Coonawarra deserves greater international recognition for the quality of its Cabernets according to speakers at a masterclass in London yesterday.
During a tasting and discussion on wines from the region, consultant Justin Knock MW and commentator Anthony Rose highlighted the viticultural improvements taking place in Coonawarra to maximise the expression of its exceptional terroir, which stems from its red soils and chalk bedrock.
Admitting that past vineyard practices in the region were not conducive to quality, such as minimal pruning, today’s careful canopy management for better bunch exposure, as well as the use of precision viticulture, are bringing superior results.
“People are terrified of minty characters,” said Knock, in contrast to a desire for leafy characters in Coonawarra Cabernet during the 80s.
Continuing, he said that the region’s biggest producer, Wynns – owned by Treasury Wine Esates – now uses GPS to map vineyards according to ripeness levels and mechanical harvesters with two bins to separate fruit according to sugar content.
Acknowledging that Wynns own as much as half the 5,600 hectare region, Knock said to db after the event, “Coonawarra needs Wynns to be strong.”
He added that the brand is already “getting stronger in Australia,” and recorded that the most cellared wines in the country are Penfold’s 389 and Wynns Black Label Cabernet.
Having poured the producer’s flagship John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2008 vintage during the tasting, Knock commented on its “classiness” and pointed out that a reduced new oak content meant the wine needed less time to soften.
“It use to be 100% new oak, but this wine, from 2008, is about 50%,” he recorded.
Meanwhile, Rose praised Wynns winemaker Sue Hodder for her low-profile approach and quality focus. “Sue is one of the most unsung heroes of Australian wine,” he said.
“She has no ego at all, but she is also self-assured and confident in the direction she is going, but a bit overshadowed in Treasury Wine Estates [portfolio] by Penfolds.”
Speaking to db at the end of last year, Tapanappa’s Brian Croser commented on the quality potential in Coonawarra, “The area with the most upside in Australia is Coonawarra, because it lost its way for so long.”
Furthermore, drawing attention to the refined nature of the region’s Cabernets, Bernard Hickin, chief winemaker for Jacob’s Creek (whose top label is the St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet) stressed the tannin quality in the wines.
“There’s something about the tannins in Coonawarra Cabernet: they follow through, when sometimes in Cabernet they stand away from the fruit,” he told db.
Looking ahead, Rose said as yesterday’s event drew to a close that the next chapter in the Coonawarra story will be the emergence of wines from specific plots.
The event also emphasised the site and climatic specifics of Coonawarra compared to other fine wine Cabernet-producing regions.
Speaking initially about the Coonawarra soil, Rose reminded attendees that the area benefits from three elements: an iron rich, russet coloured soil; a porous limestone bedrock, and beneath that, a pure water table.
The soil is important for absorbing heat – Cabernet has a long growing season – the limestone for drainage – Cabernet likes free-draining soils – and the subterranean water table is an important insurance against low-rainfall vintages.
In terms of climate, Rose drew on information compiled by Brian Croser to show that Coonawarra is a moderate and maritime region, with cold, wet winters and a long warm summer.
Croser’s data showed that relative to other major Cabernet producing regions, Coonawarra is cool.
While Bolgheri in Tuscany has 1712 degree days and the Médoc 1485, Coonawarra has just 1414.