Of the 17 wines in the ‘Exceptional’ category of Langon’s Classification of Australian Wines only four are cabernets. Cullen Wines’ Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot shares the stage with another Margaret River icon, the Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, both wines reflect their respective winemakers’ uncompromising approach to quality and obsessive attention to detail. No wonder these superior talents have lifted their wines to world-class status in a remarkably short period of time!

The Diana Madeline is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Named after Diana Cullen, who founded Cullen Wines with her husband Kevin in 1966, this exceptionally elegant, balanced wine is the product of the consummate winemaking and vigneron skills of the couple’s youngest daughter Vanya.

Vanya Cullen followed in her winemaker mother’s footsteps, taking over as senior winemaker in 1989. Like her parents, she was very interested in applying organic principles in the vineyard, but after attending a workshop on biodynamic viticulture with Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive and Aubert de Villaine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, she realised the value of making both the vineyard and winery biodynamic. (The Matriach of Margaret: Cullen Wines by Neal Martin, eRobertParker.com May 2010)

The results of this conversion (the vineyard was certified biodynamic in 2003 and the winery in 2008) is clearly demonstrated in the fresh, elegant style of the Diana Madeline. As a result of the use of biodynamic viticulture, Cullen has seen a marked improvement in the structure and oxygenation of the soil, which in turn has enhanced the tannin ripening of the fruit. Consequently, the grapes can be harvested earlier at lower sugar levels and higher acidity.

Indeed, Lisa Perrotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate cites the 2008 Diana Madeline as “another example of Cullen’s emerging ability to achieve physiological ripeness at lower alcohols – this wine weighs-in at just 12.5%:

Trust me, I was looking for signs of greenness and astringency, but they just weren’t there. Composed of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot, it was matured 14 months in French barriques, 48% new. Deep garnet-purple colored, this wine reveals wonderfully expressive Cabernet aromas of warm cassis, mocha, smoked duck, anise, cardamom, cinnamon stick and freshly tilled loam. Crisp, medium bodied, intense and tight-knit, this is a relatively soft textured vintage with just above a medium level of very fine tannins. The finish is satisfyingly long. Drink it 2012 to 2020+. 91 points. (Wine Advocate # 191 Oct 2010)

The wine is also beautifully expressive of the unique ancient granitic soils of the Wilyabrup terroir. In the vineyard Cullen uses the Scott Henry trellising system.  Pioneered by the Henry Estate Winery in Umpqua Oregon in 1972,  this labour intensive trellis typically yields grapes of ripe tannins and flavours. The recent purchase of a Mistral apparatus for removing leaf material and infertile berries has also provided cleaner fruit than the bunch sorting previously used in the vineyard.  But with all this innovation has also come a return to tradition. The winery is finding that the use of a traditional basket press is leading to the extraction of only fine quality tannins.

To quote Neal Martin, “recent successes such as the outstanding Diana Madeline Cabernet 2004 and 2007…make the silly prices charged by Bordeaux even more ridiculous.”