When it comes to Australian wine - and Australian winemakers in particular – few names are as famous or revered as that of Sue Hodder. Sue is renowned around the world as being one of Australia’s finest winemakers and has spent more than two decades working at Wynns Coonawarra Estate where she is now Chief Winemaker.
Unlike many great Australian winemakers, Sue Hodder didn’t grow up in a winemaking region. Sue was born and raised in the red soil landscape of Central Australia, in the town of Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory. From a young age Sue had an interest in agriculture but it would take a 2,500km journey from the red soil of Alice Springs to the red soil of Coonawarra for her to fulfil her winemaking destiny.
From Red Soil To Red Soil
Looking back, perhaps it's no surprise that Sue has ended up in a place known for its red soil - the famous terra rossa soils of the Coonawarra region. Her winemaking journey to Coonawarra – one that took in stints in Bordeaux, Margaret River and California – and her training as a viticulturist have imbued in Sue a deep respect for the land on which vines are raised. And at Wynns she has the opportunity to craft wines raised on some of Australia’s finest soils.
Sue’s affinity for Coonawarra is strong and her time there has been littered with prestigious accolades. In 2010 she was awarded Gourmet Traveller Wine's Winemaker of the Year for her work at Wynn's Coonawarra Estate alongside viticulturist Allen Jenkins. The award was the culmination of her work at Wynn's, a period which saw this already well-regarded estate assail even greater heights of quality.
Wine Australia’s Sue Hodder Interview
Wine Australia caught up with Sue recently and she told us a little more about herself, her passion for Coonawarra and the importance of making wine sustainably.
How did you get started in wine?
I grew up in Alice Springs in Central Australia and was always interested in things agricultural – growing things and raising animals. I guess I was always going to pursue a career in applied science. I moved south to attend the renowned Roseworthy Agricultural (and Oenology) College which is now part of Adelaide University. I love wine, the seasons, the vineyards and the marketplace. Winemaking offers an opportunity to interact with all of it.
Tell us a little bit about the place where you grow grapes and make wine. What makes Wynns Coonawarra Estate so special?
The Wynns chapter is an important one in the Australian wine story. The heritage, vineyards, region and certainly the people contribute to that chapter. The next decade will be very exciting for us as the new vineyards come into maturity.
Does the history of the Coonawarra region and the winery resonate with you? Does it influence you in your day-to-day work?
Coonawarra’s early and recent history is fascinating, colourful and diverse. Since John Riddoch and others started the Coonawarra Fruit Colony in the 1800s, there have been a stream of intriguing individuals in the area. The legacy is profound when considering the isolation, challenging climate and early social attitudes.
Wynns is one of the most historic and highly-regarded wineries in Australia and around the world. How do you communicate this history and the evolution of Wynns over the years with trade and consumers?
The Wynns story is one of the most important chapters in the Australian wine story.
Sustainability is becoming more and more important in the wine industry. Is sustainability important to you as a winemaker? If so, why is it important for the Australian wine community to think about sustainability?
Sustainability underpins everything we do. It relates to the growing environment, the footprint we leave, the wines we make and of course our brand.
What is your wine philosophy?
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 (tasting the old bottles) and the new knowledge that is unfolding all the time.
Thank you, Sue, most informative.
Coonawarra - An Australian Wine Jewel
Australia has some of the most ancient soils and dramatic landscapes on Earth. The land around Alice Springs is a prime example of this, though its harsh and unforgiving climate has tested the resilience of those who've chosen to live there for thousands of years. Despite this sometimes-harsh environment, Central Australia is a beautiful and unique place that is home to natural wonders like Uluru and Kata Tjuta, marvels that draw people from around the world.
Sue Hodder grew up in the biggest town in central Australia, Alice Springs, home to around twenty-five thousand people, so her eventual move to the small, red dusted town of Coonawarra must have felt like coming to a home-from-home.
As with much of Central Australia, the landscape of Coonawarra reflects the revolutionary forces of nature over the last million years or so. The whole region was under the ocean until the last ice age, which froze the water into polar ice caps causing the shoreline to recede. The land that rose above sea level after the ice age was limestone and Coonawarra has three predominant soil types (when it comes to vines) sitting on top of this rock base. These are:
Terra Rossa - or ‘red soil’ which runs in a cigar shape on a ridge along the main highway. This iron-rich soil is hallowed ground for winemakers, and Sue is fortunate enough to be able to work it on a daily basis.
Black Rendzina - these soils lie to the west of the ridge where the terra rossa soils are found. Black rendzina soils are heavy clays with higher water retention capacities. These rendzina soils can be more challenging in wet, cool seasons as vine vigour may not be contained and large shaded berries with poor colour and quality can result.
Brown Rendzina - This ‘transitional’ soil grows vines quite successfully.
Nature and Winemaker In Perfect Harmony
Sue Hodder has shown in her time at Wynns what can be achieved when the right winemaker finds the right place to make wine. Being the custodian of such an important estate as Wynns has allowed Sue to build on the legacy of her predecessors, work with amazing soils and produce something that is of world-class quality.
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