Be­ing Hal­l­i­day

Halliday - - Contents -

James Hal­l­i­day re­flects on Coon­awarra and Wynns Coon­awarra Es­tate

“From 1910 to 1950, you can write fail­ure across the face of Coon­awarra”– so de­clared Bill Red­man, who had been the sole wine­maker in Coon­awarra for those 40 years. The mag­nif­i­cent stone win­ery built by John Rid­doch be­tween 1891 and 1897, and the 52 hectares of vine­yard, had been pur­chased by Ade­laide dis­tiller Milne & Co in 1917 for the pur­pose of mak­ing brandy.

e sole client of the Red­man fam­ily win­ery and vine­yards was Wood­ley’s, an Ade­laide wine mer­chant, which bought the wine in bulk, then bot­tled and la­belled it un­der names such as St Adele Claret. Coon­awarra to­day is still a re­mote wine re­gion, and back then it was dou­bly so.

In 1945, the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment com­mis­sioned a re­port on the suit­abil­ity of land near Coon­awarra for a large sol­dier set­tle­ment scheme for grape grow­ing

(hav­ing in­tro­duced a vine-pull scheme nine years ear­lier). e ad­vice was sought from JL ‘Jock’ Wil­liams, longterm lec­turer in viti­cul­ture at Rose­wor­thy Agri­cul­ture. Wood­ley’s wanted Red­mans to con­tinue mak­ing wine for them, and urged the win­ery to pre­serve the sta­tus quo. An im­passe re­sulted.

Jock Wil­liams wasted no time. He knew that Sa­muel Wynn was build­ing his far-reach­ing wine busi­ness and on Christ­mas Eve, Jock wrote to Sa­muel propos­ing a joint ven­ture to ac­quire the Rid­doch win­ery and vine­yards. In his let­ter he said, “I con­sider Coon­awarra is des­tined to be­come Aus­tralia’s premier dry wine area” (as op­posed to forti ed wine). Sa­muel de­cided to use his nan­cial and hu­man re­sources to the de­vel­op­ment of his then-large Mod­bury fa­cil­ity in the suburbs of Ade­laide. He was over­seas in 1951 when an ad­ver­tise­ment ap­peared in the Aus­tralian Brew­ing and Wine Jour­nal o er­ing a vine­yard, wine cel­lar and dis­tillery for sale. Son David Wynn com­mis­sioned a re­port from

Jock, wine­maker Ken Ward and re­cent Rose­wor­thy grad­u­ate Ian Hick­in­botham. Apart from point­ing out that the busi­ness

had never gen­er­ated a pro t, they wrote: “In view of the dif­fi­cul­ties of man­age­ment and labour as­so­ci­ated with wine grow­ing in the area, to­gether with the haz­ards of frost and downy mildew, the prop­erty can­not be con­sid­ered as suit­able for viti­cul­ture” – a re­mark­able about-face by Jock. David Wynn trusted his in­stincts and de­cided to pro­ceed and buy the busi­ness in July 1951, prompt­ing his fa­ther to send a three-word tele­gram: “Ad­mir­ing your courage.”

And so Wynns Coon­awarra Es­tate was born.

The rest is not just his­tory; Wynns and the Coon­awarra re­gion have had their ups and downs, the prob­lems of man­age­ment and labour iden­ti­fied in the 1951 re­port at times acute. But it’s in a good place now in its true role as mother of Coon­awarra.

Sue Hod­der heads its wine­mak­ing team, hav­ing ar­rived in 1993, be­com­ing chief wine­maker in 1998 – the same year Sarah Pid­geon joined as wine­maker. e duo works closely with qui­etly spo­ken viti­cul­tur­ist Allen Jenk­ins, who is re­spon­si­ble for all Trea­sury Wine Es­tates vine­yards on the Lime­stone Coast.

Each time I visit Wynns, I learn about the ad­vances be­ing made in un­der­stand­ing how lit­er­ally ev­ery vine in their 500 hectares of plant­ings is ripen­ing its grapes

(the area in bear­ing is less than 500ha due to re­plant­ing). Aerial in­frared pho­tog­ra­phy seemed to pro­vide so much in­for­ma­tion of the growth pat­terns in each block of vines there was lit­tle fur­ther one could go. It’s still use­ful, but the use of so­lar pan­els in the vine­yard now pro­vides a con­tin­u­ous ow of tem­per­a­ture on a minute-by-minute ba­sis, 24/7. Drones are now col­lect­ing intricate data that would have been im­pos­si­ble and/or endishly ex­pen­sive ve years ago. Ther­mog­ra­phy is the new buzz­word and ad­vances in bud dis­sec­tion are yield­ing an­other level of un­der­stand­ing what the com­ing vin­tage holds in store. When the grapes ar­rive at the win­ery, they are in­di­vid­u­ally sorted by an op­ti­cal sen­sor that blows a minute burst of com­pressed air at any dis­eased, un­ripe or over­ripe grape, blow­ing it o a con­veyor belt of the destemmed but not crushed grapes. Wynns is one of only two winer­ies in Aus­tralia that cur­rently has the equip­ment; the other is Mar­garet River’s Cape Men­telle. e se­lec­tion of new French oak is no longer ‘hit and miss’, but a care­fully planned se­lec­tion of di er­ent coop­ers, forests and de­grees of toast.

Over the past 30-plus years, I have par­tic­i­pated in a num­ber of ver­ti­cal tast­ings of Wynns caber­nets and shi­raz, which have borne wit­ness to vin­tage con­di­tions/vari­a­tions; to di er­ences in man­ag­ing the vine­yards and the win­ery; to changes in pub­lic taste; and to mir­a­cles that oc­cur ev­ery now and then. e 1955 Wynns Michael Her­mitage is one of the great wines of the 20th cen­tury; the 1963 Mil­dara Coon­awarra Caber­net Sauvi­gnon (nick­named Pep­per­mint Pat­tie) was sim­ply ex­tra­or­di­nary in its prime.

e broader mes­sage of these ver­ti­cal tast­ings (no­tably the 50-vin­tage event in 2004, and the 60-vin­tage fol­low-up this year) puts beyond doubt the fact that the wines of to­day are bet­ter than those that have come be­fore, and the wines to come will be bet­ter still. At the most ba­sic level, the adop­tion of screw­caps has given a cast-iron guar­an­tee of far greater and far longer as­sured qual­ity. And in­deed the English wine trade say­ing of by­gone years that “ ere are no great old wines, only great old bot­tles” was proved again and again with the pre-screw­cap wines. Wynns pro­gres­sively moved to screw­cap be­tween 2004 and 2006, and the wines tasted were cork-sealed un­til 2006. e rat­ings (in­de­pen­dent of clo­sures) paint a vivid pic­ture of the im­pact of the move. But I have four di er­ent se­ries of tast­ing notes for many of the wines, so I have cre­ated a snap­shot of each vin­tage de­rived from tast­ings over time. For ver­ti­cals of this na­ture I use a ve-star sys­tem, not points.

Wynns Coon­awarra Es­tate re­cently held a tast­ing to mark 60 vin­tages of its Black La­bel Caber­net, prompt­ing James Hal­l­i­day to re ect on the his­tory of the re­gion and this win­ery.

“Over the past 30-plus years, I have par­tic­i­pated in a num­ber of ver­ti­cal tast­ings of Wynns caber­nets and shi­raz, which have borne wit­ness to vin­tage con­di­tions/vari­a­tions; to di er­ences in man­ag­ing the vine­yards and the win­ery; to changes in pub­lic taste; and to mir­a­cles that oc­cur ev­ery now and then.”

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