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Wynns Coonawarra: a revolution many years in the making

Publish Date: 19 Sep 2015

Authored by: James Halliday

In 2010 Wynns Coonawarra winegrowers Allen Jenkins (viticulturist) and Sue Hodder (winemaker) were awarded Gourmet Wine Traveller's title of Winemaker of the Year (Sue helped by her assistant Sarah Pidgeon). It was a journey that began eight years earlier with the arrival of Allen Jenkins, and has continued to this day, and one devoutly trusts will continue many years into the future.

The major wine producers – Treasury Wine Estates, no exception – are regarded by some, possibly many, as soulless corporate juggernauts, seeking to cut costs at every corner, valuing heritage and wine quality by the health of the bottom line of this year's results.

Penfolds is understandably the apple in the eye of TWE, but Wynns has been well resourced, with a new fermentation cellar with small batch open fermenters commissioned prior to the 2008 vintage, and presses of the right size.

Armed with airborne near infrared photography and aerial digital elevation mapping of the terra rossa soil (ranging from an altitude of 54 to 61m), a virtual three-dimensional vine-by-vine mosaic has been captured. This has created the foundation for a massive regeneration by radical pruning of very old vine ( shiraz up to 120 years old, cabernet sauvignon up to 60 years old), removal of lesser varieties, and replacement by cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, on the prized terra rossa soil.

In the winery a new fermentation cellar with small batch open fermenters was commissioned prior to the 2008 vintage, and presses of the right size. On the best blocks, four leaves are hand-stripped below each flower, resulting in lower yields of smaller berries, and super-late pruning has moved the grape ripening cycle back two weeks. But within that shift, harvest has taken place earlier in the ripening cycle, resulting in higher natural acidity, lower baumes and consequent alcohol levels. These have been reduced from 14-14.5% to 12.5-13.5%, an outcome not due to manipulation in the winery. This has reduced the need for a high percentage of new French oak (16% to 30% [other way round?]), underlining the medium-bodied, naturally balanced wines that spend only 14-16 months in barrel.

The key notes are freshness and elegance, with a very long life ahead, yet with the balance to allow/justify cracking a bottle whenever the mood takes you.

That's the cake; the icing is the exceptional 2012 and '13 vintages in Coonawarra.

2013 Wynns Coonawarra Estate V&A Lane Selected Vineyards Shiraz

V&A Lane bisects the southern and northern half of the terra rossa, the initials (what else) standing for Victoria and Albert, the wine sourced from Wynns' vineyards along either side of the lane. While richness is said to be a hallmark of this wine, it is notable for elegance, restraint and balance. It was matured in three-year-old French oak for 15 months, and there is no hint of under-ripe fruit.

94 points, drink to 2028, 12.5%, alc, Screwcap, $60

View tasting note

2013 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

Investment in the vineyards in the winery is paying big dividends, viticulturist Alan Jenkins and winemakers Sue Hodder and Sarah Pigeon with total control. The colour and sheer power of the varietal expression achieved at this level of alcohol is totally admirable; blackcurrant, blackberry and black olive are welded together with powdery tannins and perfectly judged oak. It spent 15 months in French hogsheads (15% new).

96 points, drink to 2048, 13.5%, alc, Screwcap, $45

View tasting note

2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon

Has great depth to its strong purple-crimson hue, telegraphing an ultra-powerful wine in the tradition of John Riddoch, needing a minimum of 10 years to relax. In wine terms, the case to delay its release to coincide with that of Grange is obvious, but in marketing and/or financial terms it simply won't happen. A great John Riddoch in the making.

97 points, drink to 2052, 13.5%, alc, Screwcap, $150

View tasting note

This is an expanded version of the article "Wynns Coonawarra: a revolution many years in the making" written by James Halliday for the Weekend Australian magazine.

Next article: Champagne in magnums? The more the merrier

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