Cullen Wines to genetically map and monitor the yeast strains in their vineyard

I know many readers were keen to learn the outcome of the latest hearing about the development of a microbrewery next door to Cullen Wines in Margaret River, about which I reported earlier this year (see here).  Regrettably, though Cullen won a shire ruling in their favour, the State Administrative Tribunal has overturned it, giving the green light to the new $2.2 million microbrewery, restaurant and cellar door for Ferngrove Vineyard, whose wines are made in Frankland River, Great Southern. 

It’s a disappointing outcome which casts a shadow over Cullen’s triumphs earlier this year.  Cullen won International Trophy for Chardonnay Over £10 at Decanter World Wine Awards and  Wine of the Year and Best Chardonnay  in Nick Stock’s 2010 Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide for Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007, of which Stock said: “With the convincing resurgence of Chardonnay in Australia taking hold from the top down, this is a beacon of quality for all to follow. A profound wine in every regard and one to impress the collectors and winemakers alike.”   

It’s also ironic, given that the brewery dispute hinged around the risk of contamination of Cullen’s wild yeast strains and it was Chardonnay with which Cullen first experimented with wild or natural yeast ferments in 1996.   And there’s no doubt that the renaissance, rehabilitation even, of Australian Chardonnay is in part down to the texture and complexity which wild yeasts bring to the party. So I continue to question why, leaving the question of legal entitlement to one side, it’s deemed necessary to build a microbrewery on that spot if there’s even a scintilla of risk that one of Australia’s greatest vineyards may be compromised.  

For their part, Cullen have determined to genetically map and monitor the yeast strains in their vineyard, winery and wines and have set out their position following this controversial decision as follows:

“We are disappointed that the State Administrative Tribunal has overturned the decision of the Busselton Shire to not allow the brewing of beer next to our vineyard and winery.

Our position is; and continues to be that this is an unacceptable risk to our business and the use of natural yeast ferments to make our wine.

We will seek further advice and assistance from the Minister for Agriculture and have commenced a study to genetically map and monitor the yeast strains in our vineyard, winery and wines. If over time these yeast strains are modified by the beer yeasts we will take action that is available to us under common law against Mr Burton and the brewery.

Many people in Australia and overseas are watching this decision and this is not a good day for quality wine production in Australia.  Australia is viewed in the UK and France as making “industrialised” wines and the industry is suffering with sales because of this view. This does not help the hard work that is being done by the wine bodies to dispel this image and promote regionality, individuality and quality – in essence terrior.

Our recent award for the World’s Best Chardonnay [Decanter World Wine Awards, Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2007], vindicates our approach to our vineyard and winemaking practices. There is a need for further research to be done which could give clarity to the acknowledged risk to our business. Cullen Wines will underwrite this research to protect its business and the quality of our wine. This will take time but it is our view that this should have been done prior to the approval of the brewery.

If there is an accident or the management plan proposed is inadequate or not followed and there is contamination there could be significant damage not only to Cullen Wines but to the Margaret River wine growing region and the brand of Margaret River wine.

Yours sincerely

Cullen Wines Management.”

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  1. Chris

    On one hand I sympathise with Cullens, and love their wine. However, the “wild” yeasts that they rely on do not occur naturally in the region, but are the result of the early days of Cullen, innoculating must with commercial strains such as EC1118, then spreading the pomace after pressing onto the vineyard. In the jarrah forest, there are few saccharomyces strains. The current success with wild yeast relies heavily on mutants of well-known strains that have been naturalised.
    Cullens espouse biodynamics and reliance on the “wisdom of nature”. The establishment of a brewery that uses ale and lager yeasts, assuming that normal hygenic practices are adhered to, poses no threat. The beer yeasts will not dominate. And if some do sneak into the Cullens vats … isn’t that just nature?

  2. Vanya Cullen

    In answer to this comment about how we made wines or make wines at cullen wines

    The Australian wine research institute found over 1000 different strains of sacromyces yeast strains in our vineyard and winery
    Not EC118
    In wild Yeast ferments there are usually a lots of strains fermenting the wine
    Then the dominant yeast takes over .
    The role and nature of wild yeasts has been the subject of much misinformed speculation and we at Cullen are really delighted that AWRI has so thoroughly researched the area and laid some of the myths to rest.
    Cheers
    Vanya


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