Experience amazing
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2019 - 12:00am

Margaret River  – There’s a waning gibbous moon in the sky tonight as I write this, so says the calendar. But I stare out the window of my borrowed room and I see a giant radiant orb staring back at me. It is anything but waning, and even fuller than a full moon.

The nights are darker too, and the breeze is more biting than the weather forecasts say.

Indeed, everything seems to be more intense here in Margaret River, touted as one of the world’s most famous wine regions with more than 200 undulating vineyards and 187 sprawling wineries.

Nestled at the southernmost tip of Western Australia three hours away from Perth, Margaret River is no doubt the perfect backdrop for the 2019 Western Australia, Gourmet Escape, an extraordinary festival of wine and food that takes place from Swan Valley to Perth and finally, here.

The festival, held from Nov. 8 to 17, is a magical showcase of Western Australia’s premium produce and wine with celebrated international and Australian culinary talent.

I’m here for the Margaret River leg of the festival, a bespoke three-day wine and dine experience organized by Japanese luxury vehicle brand Lexus exclusively for its guests.

The Great Escape

Lexus rolled the red carpet through lush forests, sprawling estates and secret gardens for our  delegation of businessmen, doctors, celebrities, beauty queens – mostly Lexus clients – and journalists from all over the world.

For three days, we went to dreamy private wine estates and award-winning dining places to eat, drink and be merry.

The journey started in Vasse Felix, Margaret River’s founding winery and then we went to the rustic barrel room at Larry Cherubino, another wine place, and finally to the Fraser Gallop Estate, arguably the most exquisite setting in the region with its Palladian-inspired mansion at the end of a perfectly shaped lake.

Every experience was even more exhilarating than the previous one and we discovered more of Margaret River each day.


The idea behind Lexus partnering with this great gourmet escape is mainly the experience, officials say.

“Lexus is dedicated to curating amazing experiences beyond luxury automobiles. Experiences that are designed with intent, offer a heightened attention to detail, and ones that anticipate the guest’s desires,” David Nordstrom, vice president of Lexus Asia Pacific says.

Indeed, the multi-sensory feast took guests through a series of tailored epicurean experiences set in extraordinary locations within the stunning Margaret River region.

Vasse Felix

At Vasse Felix, we learned of the winery’s brave winemaking techniques and unconventional approach of pairing food to its wines, similar to how Lexus also crafts its luxury automobiles.

On the second night, we moved to the private rustic barrel room at Larry Cherubino. The winery was astounding enough even from the outside as it was set against a sprawling vineyard, backlighted by the setting sun.

Fraser Gallop Estate, one of Margaret River’s most prestigious wine estates, then hosted an evening that will not be forgotten, marking a fitting finale to our three-day epicurean journey.

The dinner at Fraser, created by celebrity chef Nelly Robinson of Sydney restaurant Nel, brought together innovation and imagination – an entree of tomatoes in a fish tank with bubbles or tin can bread on fire with eucalyptus and charcoal –  for a truly theatrical dining experience.

In between these private dinners and wine tastings, we also went to have our own curated driving pleasures with the different Lexus vehicles – a trip across the great outback, a drive on the drag strip for those craving for speed, and a heart-pounding slalom high with Australian racer and four time Asia-Pacific rally champion Cody Croker behind the wheel.

Tycoon Alfred V. “AVT” Ty, chairman of Lexus Manila, says it’s really all about the experience.

“You really just have to be in it to understand it,” he says.

AVT, who joined the gourmet escape for the first time, was himself thrilled with the experience.

“It’s my first time here and I really wanted to catch it...We always try to go beyond expectations and that much I’ve expected and it will always blow me away,” he says.

The luxury business

The luxury business is, perhaps, among the most difficult in the world.

But Lexus seems to have mastered it, successfully delighting its guests.

On my last night here, I sat beside Lexus Asia Pacific general manager Chris Taylor who asked me what I would consider the highlight of my trip.

I said it’s those little surprises that stir something in the veins –  my first sip of Vasse Felix’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec – bold, rich and intense; the view of the setting sun glistening on the sprawling vineyards at Larry Cherubino; that moment Chef Brendan Pratt’s Apple Fruit Toast slipped into my mouth, and the first time the magical French chateau of Fraser Gallop Estate appeared before my eyes, seemingly straight out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Indeed, it’s not a specific event, but a collection of vivid moments which I know will linger in my memory for a long, long time.

It is poetry in motion, it is Vivaldi playing endlessly, it is walking on patches of heaven on earth.

Lexus was not kidding. It truly was an amazing experience, the kind that moves you, awakens your senses and lets you slip into a mind-bending state of pure bliss.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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