Q&A

Vanya Cullen, 59, chief wine­maker, Cullen Wines

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Front Page - By Max Brear­ley

Peo­ple reckon you’re lucky to live and work in Mar­garet River – are they right? In the early days it was re­ally iso­lated – no one came here – but that has given the en­vi­ron­ment real pu­rity. There’s been a lot of years of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment and worry. But it’s cer­tainly a priv­i­lege to be here, work­ing in this en­vi­ron­ment, in this way, for some­thing that is es­sen­tially a lux­ury.

Which wine are you most proud of? I’d have to go for the one with my name on it [laughs] even though I’m very proud of all the oth­ers.

Does it feel strange hav­ing a bot­tle with your name on it? It feels strange all the time, but I dis­as­so­ci­ate my­self from it as a per­son. I love va­ri­etal caber­net sau­vi­gnon, just as mum loved the blend named af­ter her [Di­ana Made­line]. It’s not about bet­ter or worse, but see­ing a wine in 2012 that was re­ally ex­cep­tional. In 35 years here I hadn’t seen that sort of wine. I think it’s the bio­dy­nam­ics, the vine age, and the time…

You’re a pi­o­neer of bio­dy­namic wine­mak­ing in Aus­tralia. For the unini­ti­ated, what does that mean? It’s a step up from or­ganic, in a way. With or­ganic it’s things in sep­a­ra­tion – no chem­i­cals and you do this to the land and that to the vine – whereas bio­dy­nam­ics in­cor­po­rates the land, the mi­cro­bi­o­log­i­cal life that is the in­tel­li­gence in the soil, the vines, the peo­ple, and brings in the use of plants and the plan­ets.

Peo­ple scoffed in the early years; are at­ti­tudes chang­ing? There’s still a big mis­con­cep­tion around what bio­dy­nam­ics is and what it means. For us it’s just what we do ev­ery day and the way that we work with na­ture. When you travel peo­ple don’t blink an eye­lid, par­tic­u­larly in Asia. It’s part of their cul­ture to be talk­ing about the moon.

If you couldn’t make wine, what would you do? I would love to be a mu­si­cian. I stud­ied mu­sic at univer­sity in Western Aus­tralia and I car­ried on at Ade­laide Univer­sity when I was study­ing wine; so it’s all part of what I love.

Could you see your­self mak­ing wine else­where? I would love to go to Bur­gundy if it was mar­i­time [like Mar­garet River] but it’s not, and I re­ally can’t think of any­where else that I would rather live and make wine. Plus there’s a lot more to do here; the gen­eral shift to­wards sus­tain­abil­ity – or­gan­ics and bio­dy­nam­ics – has taken a long while.

it does feel strange haV­ing My naMe on a Bot­tle

For your last glass, which wine (not your own) would you choose? Prob­a­bly the most ex­tra­or­di­nary wine I’ve ever tried was an 1865 Château Lafite from dou­ble mag­nums – that’s right up there. A 1953 Grange Caber­net, also ex­tra­or­di­nary… re­ally, there’s so many, I don’t think I could choose one!

Your par­ents helped es­tab­lish Mar­garet River as a wine re­gion. Is that legacy a big re­spon­si­bil­ity? I feel very blessed to have par­ents who chose such a great vine­yard site. Dad or­dered the cut­tings for the ’66 Ju­niper plant­ing, part of a group that were in­volved in es­tab­lish­ing grow­ing, and he had a huge en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion for mak­ing great wine. A vine­yard and win­ery that is about qual­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity: that’s Mum and Dad’s legacy, and it’s great.

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