New flagship for Vasse Felix

Tom Cullity (right), David Gregg (left) & Bob Hollick inspect vines at Vasse Felix (Photo: Via Margaret River.com)

Vasse Felix has celebrated its 50th anniversary and released a new flagship wine to celebrate: the 2013 Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec. And a great wine it is.

Dr Tom Cullity was the Perth cardiologist who founded Vasse Felix in 1967. The new wine is made from the original vineyard at the winery at Wilyabrup, cabernet sauvignon and malbec being two of the original varieties, which have always been pivotal to Vasse Felix.

The Tom Cullity is AUD $160 ex-winery and replaces the former Heytesbury cabernet blend. Next in the hierarchy is the ‘premier’ cabernet sauvignon (the 2013 is AUD $45). The Heytesbury name is now reserved solely for the flagship chardonnay – which, incidentally, is one of the greatest in the country.

Vasse Felix owner, Paul Holmes à Court, hosted 350 guests at the winery on May 5 to mark the 50th anniversary. 2017 is also the 50th anniversary year of the Margaret River region, and I will be reporting on the celebrations later in the year.

During a recent meeting with Holmes à Court, he told me that when his family purchased the business in 1987 it came with just four hectares of vines. It now has 40 hectares of vineyards as well as taking fruit from other vineyards.

The 2013 is the first Tom Cullity, and because it’s a single-vineyard wine there is less of it than its predecessor, the Heytesbury cabernet blend. Indeed, there is one-third less wine, and the price has gone up by one-third, according to Paul. As well, the wine has been held back an extra year to be sold as a four-year-old, so there was a year’s hiatus following the last Heytesbury red.

Paul himself took over control of Vasse Felix from the family in 2004, and decided to put the business on a different path. Paul calls Margaret River,

“a true wine paradise; one of the great wine regions of the world. I’ve travelled the world and come to that realisation. I decided I wanted to make Vasse Felix an estate fitting of a great wine region.”

Holmes à Court studied physics and economics overseas, before coming home and being involved in the family’s cattle business. At Vasse Felix, he ran the restaurant and bred horses. Now his sole concern is the wine business.

He has no further growth plans for the business.

“We are as big as we need to be. We’re the same size now as the day I took over. But we have invested enormously in vineyards, with two more vineyards – one in Wallcliffe and one in Karridale – as well as improving the vineyard we already had. We now have the capacity to be entirely self-sufficient. Our ambition is not for future growth, but to make the same amount as last year, and make it and sell it a bit better.”

To that end, he hopes to lift the price of the premier cabernet, from $45 to $50.

Holmes à Court and chief winemaker Virginia Willcock are a close team.

“Ginny has been 10 years at Vasse Felix and we are completely aligned on this journey.”

About half the grapes for the 2013 Tom Cullity came from Cullity’s original vines, the other half from the Holmes à Court family’s expansion of that original vineyard. The 2013 runs to 1,000 cases.

The malbec component is a small but important 5%.

“Malbec is often used in Margaret River but seldom talked about,” says Paul. “We are doing what the region wants us to do, not what the market wants (if we were market driven we’ve have used merlot!). We are allowing the vineyard to express itself.”

And Tom Cullity is likely to be a regular fixture, as a wine has been made from the 2014, ’15 and ’16 vintages. And the cabernet malbec mix remains consistent.

Says Paul:

“It’s not the fullest bodied of cabernets, but it’s elegant, succulent, sophisticated.”

The Vasse Felix Tom Cullity is a highly significant addition to the field of prestige Australian wine, both as a historic marker and a great wine in its own right.

4 thoughts on “New flagship for Vasse Felix”

  1. Simon says:

    Hi Huon,

    I tried the Cullity a couple of weeks back – pretty smart wine indeed, but i did think at the time that the Malbec is quite prominent and is giving a little softness to the overall feel. I looked at the Vasse website and they are indicating it is 20% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and the rest Cabernet. I was pretty surprised to here that it was 20% as that is a lot of Malbec for a flagship. Anyway – do you know which one is correct? The 5% or their claimed 20%?

    Thanks!

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      Virginia Willcock, winemaker, just confirmed the website details as 20% malbec, just under 5% petit verdot. Seems I misheard the number from Paul. Further info from Virginia: “Malbec volume considered high for a flagship, it may only be the modern day that suggests this.
      Malbec has been planted at Vasse Felix since 1967 and it was in the original 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon and has found a place in our flagship Cabernet wines ever since.
      In the old days of Bordeaux it was a dominator until phylloxera (Malbec doesn’t graft well well onto rootstock, Margaret River has not had phylloxera) and frost (Malbec doesn’t do frost and Margaret River doesn’t get frost).”

  2. rusty cook says:

    Re the pix, you might like to check if its david gregg on the left, Tom C on the right and Holluck (sic) in the middle

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      Definitely David Gregg on the left; not sure who’s who of the other two. Checking. Hollick should be spelt thus.

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