Very few wineries have the pedigree required to become synonymous with a wine region. Perhaps Tyrrells and the Hunter Valley, Leeuwin Estate and Margaret River, D’Arenberg and the McLaren Vale. These wineries that have consistently produced exceptional fine wines for years and years and have pioneered and innovated in equal measure, blazing a trail for others to follow.
There is another Australian winery that is as much a part of the fabric of the region as the soil and the climate. Wynns Coonawarra Estate. From the iconic gabled winery to the precious old vine resources to the timeless expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz it is impossible to imagine the Coonawarra without Wynns. In 2017 the winery celebrates 60 years of defining one of Australia’s great wine regions. In this latest blog from Wine Australia, we’ll take a look at the history of this Australian classic and see what the future holds for the winery and the region.
"At Wynns we aim to make the wines that express the best of our vineyards. With healthy vines and fruit, we can make bright, expressive and age-worthy wines. Our winemaking is informed by our heritage and the new knowledge that is unfolding all the time."
Sue Hodder, Senior Winemaker, Wynns Coonawarra Estate
In the beginning there was John Riddoch…
While Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate is ‘only’ 60 years old, it is closely tied to the birth of the region. Early European settlers to the region quickly recognised the agricultural potential of the region. Scottish settler John Riddoch was the first to take advantage of the potential, purchasing vast tracts of land from the 1860s for sheep grazing. Before long Riddoch was running over 160,000 sheep and was one of the South Australia’s richest men.
Coonawarra’s viticultural history began in the 1890s when John Riddoch diversified his interests by starting the Penola Fruit Colony. Prime land was selected and a selection of fruit trees were planted alongside Coonawarra’s first grapevines. The vine plantings were very successful, laying the foundation for others to follow. For the next decade the region blossomed until Riddoch’s passed away in 1901. Without its pioneering founder Coonawarra’s fortunes flagged and struggled as a wine region for the next fifty years. Then in 1951 David and Samuel Wynn arrived to change the region forever.
Coonawarra: a classic without reserve
Samuel Wynn was a successful wine wholesaler, exporter and retailer whose son David was involved in the wine business from a young age. David proposed purchasing Riddoch’s former property, then known as Château Comaum, to his father. Samuel wasn’t keen on the idea but eventually David prevailed. Once the purchase was finalised any lingering differences were put aside. Samuel and David immediately set about reviving the dilapidated vineyards and the winery built by Riddoch. It wasn’t long before they were convinced they’d made the correct decision. The 1955 vintage was one for the ages in Coonawarra, grabbing the attention of wine lovers and vignerons around Australia. In less than a decade Australia’s leading wine companies were beating a path to the region, ensuring John Riddoch’s legacy for generations to come.
Life at 60 – Wynns Coonawarra Estate in a better place than ever
The passion, energy and dedication to quality Samuel and David had when rebuilding their estate and the Coonawarra region has become part of the culture at Wynns. For the last 25 years, Sue Hodder has worked with an exceptional team of viticulturists and winemakers to continue the work started by the Wynn family 60 years ago. In many larger wineries, the work of the viti and winemaking teams can be quite separate. Sure, paths will cross at all of the important times but they can often work in isolation. Things are very different at Wynns. Grape growing and winemaking go hand-in-hand to ensure the wines reflect the regional character and vintage nuance as closely as possible.
Sue Hodder - From Australia’s Heartland to the Heart of Australian Wine
The Coonawarra is a special place to grow grapes and make wine. The region is only 100 kilometres (60 miles) inland and a predominantly maritime climate prevails, with the dry and moderately cool summers ripening most grape varieties to perfection. Extensive cloud cover moderates the most important ripening period temperatures and helps set the region apart from Australian classics.
It’s impossible to talk about the region without at least briefly mentioning the soils. The terra rossa of Coonawarra is Australia's most famous soil, although it is not unique to the region. Vivid red in colour, it is either friable subplastic clay or a shallow friable loam derived from and lying on top of a bed of soft limestone. Wynns have an amazing resource of vineyards that span the breadth of the Coonawarra. In recent years Sue and her team, led by renowned Senior Viticulturist Allen Jenkins, have put a huge amount of time, energy and resources into understanding as much as they possible can about their vineyards.
"Allen Jenkins and his team have done so much work rejuvenating and developing our vines against the background of climate change. The last decade has been challenging, with a complex matrix of things changing, but we’ve learned a lot with that."
Sue Hodder, Senior Winemaker, Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Has all the replanting, retraining, trialling and experimentation been worth it? Without question the wines made by Sue are looking better than ever across the board. In testimony to this and to the Wynns’ philosophy, Gourmet Traveller Wine named Sue and Allen as Winemaker of the Year in 2010. This was followed in 2016 with the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology naming Sue and Sarah Pidgeon joint winners of their prestigious Winemaker of the Year. You can only imagine how proud John Riddoch, David and Samuel Wynn would be of the continual pursuit of excellence at their Coonawarra Estate. Thanks to Sue, Allen, Sarah and everyone at Wynns future is brighter than ever for their little slice of vinous paradise.
Watch the 60 years of Black Label Cabernet critic tasting.
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