Margaret River, Barossa Valley, and Clare Valley: just some of the famed winemaking regions in Australia that have made waves around the world with their bold shirazs, ageworthy rieslings, and buttery chardonnays.
Yet, there’s a lesser-known region to the west of Melbourne on the Limestone Coast in South Australia that is home to vineyards and estates producing wines with its own distinctive charm.
It’s the wine region of Coonawarra, and it stands apart from the rest thanks in large part to its abundant terra rossa, a clayey soil named after its reddish hue, and which is perfect for grape growing given its excellent drainage quality. The red topsoil blankets a bedrock of porous limestone, so while drainage is excellent, it is also able to retain necessary moisture over the drier periods, allowing for grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to flourish.
And the producer that started it all for Coonawarra as the wine region we know of today, is Wynns Coonawarra Estate, which owns most (around 95 per cent) of the area’s vineyards. It was Scottish pioneer John Riddoch who first planted grapes there in 1891, and when Melbourne wine merchants Samuel and David Wynn purchased Riddoch’s original vineyards and winery, the boom of Coonawarra wines truly began. And while there are many wineries now in the region, it is Wynns that continues leading the charge and building the region’s own stylistic identity.
“Coonawarra is very special and was originally planted based on terroir as opposed to proximity to the city,” explains Sue Hodder, Chief Winemaker at Wynns, when asked why the region is so good for wine growing and production. “The terroir consists of the highly prized terra rossa soil, and the mild climate due to the influence of the Southern ocean also makes it special.”
This confluence of factors results in a very different style of wine to present itself at its peak: a medium-bodied 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon that is as much prized for its drinkability, as it is for its concentrated fruitiness and radiance.
Unlike the rich and punchy shiraz and chardonnays most look to Australia for, Wynns’ wines are more subdued, elegant, yet punches above its weight in terms of flavour and cellaring potential. It’s a wonder why many aren’t putting Coonawarra on their radar yet. Perhaps that’s the reason you’ll often see Wynns tout on their bottle with tabs that read: “Those who know, know.”
Speaking about their latest release, the 2021 Wynnsday collection, which comprises harvests from 2018 and 2019, Hodder is proud to say that it showcases their “house style” well, which are wines that are medium bodied, bright, and fresh.
“The 2018 and 2019 vintages are outstanding in their different ways. They are as strong a pair as I have seen in my 30 years at Wynns. Each of the collection wines individually epitomizes our classic house style,” she says. “Our single-vineyard wine, Johnsons, from 2018, is made from our oldest Cabernet vineyard. 2019 was an equally lauded vintage. It is more elegant and a worthy style to contrast the 2018. The Black Label Shiraz and Black Label Cabernet will be strong vintages in vertical tastings of these iconic labels.
Hodder, having been a winemaker for 35 years now, with a vast majority of those years – around 30 or so – having been spent with Wynns, probably knows more about modern day winemaking in Coonawarra than anyone else.
With such a deep well to draw from, she believes that while making wines is an endeavour informed by heritage and the past, so she also seeks to imbue her own style into the process. Specifically, she hopes to be more sustainable in her approach,
“Ideally, I’d like to continue to make more medium bodied wines and to look after the vineyards. So my philosophy is to stay in our lane, but in a better, more sustainable way.”
You’ll often see her walking the vineyards, tending to the quality of the grapes that are coming in during harvest time. Tasting is a big part of her job, and she gets together with her team of three other winemakers to ensure that all their ferments are coming along well and according to plan.
Yet, she sees herself, and thus Wynns, as being more than winemakers, but also as custodians of the land that has given them so much.
“Now, we have the added challenges and rewards that we must embrace through research and collaboration, especially towards keeping our environment and climate safe and to ensure that the story of Wynns continues into the future.”