Cullen newbies in top form

Vanya Cullen amongst the vines (Photo: Cullen Wines)

The new Cullen wines are out and the 2015 Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot and Kevin John Chardonnay are in top form. My tasting notes are on the website now, and if you baulk at AUD $126 for the Diana Madeline – and you wouldn’t be Robinson Crusoe – the good news is that the regular 2016 Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (AUD $49) is a really superb wine and excellent value for money. Perhaps buy the junior to drink young and the Diana Madeline to cellar.

I will never forget the way Cullen’s long-time Sydney saleswoman Kate McKillop (now retired) used to describe the three top Cullen reds:

“The Mangan is a chat, the cabernet merlot is a conversation and the Diana Madeline is a philosophical discussion.”

I would change just one thing: the 2016 Mangan red – which is merlot dominant instead of malbec this year – is more than a simple chat. It’s quite a serious wine in its own right.

Chief winemaker Vanya Cullen was in Sydney recently waving the flag, and she had two important pieces of news, or at least they were news to me. The first is that long-serving senior winemaker Trevor Kent has retired after 21 years at Cullen. Trevor is a quiet achiever, never wanted any share of the limelight and was prepared just to do his job (formidably well) and stay in the background. He was a key member of the Cullen production team.

Trevor is 63 and has opted for the quiet life by the sea. He left after the 2017 vintage.

“He’s been there through it all,” said Vanya, “a wonderful colleague all that time.”

I recall a few years ago hosting a big corporate event and Trevor made a rare appearance to talk about the Cullen wines being served. He was tremendously articulate and knowledgable and had ‘em eating out of the palm of his hand.

Vanya said Trevor’s replacement is Andy Barrett-Leonard, who previously worked at Howard Park and Woodlands, and whose family owns the Zarephath vineyard and brand at Porongurup in south-west WA.

“He was employed last year as assistant winemaker. Previously, he did the Curtin University (wine science) course, and had worked at Cullen while he was a student.”

The second piece of news is that Cullen Wines has purchased the Mangan vineyard from Rick and Bettina Cullen, who established it. Rick is one of Vanya’s brothers, and Mangan is Bettina’s maiden name.

The 22-hectare vineyard is on Caves Road, Cowaramup, near the Cullen vineyard and on the same soil, so;

“it was a no-brainer for us to buy it”, says Vanya. “It’s also certified biodynamic, but the wine style is different to the Cullen vineyard.”

The varieties there are sauvignon blanc, semillon, verdelho, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. I thought the 2016 Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon was a delightful wine, crafted in a subtler style, not pungent and not too outrageously varietal, but quietly fragrant, complex, and evolves in the glass as it breathes and warms.

Vanya is clearly a fan of the 2015 vintage Diana Madeline and Kevin John. “I love the 2015s.” Of the Kevin John, she said:

“It was another tiny vintage, unfortunately, and we harvested the grapes on fruit and flower days (according to the biodynamic calendar). The grapes were whole-bunch pressed to 75% new oak.”

2013, 14 and 15 were all small crops, but happily there is a good quantity of the 2016, which will be released in a year’s time.

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