ASVO recognises a commitment to Cabernet

The 2016 ASVO Winemaker of the Year award was very much a collaborative affair.

Not only did Wynns Coonawarra Estate winemakers Sue Hodder and Sarah Pidgeon share the prize, but the judges were particularly impressed by their extensive interaction and information sharing with everyone from researchers to local school groups.

‘Sue and Sarah have demonstrated enormous commitment to the pursuit of winemaking excellence from the vineyard, through the winery, in their wines and, the extension of this, through their engagement with the broader wine community’, said ASVO President Dr Mardi Longbottom.

Sue is quick to add that ‘it’s not just us’, however. ‘Allen Jenkins and his team have done so much work rejuvenating and developing our vines against the background of climate change. The last decade has been challenging, with a complex matrix of things changing, but we’ve learned a lot with that.’

The winemaking partnership is actually well into its second decade. Sarah joined Sue at Wynns in 1993, and since then they have been committed to driving the evolution of unmistakably Australian Cabernet that tells the story of where it was made.

That’s involved embracing new technologies and ideas as well as understanding small differences in micro-climate that have a profound impact on the way wine tastes, even in a region as flat and seemingly homogenous as the Coonawarra. Wynns has released a Single Vineyard Cabernet every year since 2001.

‘We are very conscious of evolution’, Sue said. ‘Just yesterday, Allen graphed the temperatures of this growing season so far against the last 40 just to show where we are, to give us some point of reference. It’s great to be able to have all that reference data as long as it’s taken in the context of what you’re doing now.’

Things have also changed in the winery. Sarah has put a lot of effort into understanding the impact of oak, for example, and has an enviable knowledge of different cooperages and forests.

‘People ring her all the time for her opinion on oak as well as on malolactic fermentation; she’s a bit of an expert on malo-nutrients,’ Sue said. ‘We were having some challenges getting some malos through and we were trying to work out what’s commercially available and how useful it is.

‘We’ve spent time unpicking all that and presenting the findings to the sector. You have to choose the right oak for your wines and not just be led by what other people are doing.’

Sue is particularly pleased to see the genuine interest around the world in medium-bodied Cabernet and the quality of these wines coming out of Australia.

‘We can prove their ageability and through our work with Paul Smith and his team at the AWRI we know more and more about tannins in the vineyard and how that translates to the wines. We still have a lot to learn, but there’s a lot of good research being done.’

For her part, Sarah is also conscious of being able to work with fruit ‘from vineyards that are amongst the best Cabernet Sauvignon sites in the world’.

‘The wines have never been as satisfying, diverse and, frankly, as damn good as they are right now’, she said. ‘It’s an exciting time to be at Wynns.’