Vanya Cullen, 59, chief winemaker, Cullen Wines
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.