannell, purchased it in 1969.
Bill had a passion to grow the great grape varieties of France and was determined to access the best possible site. His search was informed, like that of other pioneers of the Margaret River area, by the work of Perth agronomist Dr John Gladstones (completed 1966) who favoured the region for its consistent and suitable climate for growing grapes and a visit to Western Australia by Professor Harold Olmo, from the University of California at Davis in 1955. Olmo also identified other Western Australian regions as climatically similar to the great European vineyard areas but noted that Margaret River had a more reliable rainfall. Bill Pannell, after digging many holes around the Margaret River hinterland, chose the Moss Wood site for its soils and aspect.
In 1979 Keith arrived fresh from graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology from Roseworthy College in South Australia and having completed vintages at Tullochs (1977) and Orlando (1978).
Clare started her working life in banking and then as a Registered Nurse at Royal Perth Hospital, Western Australia.In 1984, the newly married Mugfords leased the Moss Wood vineyard and winery and became managing partners of the then 20 acre vineyard (on 80 acres of land) and small winery producing 3,000 cases of wine annually. During this year the sale of the property was negotiated and in July 1985 the Mugfords assumed full ownership. It has been, and continues to be, an interesting and challenging journey for both of them.
Many newly trialled and significant viticultural improvements, in line with new developments in vine management, in Australia, were instituted producing better grape exposure for ripening; and production grew to 6000 cases by the year 2000. During this period Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc were planted to add to the traditional Bordeaux blend plus small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were also planted. The 1996 vintage saw a positive change to the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wine. Already a sought after, rich style, it was concluded that the whole production of this wine could greatly benefit from an additional 12 months in oak. This had been trialled for many years previously with a barrel of the very best years held back in oak for a further twelve months and released as the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve. This wine was always well received but created great angst for the proprietors while they tried to eek it out fairly to all their enthusiastic customers. Deciding to give all Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon this treatment created a further business problem. The Cabernet Sauvignon provided a major component of the winery’s cash flow and would be sorely missed when one whole release year was skipped. As luck would have it, Ian Bell, a long time employee of Moss Wood, offered to sell the Mugfords some Cabernet Sauvignon to make a stop-gap wine from the vineyard he planted in 1990 on his grandmother, Amy Beers’s farm. This wine was named the Moss Wood Glenmore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, after the farm it was grown on. History reveals that it was anything but a stop-gap wine, continuing to be successful for Moss Wood until 2001 when it was decided to change the name to Amy’s. By the commencement of the 2000 vintage a new winery building was added to process the expanded production.
The year 2000 also saw the purchase of the Ribbon Vale vineyard which is located 1.2kms south of the Moss Wood vineyard within the Wilyabrup region. The Ribbon Vale vines were planted between 1977 and 1982. The addition of the new vineyard introduced Moss Wood to Sauvignon Blanc and led to the first blended Semillon Sauvignon Blanc wine being made. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc completed the new stable.
Over the year’s new skills have been required and with a firm belief in continual improvement, both Clare and Keith have furthered their studies. Clare holds a Graduate Diploma in Wine Business from Adelaide University, graduating in 2002 and has completed studies towards a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Economics and Politics at The University of Western Australia. Keith completed a Master of Business Administration from the Australian Graduate School of Management (a joint school of the Universities of NSW and Sydney), graduating in 2006 and achieving the School’s top prize for Executive MBA graduates, the Integritas Award. The Mugfords have four children, Eloise, Tristan, Hugh and Imogen.
The emphasis at Moss Wood in the vineyard and winery is on the highest quality hand production and continuing reference to viticultural and winemaking technical advances. The land that Moss Wood holds that is not suitable for grape production is being steadily re-vegetated from pasture to the natural vegetation of the region. As touched on briefly in our preamble, a paper by Agronomist, Dr John Gladstones, first drew attention to the suitability of the Margaret River region for making wine. Gladstones believed that the soil found in the area, clay subsoil covered by gravelly loam, was ideal for viticulture. He compared the Margaret River climate with that of Bordeaux, indicating that both had an average rainfall of over 1000mms and an absence of temperature extremes, because of the influence of the sea on three sides. One of the first to be influenced by Gladstones’ theory was Bill Pannell who spent six months searching the Margaret River area for ideal land for a vineyard. He chose a site at Wilyabrup and persuaded the owner, Jack Guthrie, to sub-divide his land and to sell the block, which became Moss Wood. Bill and Sandra Pannell commenced work on the Moss Wood Vineyard in 1969 at the same time as the Hohnens were developing Cape Mentelle and just two years after Dr Tom Cullity began the first vineyard in the area at Vasse Felix. A nursery for Cabernet was established in 1969, and the next year, two hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon were planted.
The first vintage took place in 1973 when 250 dozen bottles of Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon was made. The Moss Wood Pinot Noir was first produced in 1977. Semillon was the first white wine planted at Moss Wood because suitable cuttings of Chardonnay did not become available in Western Australia until 1976. The first crop of Semillon was harvested in 1976, although a commercial release was not possible until the next vintage. Similarly, the first vintage of Chardonnay, in 1980, was not released commercially and as the next two crops were destroyed by bad weather, the public did not see a Moss Wood Chardonnay until the 1983 vintage.
In 1989 Ian Bell, was appointed Vineyard Manager after working at Moss Wood from 1985 to 1987 and then studying at Roseworthy College where he qualified as a viticulturist. In 1998 Ian moved into the position of Assistant Winemaker. Then further changes…. After 21 years with the company, Ian Bell resigned in 2006 and returned home to his Yallingup Vineyard to further his fortunes with his Glenmore wines.
Clare and Keith Mugford continue to enjoy the challenge of consistently producing high quality wines at Moss Wood. By striving to implement appropriate viticultural and vinicultural advances, they aim to further improve their understanding of premium wine production and enable Moss Wood to maintain its position as a leading Australian winery.