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Retro-Friday: “Keep an eye on Coonawarra, it’s changing”

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I enjoyed a pretty classy week of tasting samples from Coonawarra last month for a terroir-focused feature on this famous South Australian region with 15 wine recommendations for Decanter; it will be published later this year.   Meantime I strongly recommend that Cabernet lovers follow up on my Red Wine of the Month recommendation, Wynn’s Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.  I’ve re-tasted it a couple of times this year, having first tried it on release at the winery on Wynnsday in 2014.  Here’s my detailed report from that visit which highlights why Coonawarra is flourishing – and how!  This post was first published on 3 September 2014.

Having just visited prime Australian Cabernet country (Coonawarra and Margaret River) I felt no little embarrassment when I realised I’d overlooked International Cabernet Sauvignon Day last Thursday.  Suffice to say I’ll not be overlooking Port Wine Day – in fact I’ll be reporting live from Oporto, where else?!? As for Cabernet, better late than never. Here’s a meaty post for fans of the famous grape – my report of last month’s Wynnsday.

Wynnsday marks the release of Wynns of Coonawarra’s latest releases plus, lucky me, I was treated to my second bite in two years of a particularly delicious cherry – a vertical tasting of Wynns single vineyard wines.  A tasting which put the Alex 88 vineyard in pole position in terms of personal favourites, especially the 2010 vintage which – no surprises – fielded some fabulous wines from the rest of the range, notably Wynns John Riddoch (previously reviewed here) and Wynns V & A Lane Cabernet Shiraz (reviewed below).

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Wynns vine whisperer Allen Jenkins outlines operation Root & Branch

But before I get into the nitty gritty of tasting notes here’s some real nitty gritty background on developments at Wynns which have significantly impacted on the quality and range of Wynns’ wines over the last decade or so. Spearheaded by Allen Jenkins in the vineyard and Sue Hodder in the winery, their success is surely down to the pairs’ hand in glove collaboration.  In consequence, the wines have become more refined, with a seamlessness and grace. I don’t think I’m being entirely fanciful when I say this perhaps reflects a sense of deeper rootedness and connection with and to the land. The mustard keen team, all of whom played a part in Wynnsday, helps too – Sarah Pidgeon, Luke Skeer, Dominic Coulter in the winery and Ben Harris in the vineyards.

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What’s in the glass – Sue Hodder and her wine

Dynamic duo Jenkins and Hodder are out and about in the UK this month. I reckon the Institute of Masters of Wine are in for a complete treat when Jenkins speaks to his work.  This softly spoken man has most definitely shown himself to be something of a vine whisperer.   I’ll attempt to summarise just some of his initiatives.

The vineyards

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This photo of vine carnage which I took last year (much to Jenkin’s horror) isn’t pretty but it does provide an insight into the depth of the commitment to restore Wynns’ vineyards to peak health both for now and future generations – literally, a root and branch reform.   Jenkins told me Wynns are not alone in this process which follows a tricky period in which vineyard plantings mushroomed without the labour to lavish the requisite tender loving care on the vines.  “Keep an eye on Coonawarra” he said, “it’s changing.”

Unsurprisingly since Wynns have the region’s largest vineyard holding (c. 850ha) their efforts – a massive undertaking which started in 2002 three hectares at a time – are the most visible.  Hodder joked “it’s a wonder Jenkins didn’t run like hell” when he arrived in 2002 and realised the enormity of the project.  A huge amount of ongoing research is being documented by Jenkins and Harris and, with Wynns’ kind permission, I have drawn heavily from their research papers and presentations as well as our discussions during my visits of this year and last below.

In essence the project has involved removing vineyards planted to the incorrect clone or variety or in poor health (eutypa dieback and leaf roll have been major issues).  Most target vineyards were around 40 years old.  Vineyard renovation and replanting has focused on imposing a planned vineyard diversity via clones, rootstocks and canopy management and developing a very detailed understanding of vineyard soils, geology and microclimate.

Ultimately the aim has been to optimise wine quality and express Coonawarra’s full potential which, I might add, includes a much more diverse then you might think expression of its lead variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Building greater diversity into the vineyard is additionally seen as a useful buffer against climate change which has resulted in more extreme weather conditions, also a means to stagger the harvest – pretty handy when you consider the size of the harvest at Wynns!

As for the variables which lie behind this diversity of expression of Cabernet Sauvignon Harris informed us that the most important are vintage, clone and site.  Vintage, he added, ”trumps everything.”   Here’s a look at what Wynns have discovered about these variables (and others) and how they are attempting to manage them in the vineyard.


flat topography

Low lying & undulating – Photo credit: Wynns

This comes first simply because it has the most surprising influence given that Coonawarra is, to the casual observer, flat!  As Harris joked, “you have to live here to see the elevation” but sitting between 51 to 63m above sea level it’s pretty low lying.  Still, according to research Wynns conducted last year for every metre drop the temperature falls by around 0.8 degrees centigrade.  Yep, nearly 1 degree!  Which is the figure generally associated with every 100m, not metre, drop!

Jenkins himself was surprised by the research and told me it’s down to cold air draining off the rise to the north, east and west (which means that higher vineyards at 58 to 61metres above sea level are significantly warmer).


Jenkins says he sees a big difference in temperature between those vineyards to the north and south of the V & A lane.  In general (see above), the further south you go (from Struan to Coonawarra to Penola), the cooler it is.  By way of example the Alex 88 vineyard (which has produced single vineyard wines in 2006 and 2010) is normally picked 11 days earlier than the more southerly Abbey Cabernet immediately north of Penola.  That means almost one day later in harvest date for every kilometre you go south.


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Caressable & classic – Coonawarra terra rossa

The region’s famous terra rossa soils (shallow red loam on limestone) account for Wynns’ best Cabernet fruit.  Jenkins explained this is because it is the most consistent medium in which to grow balanced vines which produce the ripe tannin and flavour characteristics that Wynns look for in Cabernet at 13 to 13.5 baume.

This soil type occurs on the (more elevated) rises (ancient coastal dunes) – a centrally located ridge – which runs north/south at 54 to 62 metres above sea level.

The advantages of terra rossa soils include an optimal average depth, open crumbly soil, good aeration and drainage (free draining and yet adequate water holding capacity) coupled with natural fertility, and persistent structural integrity.

According to Wynns’ research, “the best of the best usually comes from the more uniform soils, which have a depth of around 50cm.”  And for Jenkins, the free draining nature of these soils, which start to dry out around Christmas, is the secret to Coonawarra’s small, intensely coloured berries.

Soils to the lower lying east (the original coastline) tend to be sandy while, as you go west near the old railway line the land drops off to around 50 metres and the soils progressively change to deeper, heavier, black coloured, Ground Water Rendzina clay which is less friable and has less structural integrity.

rendzina soils

Rendzina soils – Photo credit: Wynns

Rendzina soils are on the flats (ancient lagoon beds) and, especially in wetter seasons,  they induce more vigour, shading and delayed ripening.  Due to the water holding capacity of these soils the berries tend to be larger and grown in more shade, consequently the wines can be lighter in both colour and flavour.  In drier seasons this water holding capacity can work to Wynns advantage and vines in these soils can make a valuable contribution to Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon.  And, of course, they are well suited to whites, including Wynns’ Riesling.


The tradition of planting on own roots means that only around 7.5% of Cabernet plantings are on rootstocks – 1103 Paulsen, 101-14 Mgt and Schwarzmann.  In collaboration with the Phylloxera Board of SA, and the Coonawarra Grapegrower Association Wynns have planted a trial to evaluate long term fruit quality of Cabernet Sauvignon grafted to nine rootstocks in a classic terra rossa soil.

Jenkins expects to see a change in ripening times which will result in a different dimension to the fruit.  He reckons the future holds more rootstock grafting.  Indeed, as Harris pointed out, the use of diverse rootstocks offers a hedge against drought (assuming it gets dry going forward).  At any rate, most of Wynns’ new plantings are on rootstocks.

Clones & cuttings

Wynns have an important vine heritage programme with specific clones from our older vineyards being selected and propagated over the last 15 years.  The three clones selected were whittled down following a selection process which involved tasting and grading fruit, virus checking the vines and making small batch wines.  The first of the heritage clones were planted on own roots four year ago.

Preservation of heritage material is also achieved in top vineyards by replacing missing plants using the buried cane method where, following winter pruning a cane (still attached, umbilical cord-like to the existing mother vine) is buried in the ground leaving the last bud or two above surface.

Wynns are also planting other proven Australian clones and new international material which will help manage diversity across vintage, especially given the extremes of climate change.  According to Harris, the different clones performed very differently in 2011.  Certainly the different clonal samples (clones 125, Reynella, CW44, WA selection and Entav 412) I tasted last year at Menzies, Yalumba’s Coonawarra estate, demonstrated significant differences in aroma/flavour profile and structure.

Last year Jenkins told me that, over three recent vintages, Wynns had been assessing the wine quality from five clones in the McBain’s vineyard, located across two adjacent soil types.  They discovered that:

  • SA125 had the highest concentration of tannin at veraison; this also corresponded to the highest tannin level at harvest
  • Reynella had the greatest decline in tannin from veraison to harvest
  • G9V3 had highest Baume and colour at harvest
  • SA 125 had the highest bunch number per vine, LC10 had highest yield
  • SA125 was ranked highest in quality score
  • Terra Rossa had the highest tannin concentration at veraison through to harvest.
  • Tannin concentrations were highest at veraison for both soil types and then declined through to harvest.
  • Phenolics were highest for Terra Rossa
  • Rendzina had highest sugar and colour at harvest
  • Terra Rossa had highest bunch number and yield per vine
  • Terra Rossa had the highest wine scores

Irrigation and water management practices

Careful water management is critical to achieve much desired small berries (9 to 10mm diameter) that have even and deep colour, intense varietal Cabernet flavour, minimal green methoxy-pyrazines and integrated with fine balanced ripe tannins.

To that end, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide Wynns have been trialling a hand held Near Infra Red Spectrophotometer to assist in optimising irrigation application and moderating vine stress.

To try and understand how much stress is optimal for Cabernet Sauvignon Wynns are limiting the amount of irrigation in some vineyards and comparing this with a normal regime applied to an adjacent vineyard.

The deficit irrigated McBains Vineyard received 18mm of supplementary water for the 2012/13 season compared to the responsively irrigated vineyard which received 163mm.  Here are my notes on a couple of cask samples from this trial which I tasted last year:

  • Trial 1 (PBWR557 tank C253, 2013) – very inky in hue with firm tannins and broad fruit.
  • Trial 2 (PBWR557 tank CS3035, 2013) – more fluid in the glass and finer on the palate – very floral with silkier fruit and fine chalky tannins.


Frost sprinkler protection at work – Photo credit: Wynns

Water reduction is also being implemented through lower volume sprinklers which are the primary and most effective tool to prevent spring frost damage.   Their introduction has saved approximately 350 megalitres of water and, in the process, improved the Cabernet fruit (the soils are not being over-watered early in the season which helps control vine vigour and limit berry size, thus concentrating flavour and colour).

Canopy management

The variability of Spring temperatures dramatically impacts on bud fruitfulness in Coonawarra.  Jenkins told me if the previous Spring is cold you’ll most likely have one bunch per bud but, if it’s warm, you might have three bunches.  So Jenkins and his team have utilized the process of dormant bud dissections – who knew!?! – to enable them to predict how many (embryonic) bunches are in each bud.

This prediction then informs pruning practices, the aim being to balance the number of buds/bunches per vine each year.  Ideally a vine will have a moderate number of bunches all ripening evenly in balance with an optimal area of healthy functional leaves.  The more even the ripening the easier it is to pick at lower baume; bunch thinning is also practiced to that end.

It really struck me on my latest visit how much trellis variation there is in Coonawarra compared with other Australian regions (partly owing to changing practices over time).  It’s a useful feature where Harris pointed out vertical shoot positioning works best in cool years while a sprawling canopy is better in hot years (it helps shade the bunches).

Both spur and cane pruning are practised in the region. At Wynns there has been a move to swap older vineyards over to cane pruning for better fruitfulness and balance (Jenkins explains the berries then grow bigger where small does not always give the best flavour).

Leaf plucking is undertaken most years (at different heights and on different sides depending on aspect/sun interception) to reduce less desirable green characters but, nonetheless, as Harris ratherly sweetly put it, ”every bunch has to have a hat” to protect it from sun burn.

Soil management

Wynns are measuring the levels of soil micro-organisms in their vineyards to ascertain the biological health of soils in an attempt to improve the fruit flavours and brightness.  They have discovered that, owing to minimal soil cultivation and slashed permanent  swards in the middle of the vine rows, physical, biological, and nutritional soil health is very good. This is also reflected in a significant insect and spider population.

Still, in order to enhance beneficial soil micro-organism levels yet further the team are adding measured quantities of compost containing kelp, humic acids, fulvic acids and manures to targeted areas, for example shallower soils (which are identified using infra-red technology) or under old and very young vines.  The result has been an improvement in vine vigour which has decreased fruit exposure to the sun and created softer tannins.  Other benefits include buffering heat stress for shallow terra rossa, better water holding capacity, a reduction of surface soil drying out, also weed control. Wynns have also trialled many types of mulches to keep soil and roots cool and reduce water evaporation.

The wines

Thanks to the introduction of more small batch open fermenters the very detailed understanding of vineyard soils, geology and microclimate which has resulted from all this work in the vineyard has been reflected in Wynns’ wines. In particular, with the introduction of the V&A Lane label and single vineyard wines.

Wynns V & A Lane verticals

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Surveyed in 1851, the straight as the crow flies V & A Lane to the south of Wynns winery dissects Coonawarra from east to west. Some of Wynns’ best vineyards including their oldest vines are located alongside the road – 45 year old Cabernet Sauvignon at the Childs vineyard, also its oldest Shiraz (42 years old).

The V & A label was introduced in 2008 with a view to showing off the distinctively dense, rich fruit.  Qualities which Jenkins attributes to terra rossa soils and the fact that the V & A vineyards are, in Coonawarra terms, relatively high so they benefit from cold air drainage.  It helps protects them against frost and also makes for better (warmer) ripening conditions.

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Sarah Pidgeon in V & A 6 Shiraz block

Sarah Pidgeon presented the latest releases alongside older vintages.  For her, “seeing all the flavours separately has allowed us to think what we could do following year.”  Interestingly, the path has reflected more widespread changes in approach to harvest dates across the country – as Pidgeon puts it “we do more picks and take more risks going in earlier and earlier…maybe two weeks’ earlier.” And where, she observes, “we have a natural richness so we can play more” even in an early pick “we looking for ripe tannins.”  It would seem that this is where the in depth vineyard work has really paid dividends (because fruit is ripening more evenly and earlier). The wines have a more lucid, natural balance – a freshness and lightness of frame with no loss of flavour intensity.

First we tasted the Shiraz which, at Wynns, mostly comes from sandier eastern sites.  With its bigger root system, Jenkins is loading up the vigorous Shiraz vines with sacrificial canes to make them work harder.  These canes are pruned off at veraison which, together with bunch thinning to get rid of bigger bunches, helps to achieves fewer smaller bunches at harvest.  As he (rather menacingly) puts it, “Shiraz is like recalcitrant men.  Treat it hard or it doesn’t do anything useful.”

For Pidgeon the variety is still very much under the microscope with earlier picking dates and different ferments under exploration, also a degree of whole bunch ferment.  To very promising effect if the 2012 vintage is anything to go by….Good to hear Pidgeon say “we’ll get braver as we get to know the fruit more.”  I think this is necessary if Coonawarra Shiraz is to strike up a stronger sense of identity and not just fall into the no man’s land between Victoria’s and Canberra’s cool climate styles and the classic more opulent styles of its more northerly South Australian cousins in McLaren Vale and the Barossa.  Pidgeon says Coonawarra Shiraz can be beautifully floral. I’d love to see more of that.

Wynns V & A Lane Shiraz 2008 (Coonawarra)

I tasted this wine out in the vineyards under some rather impressive red gums.  Did they account for the touch of eucalypt?   In a vintage which was cool to mild in between heat spells the medium-bodied palate reveals bright red fruits with a savoury rub of oak spice, rosemary and eucalyptus.   Fine tannins make for a polished wine.  14%

Wynns V & A Lane Shiraz 2009 (Coonawarra)

A long and late harvest conducive to excellent flavour development.  The 2009 vintage was aged for 15 months in a combination of new and seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  Though medium-bodied the fruit is dark and rich with smooth, juicy blood plum and more concentrated black berry and (slightly jubey) currant fruit on nose and palate.   The region’s loamy chocolate and eucalypt notes are in evidence together with this cool climate region’s ripe yet present frame of tannins.  13.5%

Wynns V & A Lane Shiraz 2010 (Coonawarra)

A warmer than average year.  The 2010 vintage was aged for 16 months in a combination of new and seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  Ripe raspberry and red cherry fruit is layered with blackberry, tobacco and spicy fruit cake nuances.   The vintage’s juicy acidity brings vibrancy, charming balance and great immediacy to this wine while chalky, pithy tannins remind you that it has the structure to age for several years plus.  13.5%

Wynns V & A Lane Shiraz 2012 (Coonawarra)

An excellent low yielding “early long ripening season.” Thirty percent of the 2012 vintage was whole bunch fermented and no new oak was used.  It was aged for 17 months in 100% seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  The emphasis is very much on the red fruit, cherry (cherry lips – more scented than sweet) and sweeter, creamier vanillin accented raspberry which, nonetheless perhaps because of the fruit tannin (stems) component and absence of new oak, is beautifully defined.  A very polished, pure fruited Shiraz with lovely floral lift.  My wine of the flight – way to go!  13.5%

Wynns V & A Lane Cabernet Shiraz 2009 (Coonawarra)

This quintessentially Australian blend has long featured in Australia’s fine wine history, including in Coonawarra and at Wynns.  Sometimes the Cabernet ripens with the Shiraz and can be co-fermented (in 2012, for example).  Where, said Pidgeon, “Cabernet is the hero” it certainly fulfils its varietal role with aplomb, leading on the attack and running away with the finish with its impeccable blackcurrant fruit, perfume and polished tannins.  The Shiraz, 30% of this blend, seamlessly rounds out the mid-palate with red berry and plum fruit. Very well done and, thanks to its hero, very Coonawarra in its elegance and poise. The 2009 vintage was aged for 15 months in a combination of new and seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  13.5%

Wynns V & A Lane Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Coonawarra)

Once again 2010’s juicy acidity lends an utterly charming balance and great immediacy to this blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Shiraz.  With its melt in the mouth tannins and cassis fruit, it is the most seamless, mellifluous of blends.  Liberated by a slug of Shiraz, a very expressive and long perfectly gorgeous floral and mineral inflected finish sings of the region’s signature grape.  My pick of the flight.  The 2010 vintage was aged for 15 months in a combination of new and seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  13.5%

Wynns V & A Lane Cabernet Shiraz 2012 (Coonawarra)

A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon and 32% Shiraz.  The cooler year is signposted by a more elegant, spicier palate whose blackcurrant and juicy black plum fruit is threaded with vanillin, cedar and five spice notes; savoury black olive too.  Youthfully wholesome and fresh; a long, persistent finish is well supported by a spine of firm powdery tannins.  Lovely, classic expression.  The 2012 vintage was aged for 15 months in a combination of new and seasoned French oak hogsheads and barrels.  13.5%

Single vineyard wines

Single vineyard soils types

Single vineyard soils types

The first single vineyard wine was made in 2001 and every year since save 2002 and 2011.  In a bid to boost its portfolio’s luxury lifestyle credentials Wynns’ owner Treasury Wine Estates is mad keen on limited edition luxury releases.  I must admit I felt more than a little covetous of the single vineyard selection box with its innovative use of test tubes to show off the different soil types.

Speaking of limited editions, except for 2010 when, by reason of 2011’s no show two vineyards made the cut, Wynns’ policy is to select a single – yes just one – single vineyard wine each year.  When I queried the policy with Chief Winemaker Sue Hodder her take was “where do you stop” and, to be fair, I suppose having some 800ha of vineyard at your disposal does rather require a focus of energies!

For Hodder “every wine has to have a story and reason for being” and the single vineyard wines are a means of giving recognition to the fact that Wynns has some of the most important and oldest Cabernet vineyards in the country.  Endearingly Hodder and her team call the older more hard-pressed vines “skinny old guys” because, initially, their wines are a little lean and need time in barrel to reveal their grace and evenness.  And if they don’t, Hodder drily quipped, “sometimes they don’t make it and go straight out to the retirement home.”

Wynns Harold Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (Coonawarra)

Harold vineyard

Harold vineyard – Photo credit: Wynns

Location: south of Wynns winery but north of the V & A Lane the Harold vineyard is located on the north west corner of the intersection between Riddoch Highway and Stoney Road.

History: it is named after Harold Childs from whom Wynns acquired 9 hectares of bare farm land in 1966 (though the land had previously been planted to vines).  It was replanted to the current Cabernet vines in 1971.   This single vineyard Cabernet was made just prior to the vineyard’s renovation when it was still dry farmed (it yielded 8 tonnes per hectare in 2001).  Between 2002 to 2008 drip irrigation was installed, compost was added selectively on the shallower soil areas and Harold also had canopy reconstruction and a new trellis installed.

Soil: Harold is located on Terra Rossa  – classic bright red coloured light clay over limestone.    Structurally the soil is strongly aggregated in the top third, but loses aggregate definition lower in the profile. Evidence of excellent drainage and root penetration to depth.There is a darker layer on top of the calcrete associated with a mat of roots. Being a dry land block for 38 years there is evidence of roots pushing to depth where possible in the cracks in the limestone.

Vintage: 2001 was characterised by quite high summer rainfall and consequently this block suffered no drought stress.

Tasting note: evolving nicely Harold 2001 is a deep burgundy hue with rich and spicy mocha and panforte, leather and tufa notes which lend a patina of age to its sweet fleshy damson palate.  Nothing skinny about this old guy!  Matured for 18 months in new French oak.  13.5%

Wynns Johnson’s Block Shiraz Cabernet 2003 (Coonawarra)

Wynns' oldest Cabernet - Johnson's Block - Photo credit: Wynns

Wynns’ oldest Cabernet – Johnson’s Block – Photo credit: Wynns

Location: located south of the winery but north of the V & A Lane in the heart of the terra rossa zone.

History: the Johnson’s blocks (32ha of Shiraz planted in 1925) were named after WB Johnson who owned some of the land in 1906.    Wynns acquired it from Chateau Camaum in 1951.  The 19 hectare Cabernet block was planted by Wynns in 1954, and today is Wynns’ oldest block of Cabernet.

Soil: The depth of Johnson’s Terra Rossa (red, but not as bright red as Harold) ranges from 300mm of very well structured light clay on the surface through to a medium clay to 1.1 metre depth.  The deeper soils produce the best fruit which has excellent water holding capacity, making it an ideal dry-land block.

Vintage: well-timed rainfall and moderate temperatures during the growing season allowed good flavour development and balance; warmer temperatures in April ensured a successful vintage.

Tasting note: paler than Harold – the wine, not just the soil with garnet flashes.  A cooler feel to the fruit too where the wine has a distinctive pepperiness with, 11 years in, very attractive tertiary leather and dried sage notes to its juicy core of of sweet plum, raspberry coulis and red cherry.  With supple tannins it has a delicious lingering intensity – lovely depth and layer.  Aged for 15 months in new and one year old French oak and one year old American oak. 13.5%

Wynns Johnson’s Shiraz Cabernet 2004, from magnum (Coonawarra)

Vineyard profile: see above (2003 vintage)

Vintage: an ideal lead up to the growing season with average winter and spring rainfall/temperatures.  Cool and dry in January with a warmer February and March produced high quality fruit.

Tasting note: a deeper hue.  Though the pepperiness is more reminiscent of green peppercorn it’s an attractive, complexing green riff which, together with sweeter star anise notes, brings lift and energy to a ripe but juicy, fleshy plum and raspberry palate with fine tannins.  Maturation for 11 months in seasoned French oak lends a smoky, charcuterie note. 13.5%

Wynns Messenger Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Coonawarra)

Location: south of the V & A Lane very much in the cooler southern end of the Coonawarra Region, 2km north of Penola, and 500 metres west of Riddoch Highway.  Jenkins told me that, in 13 years, the fruit has twice been lost to frost.  It has a few big eucalypt trees to its perimeter.  If possible, Jenkins likes to keep a 20m margin between gum trees to avoid picking up eucalyptus characters in the wine.

History:  The Messenger vineyard is 3.3 ha of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1975 on own roots in grazing country.  Oriented north – south and planted to an unknown clone this vineyard was purchased from Allan “Nobby” Messenger in 1988, an earthmover who ripped many of the 1960s and 70s Coonawarra vineyard plantings.

Soil:  The Messenger soils are a slightly browner variant of the bright red terra rossa soils found closer to the Riddoch Highway. Messenger also has a slightly better water holding capacity than the red Terra Rossa, primarily because of increased organic matter content, and increased smectite clay mineral component.  Given the vineyard is dry grown, and the soils shallow, the deep root exploration of the softer limestone layers is important.  This deep root penetration is aided by an absence of the hard calcrete layer normally found on top of the limestone.

Vintage: a slightly warmer, drier summer than usual with early but even ripening; classic varietal character with longevity.

Tasting note: a deep aubergine hue with a still youthful ruby rim.  An expressively fruit-concentrated nose leads onto a mouth-filling powerfully concentrated fruit-centred palate dense with ripe mulberry, blackberry and raspberry.  The finish is long and involving with a savoury burnish of oak and leather and earth notes as it opens up in the glass.  So by no means a skinny guy.  Aged for 18 months in new and used barriques and hogsheads, a combination of French and Russian oak.  13.5%

Wynns Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Coonawarra)

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Wynns winery in the background – 800ha+ = a lot of wine

Location: north of the V & A Lane and one kilometre north of Wynns Winery.

History:  a relatively new 18 hectare vineyard planted in 1988 on bare land that Wynns purchased from Mildara in 1982.  The block is named after Nora Alexander, the original owner, a third generation Coonawarra fruit grower.  The single vineyard wine was picked from ‘Reynella Selection’ Cabernet on own roots, in the north east section of the block.

Soil:  deep Terra Rossa soils in the eastern section of the block which would have supported large red gums historically.  The soils are almost identical to the Johnson’s Block being on the same north south alignment.  Good structural integrity results in excellent drainage and makes the soil very stable and resistant to compaction.  A particular characteristic of this Alex 88 Terra Rossa is the black mottling caused by the presence of Manganese in the bottom half of the profile.

Deep terra rossa - photo credit Wynns

Deep terra rossa – photo credit Wynns

Vintage: a dry warm winter followed by a hot, dry January.  A cool February steadied ripening while warm harvest weather ensured full flavour development.

Tasting note: deep aubergine with a narrow rim.  An intense perfumed nose reveals black currant, berry and olive fruit.  Textured, crunchy almost ripe brown seed/nutty tannins embed and extend the flavours, though this is a tightly coiled, precise Cabernet.  Great line and length with an exciting mineral, iodine undertow to its finish.  Terrific.  It spent 14 months in new French oak.  14%

Wynns Glengyle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Coonawarra)

Out with the chainsaw - Complete Cordon Removal at Glengyle

Out with the chainsaw – Complete Cordon Removal at Glengyle – photo credit Wynns

Location:  a higher (60m) warmer vineyard – typically the first Cabernet to ripen.

History: planted in 1969 and purchased by Wynns in 1993.  Renovation of the vineyard started in 2002 and Glengyle underwent complete cordon removal (CCR) which involves taking a chainsaw to the vine to completely remove the canopy re-installing new posts and wire for new growth.  According to Jenkins given a vineyard with good genetic vine material and terroir, CCR consistently and significantly improves fruit quality.  The cost is that you lose a crop for one season and the next year’s production isn’t great.

Soil:  classic redder Terra Rossa; the limestone is capped by a hard calcrete layer.  Soil depth varies across the vineyard from east to west following the undulations.

Vintage:  a cold, dry winter followed by a dry spring with clear skies which resulted in the worst October frosts on record.  Rainfall is generally reliable in Coonawarra but, save for the month of January, no rain fell and February to April were drier and warmer than usual resulting in an early vintage.  The Glengyle survived the frosts thanks to sprinklers and its relative elevation.  In fact a sizeable crop meant fruit was dropped.

Tasting note: a youthful hue with a very narrow rim. A lovely expressive nose reveals cedar, dried herbs and cassis which follow through on a rich palate with a lick of savoury, bloody meat pan juices.  Has 2007’s largesse but with a really teased out long finish.  Aged for just 7 months in new and used French and American oak.

Wynns Davis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Coonawarra)

Location:  located south of winery but to the north of the V & A Lane Davis is Hodder’s favourite vineyard.

History:  named after William Davis, David 5 is one of Coonawarra’s oldest Cabernet blocks.  It was planted in 1957 and renovated in 2003.  Over the years it has been an important contributor to John Riddoch and has been a valued source of cuttings (a non-clonal, selection massale site).

Soil: one of the shallower terra rossa soils in Coonawarra with light clay to a depth of 20-30cm over limestone which is topped by a thick, impenetrably hard calcrete layer.

Vintage: a very dry growing season with heat spikes in January; between the short hot spells the temperatures were cool to mild allowing for excellent flavour development.

Tasting note: sumptuous velvety but succulent plum, red and black berry fruits and layers of tobacco, mint and earth are teased out by very persistent, ripe acidity and fine but present tannins.  A long but measured finish has attractive gravitas.  14%

Wynns Glengyle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Coonawarra)

Vineyard profile: see above (2007).

Vintage: a slightly cooler year than 2007 (which comes across well in the wine).

Tasting note: bright, perfumed cassis with black olive, spicy bay leaf and subtle eucalypt lift.  Wonderful richness, fruit intensity and finesse to the palate which has those ripe cassis and black olive notes as well as drier, juicier blackcurrant.  Firm, persistent acidity and a fine plume of tannins carries a very long, well focused perfumed finish.  Impressive elegance given its fruit concentration and intensity.  The 2009 Glengyle was aged for 18 months in French oak barrqiues and hogsheads.  14%

Wynns Messenger Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra)

Vineyard profile: see above (2005).

Vintage: a warm even vintage perfect for a vineyard at the cooler southern end of Coonawarra.

Tasting note: a perfumed, inky Cabernet with youthful cassis and blackcurrant to the nose and a youthful buoyancy to its fleshy plum and creamy cassis on the attack.  Ripe but present powdery tannins start to assert themselves going through but the creamy cassis wins the day.  A lingering finish is attractively accented with bay leaf spice.  Very good.  13.5%

Wynns Alex 88 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Coonawarra)

Black mottling - photo credit Wynns

Black mottling – photo credit Wynns

Vineyard profile: see above (2006).

Vintage: a warm even vintage produced a full bodied distinctly varietal wine.

Tasting note: a deep inky hue with a bright pinky purple rim which forecasts a concentrated but very lively palate.  Its very bright, very pure mineral-sluiced blackcurrant and cassis fruit has a kelpy/ iodine edge, spicy bay leaf notes too. A lingering yet precise, beautifully tapered finish is underscored by firm but fine mineral iron filing tannins which makes for a drier (flavour) profile in spite of the cassis – perfect balance.  An outstanding Cabernet.  I didn’t manage to spit my first mouthful such was the compelling energy and character of this wine!  My pick of the flight and, with the 2006 vintage, my favourite vineyard expression.  13.5%

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