People who drink wine sometimes forget that it’s an agricultural product, and as such heavily influenced by climate. When we talk of good vintages we really mean years when viticulturalists grew good grapes.
This week we focus on some exciting new wines from Wynns in the Coonawarra in South Australia. But first it’s worth discussing the innovations that produced the fruit for these wines.
As well as being on the famous terra rossa or red soil, the Coonawarra mostly produces red wine – the region’s 5,600 hectares of vines consist of 90 per cent red grapes. Allen Jenkins, senior viticulturist at Wynns, said his company’s holdings comprised the biggest area of the best vines in the area, mostly on the terra rossa soil.
Half of all the red Wynns grows is cabernet sauvignon. Their oldest cabernet was planted on the Johnson block in 1953 and their oldest shiraz dates from 1892, Jenkins said.
Most visitors perceive Coonawarra as flat. But Jenkins noted that the general elevation rises from 51.4 to 63 metres above sea level, and temperatures increases have been noted depending on elevation. “I have the difficult task of convincing people that the Coonawarra is not flat,” Jenkins said with a smile. “These local minor elevation differences have significant impacts and support a closer look at changes in soils, vine vigour and fruit flavour profiles.”
Summer heat can be intense, so Jenkins ensures that vine canopies are designed to protect the grapes. “Each bunch gets a hat,” he jokes. Viticulturalist Ben Harris confirmed Jenkins’ protective attitude towards the grapes.
Wynns uses a combination of technology and human skill to choose when to pick. A technology known as plant cell density or PCD determines optimum ripeness. Vines are photographed from the air and PCD locates ripe areas. This information is fed into picking machines and these devices only pick ripe grapes, over time passing through a site several times.
The human touch is also involved. Winemakers will taste grapes two or three times a day as the time to pick arrives.
Some viticulturalists use PCD in other ways to help grapes grow. If a PCD survey shows low vigour in an area of a vineyard, they use that information to mulch and restore those vines.
Sensors in the vineyard detect changes in temperature, moisture levels and wind speeds — the things that cause mildew — and send alerts. Staff can then protect the vines, reducing the need to spray entire vineyards. This means less money is spent on chemicals and provides options for more organic methods of grape growing.
Wynns has introduced a new range of wines named after V&A Lane, the road that dissects the region east-west and divides it roughly in half. It contains some of the best vineyards in Coonawarra. The lane was named after Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert.
Winemaker Sarah Pidgeon sees V&A as a vehicle for experimentation, and a chance to showcase Wynns’ wonderful old cabernet and shiraz vines. Wines from 2009, 2010 and 2012 were tasted. Pidgeon said 2009 was the coolest vintage, noting that the climate in Coonawarra “changes profoundly season by season”. All fruit was handpicked.
The 2009 V&A Lane shiraz is inky-black cherry in colour with matching intense black fruit flavours. The oak contributes vanilla and mocha notes yet the tannins are soft, and the acidity tingles against the ripe fruit. Sarah Pidgeon said Coonawarra shiraz can be quite floral and “fun to play with”. She used whole-bunch fermentation, the stems adding structure to the wine.
The 2010 and 2012 V&A Lane shiraz both offer soft tannins and good acidity, with profound depth of fruit and echoes of spices and pepper as well as flavours of blackberries. The flavours lingered like a soft kiss. These are all remarkable wines.
Other superb wines tasted were the V&A Lane blend of cabernet and shiraz. Sarah Pidgeon said this blend was less well known and it might take time for people to get to know their beauties. She co-fermented the two grape varieties, which gave the wines “beautiful backbone”.
The 2009 reflected the cool vintage, with more pronounced tannic thrust and slightly sharper acidity, yet the wine’s texture was silky. It offers the promise of joy with some medium-term cellaring.
The 2010 blend has a wondrous sense of proportion and power with textural finesse. It received some new oak yet feels soft and approachable now, though it could be cellared for up to a decade. Oak treatment varies each year depending on the vintage. “We try to match the oak with what the season gives us in terms of fruit,” Pidgeon said.
A favourite was the 2012 blend, which also received some new oak. It has a vibrant colour of black cherry in the glass. This sense of aliveness continues in the mouth with hints of liquorice and minerality plus profound black fruit. It is the sense of freshness and aliveness in the mouth that most impresses, plus the quiet power on the palate. A majestic wine.
As Wynns chief winemaker Sue Hodder noted after the tasting: “We have some of the most important vineyards in Australia and it’s important to give them some recognition.”
Disclosure: Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Wynns, provided airfare and accommodation for some of Stephen Quinn’s visit to Australia.
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