Modern day Wynns
Chief winemaker Sue Hodder shared some insights into the modern style of Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ‘black label’ during the recent 60 vintages tasting (see last week’s article). It’s my belief that this wine is better than ever these days, or at least more consistently excellent. This is due to improvements in the vineyard and winemaking as well as better understanding of the region’s natural style.
“When I came to Wynns there was not quite pressure, but an expectation that we should try to make big wines,” Sue said.
In the 1990s and early noughties, medium-bodied red wines were not as well accepted as they are today, and even in regions that naturally make medium-bodied wines, winemakers were trying to make them as full-bodied as possible. This sometimes involved adding tannin and using too much oak, as well as picking riper grapes with the corollary that acid additions were necessary.
“One thing I have learnt is to have confidence in making medium-bodied wines, which are what the region naturally produces. Earlier picking is part of that, and consequently less acid addition, but also viticultural changes have meant the vines are in better balance and are taking up less potassium, which means we have lower pHs.”
Alcohols these days are a fraction lower than in the ’90s and early noughties, if not as low as the 1950s and ‘60s when the alcohols were mostly well under 13%. By contrast, the wines of the early noughties were 13.5 to 14%. Today’s wines do however show typical characteristics of modern Australian reds: juicy, ripe and fresh, with lots of clean, ripe primary fruit – never overripe nor underripe.
In the cellar, a variety of fermenter types are used, and barrels are sourced from various coopers, but there has been a trend towards larger formats, with some puncheons and hogsheads as well as barriques. The move towards all French oak happened progressively during the Hodder era.
The biggest improvements have been in the vineyard, where viticultural guru Allen Jenkins has been pivotal. He says Wynns has re-planted around 25% of its vineyards in the last 10 years. When he arrived a lot of the trellises were falling down and needed renewing. Much vineyard was renovated to remove the hedge-like mass of wood that had been accumulated during the era of mechanical and minimal pruning. Vineyards were mapped in order to identify areas of low and high vigour, as this has ramifications for uneven yields and ripeness levels.
“It’s also meant rejuvenating old vines and establishing new cordons, putting the correct varieties on the appropriate sites, with cabernet on the best cabernet soils, and also using the best clones and matching them with the appropriate rootstocks.”
He has re-planted with material from selected vines on Wynns’ own vineyards, as well as new Entav French clones, and heritage clones such as the Reynell selection and the Houghton clone.
With a view to getting the pruning levels right (which has direct implications for crop level the following season), thousands of bud dissections are performed – between 5000 and 10,000 a year – before the pruners are sent in, and this has been going on for nearly 20 years. Bud dissection tells them what the crop-level will be in the coming year so they can prune accordingly. Hence pruning is more precise. To that end, all old vines are pruned manually, while younger vines are pre-pruned by machine and then ‘cleaned up’ manually.
Harvesting the best possible fruit at the ideal moment is probably the area where the biggest strides have been made, and also where there’s the greatest potential for even more improvement.
Dr Cath Kidman, a viticultural researcher (and daughter of local wine producers Sid and Susie Kidman) is working on primary bud necrosis, which is a serious problem that has only been identified in recent years. This is where the primary bud dies for no apparent reason, then the secondary bud bursts and produces a shoot, leaves and fruit, but the ripening is delayed by up to a fortnight (with 2 degrees Baumé less sugar ripeness), which means it will add green flavours to the wine if harvested at the same time as the ripe bunches.
So, if we think the current Wynns reds are good, it’s likely the future will bring even better things. It’s a very exciting time.