Red dirt Wynns every year
The challenges of keeping the old while bringing in the new face Wynns senior winemaker Sue Hodder, who recently spoke with Lunch Magazine’s Mark Eggleton about the Coonawarra and this year’s Wynns releases
For wine drinkers, Australia’s Coonawarra is probably the nation’s most iconic patch of dirt. Cracking through this often-parched strip of red earth are some of the nation’s most productive vines bearing gorgeous fruit of extraordinary intensity.
Moreover, Coonawarra is unlike most of the nation’s other wine regions, which tend to lie close to major population centres. It’s a place you have to make an actual pilgrimage to – it’s not about dropping in at a few cellar doors on your way somewhere else. There are no spa retreats or golf resorts nearby. It’s all about sampling the grape at some of the nation’s best-known labels, which sit cheek-by-jowl across this hallowed swathe of red soil.
Among the region’s most famous occupants for over 50 years has been Wynns Coonawarra Estate. In recent times, Wynns senior winemaker, Sue Hodder, and her team including viticulturist Allen Jenkins as well as winemakers Sarah Pidgeon and Luke Skeer have revitalised Wynns and its iconic vineyards.
Hodder recently spoke proudly of the work her team have undertaken in recent years to add to the Wynns story and of the kudos this has attracted.
Much of this work has involved reinvigorating large areas of the vineyards. According to Hodder, some of the older vines were sitting in beautiful soil but had never quite hit their mark and they had to come out in recent years. The challenge for the winemaking team though was deciding what vines really needed to go.
“It’s a big trade-off – we do prefer an old vine’s root system and trunk and you’re giving that up by pulling it out. You have to be convinced in the medium term you are going to get better quality than you’re getting at the moment,” Hodder says.
This trade-off has seen a number of low-yielding older vines receive a stay of execution as Hodder acknowledges they produce quality and she wants to “hold on to them as long as possible.”
“As for some of the rejuvenated older vines, they are going fantastically well and will for another 40 years,” she says.
Hodder’s demeanour suggests a woman at ease with her place in the world. She speaks in the measured, dry, matter-of-fact tones of rural Australia but with an eloquence reflecting her standing as the public face of a revered international brand.
Commenting on this year’s Wynns releases Hodder is especially fond of the single vineyard release off the Davis block.
“The Davis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 comes off a rejuvenated block at the end of my street which looks fantastic and it’s a great wine,” she says.
“Also a highlight is the 2008 Michael Shiraz and the 2008 John Riddoch – it needs a bit of time but it’s a really stylish sophisticated wine.
For Hodder, Wynns isn’t about having a mishmash of varieties sitting under a range of labels but primarily exploring new ways of working with the varieties that have a heritage in the region such as cabernet and shiraz.
She cites the V&A Lane wines sourced from the vineyards running along the lane bisecting the original electorates of Victoria and Albert and the single vineyard wines as an example of the Wynns philosophy to explore the region’s terroir in more detail.
“The Davis Block builds on a tradition of creating a single vineyard wine which reflects the individual expression of the block.”
Kicking off the single vineyard wines is one of the key highlights of Hodder’s time at Wynns and she cites the 2001 Harold Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon as a particular standout.
“Seeing the rewards of getting the vineyards back in shape over the last few years has been fantastic as well.”
Yet probably Hodder’s proudest achievement has been to maintain the quality of Wynns flagship Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Keeping the Black Label as good as it can be is a massive highlight. It remains one of the top four cellared wines in Australia and it’s a great honour to be associated with it. My favourite remains the 2005 vintage but one of the more special moments of my career was being part of a 50-year vertical tasting of the Black Label – we’re doing it again when it turns 60 (this year marks the 54th vintage release).
This year’s Wynns’ release highlights:
“The Siding” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
One of the first releases of what’s cracking up to be a “ball-tearer” of a vintage – beautifully herbaceous and full of dark minty chocolate and stewed plums on the palate.
Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The 54th vintage of this cellar favourite is not a classic but is a solid all-rounder bouncing with dark berry fruits on the palate with good tannins and toasty vanilla oak.
Davis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
The single vineyard star that gets its own show this year and it’s my highlight. Subtle oak and warm homely spices balanced with a little chocolate on the nose with a soft mixture of berry fruit, chocolate and the whole warm homely feel of Grandma’s spices blended with honey on the palate.
Michael Shiraz 2008
The return of Michael after a few years kicking its heels and it’s a cracker. A bit of hard candy on the nose with its mix of rhubarb and (dare I say it) custard melded with subtle dark fruit and silky smooth oak on the palate. Drinking surprisingly well young.
John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
What can I say? It’s a typical Riddoch. This needs time to think as it’s big, juicy and ticks all the John Riddoch descriptor boxes – dark chocolate (tick); layers of chewable dense fruit (tick) and a velvety long sweet finish (tick).
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