Tag: Cullen Wines

Aug 08 2012

Watching Biodynamics in Action at Cullen Wines: My weekend in the Margaret River

Posted on August 08, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I arrived at Cullen Wines, production manager/winemaker Trevor Kent suggested that we first take a look at the vineyards. His excitement in showing off the rich moist soil of the vineyard beds was palpable.

Passionate about the benefits of biodynamics, Trevor was very generous about sharing his knowledge of the subject and explaining how Vanya Cullen and he have implemented biodynamic practices both the vineyards and the winery. Cullen was certified “A” grade biodyamic in 2004, but innovation and refinement of techniques are ongoing.

Biodynamics is based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science. Trevor explained that in 1924 a group of German farmers approached Steiner for help in revitalising their nutrient depleted, unproductive soils. Steiner recommended a wholistic approach that incorporated organic farming principles but also recognised that the movements of the moon and the planets have a profound influence on the soil and plant and animal life.

At Cullen, farm activities like planting and harvesting are timed to coincide with the optimal position of the moon in relation to the planets. And the biodynamic prepartions, which include naturally occurring matter like farm manure, are all prepared in a way that optimises energy forces.

The photo on the left shows Trevor standing next to a Flow Form machine, which is used to mix the biodynamic preparations with water. For the horn manure preparation (500), for example, small amounts of manure are stirred into large volumes of water before being applied to the vineyards. Steiner believed that the combination of vertical and horizontal vortices created by the special stirring process increased the vitality of the preparations and improved their effectiveness on the soils and plants. Trevor likened the preparation process to collecting fast flowing, oxygenated water from a fresh water stream. The Flow Form machine mimics the natural process of … Read the rest

Mar 03 2011

The Return to Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne

Posted on March 03, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a week when a tragic natural disaster in Japan was compounded by the fear of a potential man-made nuclear disaster, I think many of us were grateful for the opportunity to attend the Return to The Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne. Here was a group of biodynamic winemakers, passionate about the benefits of working with the land’s natural rhythms and bio-systems, delighting our senses with superb wines and stimulating discussion.

Organised by Castagna Vineyard’s Julian Castagna, the tasting brought together 61 wine producers from around the world and more than 340 wines! Almost all of these wineries are members of La Renaissance des Appellations, an invitation only group of biodynamic winemakers founded by Nicolas Joly of the famed Coulée de Serrant. Members are invited not only on the basis of their farming practices (three years of biodynamic farming across the whole property is the minimum criteria) but are also judged on the quality of their wine and their commitment to a shared philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.

In the catalogue accompanying the tasting, Australian wine critic Max Allen noted that “A rapidly growing number of the world’s best winegrowers, from Alsace to Australia, have enthusiastically adopted biodyanmics in their vineyards because they believe it helps them produce wines that express a more authentic, more beautiful sense of place in the glass.”

Indeed, some of the most celebrated wineries in the world are members of the group. To name but a few, they include Domaine Zind Humbrecht from Alsace, Araujo Estate from the Napa Valley, Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez from Spain and Cullen Wines from the Margaret River.

At the panel discussion I attended the audience had a chance to hear first-hand from the winemakers about what … Read the rest

Feb 02 2011

Margaret River: Australia’s Answer to Bordeaux!

Posted on February 02, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Is Margaret River Australia’s answer to Bordeaux? After spending a week looking at some of the best estates on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between Bordeaux and Margaret River. Like Bordeaux, Margaret River shines at making cabernet sauvignon blends and one of its signature whites is a typical Bordeaux blend of sauvignon blanc and semillion.

No surprise then to learn that the renowned agronomist Dr. John Gladstones from the University of Western Australia published two reports in 1965 and 1966 respectively that confirmed Margaret River as an ideal region for viticulture and compared the climate to Bordeaux’s Pomeral region.

In fact, Margaret River’s climate is much more sympathetic to grape growing than Bordeaux. Summer rain is almost virtually non-existent, allowing the grapes in most years to fully ripen and avoid problems like mildew and rot that can plague Bordeaux’s vines. Its maritime location – the furthest part of Margaret River is about 7 km from the Indian Ocean – creates a temperate climate that insures a long growing season, while also accommodating earlier ripening varieties such as chardonnay – another variety for which Margaret River has established a great reputation. While Margaret River’s top winemakers can single out the top vintages over the region’s short 40 plus year history, vintage variation is far less of an issue in Margaret River than it is in Bordeaux.

Like Bordeaux, the terroir of Margaret River is ancient. Ranging from 150 to 200 metres above sea level, the best vineyards are on a ridge, which was once a granitic island and considered to be one of the oldest land masses in the world. The weathered, free draining gravel soils over clay subsoils and decomposed granite are not too rich in organic matter, providing the necessary stress that grape vines … Read the rest

Nov 11 2010

Terroir: What does it mean and how is best expressed?

Posted on November 11, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

On Wednesday, The Sydney Morning Herald/Age inaugural Good Wine Guide’s Winery of the Year was awarded to Henschke, the South Australian winery internationally renowned for its single vineyard Hill of Grace Shiraz. Henschke first produced Hill of Grace in 1958, and the wine is one of Australia’s earliest examples of a single-vineyard wine. Today Hill of Grace has distinguished company in the single-vineyard category. Two thirds of the 94 wines in the Good Food Wine Guide’s highest “three glass”  category are single-vineyard wines. (Singled out for greatness by Helen Pitt, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2010)

Wine critic and Good Wine Guide author Nick Stock argues that “we need to be championing wines that have a strong sense of place – what the French call terroir.” The prevalence of so many single vineyard wines in the top ranking suggests that winemakers are moving in that direction, but what exactly does terroir mean and how is it best expressed?

Jay McInerney recently wrote a very interesting article about Nicolas Joly, the proprietor of Coulée de Serrant, which is a domain in the Anjou region of the Loire Valley making world-class Savenièrres. In 2000  Joly founded Return to Terroir and is a leading champion for biodynamic viticulture. (Mr. Joly’s Particularly Pure Terroir by Jay McInerney, The Wall Street Journal, 14 October 2010)

Joly is also a “fierce defender” of the French appellation contrôllée system, which came into being in the 1930s and codified years of regional practice based on the idea that wines should uniquely reflect their terroir or place of origin. Essentially, it restricts the planting of certain varieties to specific regions. The white grape Chenin Blanc, for example, is only planted in the Loire Valley where it is deemed best suited.

Australian winemakers face no such restrictions … Read the rest

Nov 11 2010

‘Wines Not Mines:’ Help Margaret River Make the Case!

Posted on November 11, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Earlier this year the Upper Hunter Valley local community had a first-ever win over coal mining interests. The NSW Premier Kristine Keneally stopped the Bickham open cut coal mine, north of Scone, from going ahead, citing the unique rural characteristics of the locality, the economic importance of the local horse-breeding industry and community opposition as the main reasons for finally rejecting the proposal. (Upper Hunter Valley coal mine defeated by thoroughbred industry, Independent Media Centre, Australia, 16 May 2010)

Now the battleground has moved to the Margaret River in Western Australia, where the local community is trying to stop the proposed Vasse Coal Project at Osmington, which is 15 km from the Margaret River township and 1 km from the Margaret River waterway.

Potential problems from the proposed underground mine include groundwater contamination, a drop in air quality, wine grape tainting and traffic congestion.

But more emphatically, the Margaret River Wine Industry Association believes that the Margaret River’s world-class reputation as a wine producer and tourist destination will be threatened if mining in the region is permitted. (Wines Not Mines in Margaret River, Press Release, Margaret River Wine Industry Association, 20 August 2010)

Unlike the Upper Hunter Valley, where 14 massive open cut coal mines already co-exist, albeit in an uneasy relationship, with vineyards, horse-breeding and other agricultural activities, the Margaret River is a largely pristine, geographically isolated environment that up until now hasn’t had to worry about environmental threats from the mining industry.

Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines says it’s “madness” to jeopardise Margaret River’s pristine reputation, “We’re recognised as a world-famous tourist destination and if we’re going to develop anything, it should be that.” Cullen recently stated. (Wine industry bid to crush Margaret River coal mine by Trevor Paddenburg, The Sunday Times, 7 August … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Why Great Wine Promotes Healthy and Good Food!

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

If you follow food trends, you would have noticed the explosion of interest in sourcing food locally. This phenomena has been sparked not only by a desire to reduce ‘food’ miles – ie. the distance food has to travel to reach our tables. More importantly, buying local is about promoting sustainability, self-reliance, seasonal and indigenous produce, and supporting family-owned farms that are growing food of very high quality.

Not surprisingly, premier Australian winery restaurants have been at the forefront in promoting regional cuisine and sourcing locally grown produce. And because they expect their suppliers to apply the same exacting standards as they do, the ‘partnership’ is achieving some great results!

Like many wineries in the Margaret River, Voyager Estate has its own highly regarded restaurant. Dedicated to showcasing the best regional fare, Voyager is committed to sourcing producers who share their passion and integrity.

Head Chef Blair Allen treasures the nine year relationship Voyager has built with the small family-owned and run Margaret River Venison Farm, “When the order is placed we know we are speaking to people who know and love their product.” Similarly, Paul Smith, the owner of Station Road Green Grocer, which supplies the Voyager restaurant with all its fresh fruit and vegetables, is “very passionate about great quality produce”.

The Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove Restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria serves food inspired by regional France, but the fresh seasonal produce is sourced from the estate and surrounding Mornington Peninsula farms. Montalto has its own expansive herb and vegetable garden, fruit and nut orchard and berry garden to which chefs make daily visits, harvesting the best of the garden for use in the restaurant. The vineyard also sells its own olive oil.

Cullen Wine’s vineyard in the Margaret River is certified “A” Grade … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Australian Cabernet: A Worthy Contender to Shiraz’s Crown!

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Campbell Mattinson, the well respected wine critic and a principal author of the popular wine blog The Wine Front, remarked in a recent post, Notes from a cabernet masterclass Tuesday, Aug 10 2010, that “when we talk of what Australian wine does best we invariably mention shiraz first, semillon second, chardonnay or riesling third and then cabernet or pinot noir.” In his opinion, a recent Dan Murphy’s cabernet masterclass, which included stars such as Mount Mary, Cullen, Yeringberg, Balnaves, Wantirna Estate, Petaluma, Yarra Yering, Voyager Estate and Moss Wood, would have equaled, if not surpassed, a similar tasting of  twenty or so Australian top-flight shiraz or chardonnay.

So why isn’t Australian cabernet getting the attention it deserves? In James Halliday’s list of the 100 Top Wines of 2009 and 100 Tops Wines of 2008, the two varieties, shiraz and cabernet, are fairly evenly represented, so you probably can’t argue that top Australian wine critics are biased towards shiraz-based wines. Of course, Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace have set the bar pretty high for aspiring makers of fine Australian shiraz, and the international profile of Australian shiraz has certainly been lifted by influential American wine critic Robert Parker’s great enthusiasm for the variety. But could fashion also have something to do with it?

In a fascinating article Eric Asimov of The New York Times observes that younger Americans have lost enthusiasm for French Bordeaux, Bordeaux Loses Prestige Among Younger Wine Lovers, 18 May 2010: “Not so long ago, young wine-loving Americans were practically weaned on Bordeaux, just as would-be connoisseurs had been for generations. It was the gateway to all that is wonderful about wine. Now that excitement has gone elsewhere, to Burgundy and the Loire, to Italy and Spain. Bordeaux, some young wine enthusiasts say, is … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Support Cullen’s Fight to Protect Biodynamic Farming

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Aria’s Wine List, compiled by head sommelier Matthew Dunne, was awarded the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide 2009 Wine List of Year. The ‘Cellar Treasure’ page features 21 wines from producers who practice biodynamic farming methods. It includes wine from great producers in France, Spain and New Zealand.  Australian wineries featured are such notable names as Castagna, Howard Park, Lethbridge, Ngeringa, Hochkirch, Bindi, Domaine Lucci and Cullen.

Cullen Wines in the Margaret River, Western Australia, has been at the forefront in introducing organic and then biodynamic farming methods to its vineyards and winery. As the winery comments in its most recent newsletter, Grapevine Winter Edition 2010, since adopting biodynamic methods in 2003, “the quality of wines has increased through having greater liveliness, a better balance between the grape flavours, sugar, acid and tannin levels, and the advantage gained from an earlier ripening of the fruit. The wines now require no additives and benefit greatly from having a lower alcohol content than previously.”

Biodynamic viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system which thrives when the cycles of plant growth are aligned with the rhythms of the cosmos. It fosters the health and life of the soil and encourages the success of a diverse range of organisms including yeast and bacteria. Chemicals and additives are not permitted, so the fermentation of the wine depends entirely on the indigenous yeasts associated with the vineyards and winery.

A proposed plan to build a microbrewery on land that adjoins the Cullen vineyards is of great concern not only for Cullen’s but for one of Australia’s great wine growing regions.

The brewer’s yeasts used for fermenting beer have different characters and flavour properties than the wild and natural wine-making yeasts, but are able to grow in wine must. Cullen says that … Read the rest