Meet the winemaker

The art of cabernet sauvignon

By Halliday Promotion

Six talented winemakers tell us why they love working with this variety, which they describe as having poise, perfume and personality.

    If there’s one thing cabernet sauvignon is known for, it’s intensity. Whether that refers to its high-tannin levels or bold black fruit and herbaceous characteristics, there’s no doubt that this varietal produces some of the most cellar-worthy wines in the world. 

      With such potency of flavour, the journey from vine to bottle is critical in achieving harmony in the glass. Making cabernet sauvignon is a fine art, and knowing the perfect time to pick fruit and how to extract just the right amount of tannin are crucial – these winemakers have it nailed.

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    • Sue Bell, Bellwether Wines, SA

    • According to winemaker Sue Bell of Bellwether Wines, great cabernet has poise. “I love the challenge of making this variety,” she says. “As it is a highly structured wine, working out when to pick, what to pick and what to leave behind is paramount – as is deciding how hard to work the fruit.” Most of Sue’s winemaking evolution involves a further understanding of the Coonawarra climate. “Over the last 20 years, the date of picking has moved forward, which is a very real impact of climate change,” she explains. “Preservation of fruit aromatics and ripeness of tannin comes down to picking at the right time – too green and they’re raw, too ripe and the shrivel kills the fruit, increases the alcohol and wreaks havoc with aggressive bitterness. There’s no room for error.”

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    • Stuart Pym, Flowstone Wines, WA

    • Flowstone winemaker Stuart Pym has a deep understanding of the Margaret River region and cabernet sauvignon. “Having been in the Margaret River wine industry since 1983, I have been surrounded by the variety for a long time,” Stuart says. “I love the fact that the vines are completely at home here. Cabernet is perfectly suited to our climate and makes unique and stunning wines.” When it comes to producing exceptional examples, Stuart says his focus has become more and more about the vineyard. “The Flowstone Cabernet Sauvignon is from one small vineyard in the Forest Grove area of Margaret River – a wonderfully gravelly vineyard, and perfectly suited to variety,” he says. “We chose this site specifically to produce restrained and focused wines that beautifully reflect this southerly part of the region.” Stuart believes cellar-aged cabernet is a thing of wonder and beauty – and certainly worth the effort.

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    • Matt Byrne, Evans & Tate, WA

    • Senior winemaker Matt Byrne describes cabernet sauvignon as perfumed, flavoursome and textural. “The tannin experience is especially unique to cabernet,” he says. “While other varieties shy away from tannin, cabernet proudly shows them off.” The key to achieving the perfect fine, ripe and seamlessly integrated tannin experience is restraint in the vineyard and winery, according to Matt. “Easy to say, but hard to do,” he says. “In the vineyard, this means not picking overripe fruit and aiming for vine balance – so no need to hedge, trim or leaf pluck. In the winery, it’s about not over-extracting when on skins, not moving the wine in barrel until bottled and no filtration of the wine.” A renowned region for cabernet sauvignon, Matt insists that the characteristics of Margaret River styles will shine at about six years of age. “We release the Evans & Tate Redbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon no sooner than three years from vintage,” he says. “The wine evolves very slowly as it ages, retaining its perfume and bright, primary colour for many years.”

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    • Sarah Crowe, Yarra Yering, VIC

    • When asked to describe cabernet sauvignon, Yarra Yering’s Sarah Crowe can sum it up in a sentence: “It’s good to be the king.” Whether bottled as a single-variety wine or blended, Sarah loves the diversity the grape allows for, as well as its potential for balance and structure. Yarra Yering has become known for its distinctive cabernet-dominant red blends. “We often blend it with any or all of merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc, aiming to create something better than the individual components,” she says. “It’s a whole new vinous world to dive into!” The Dry Red Wine No.1 blend is the winery’s flagship. “It was the first wine made in the region after a 50-year hiatus with the 1973 vintage, and the beginning of the Yarra Valley as we now know it.”

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    • Vanya Cullen, Cullen Wines, WA

    • Reigning Halliday Wine Companion Winemaker of the Year Vanya Cullen produces some of Australia’s best cabernet sauvignon. “I love the variety because it’s so full of perfume, flavour and personality,” she says. “It’s more difficult to make a great cabernet sauvignon than it is to make just about any other grape variety.” Cullen Wines has a specific focus on sustainability and the rich and ancient soils of the Wilyabrup subregion. “Cabernet sauvignon is the king of grapes at Cullen – strong on the vine with thick skins and fruit flower that produces a wine with fine tannins and characteristics of earth and bitter chocolate. We are the custodians of a sustainably-grown vineyard that has a track record of making excellent examples of the variety.” Vanya puts the uniqueness of Cullen cabernet down to its purity of creation from earth to glass. “It’s a profound connection to nature and place. Always humble and grateful.”

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    • Brad Rey, Zontes Footstep, SA

    • Zonte’s Footstep winemaker Brad Rey fell in love with Cru class wines from Bordeaux while working in wine retail in Canada in the 1980s. “Cabernet Sauvignon is a king among courtiers and the hero of grape varieties. Many of the greatest vinous examples from around the world have cabernet sauvignon at their hearts,” he says. This McLaren Vale winery aims to maintain a bright fruit expression supported by the acid structure found in all of its wines, but especially in cabernet. “Wine is made 90 per cent in the vineyard and 10 per cent in the winery,” Brad explains. “Imperial cabernet is all about refined structure holding up the flavour profile of cassis/blackcurrant and fresh, muddled mint.” For optimum enjoyment, Brad recommends just two things: good food and company. “Zonte’s Footsteps Blackberry Patch is delicious enjoyed in the cooler months at cellar temperature,” he says. “I especially recommend it with porchetta – a slow-cooked pork roast – as the tannins and acid combine with the fat and protein to yield an epic flavour sensation.”

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      *This article was produced by Halliday Wine Companion in partnership with the featured wineries. 

      Top image courtesy of Wine Australia