The wine buff: Eco trendy wines from sustainable vinyards
It's Christmas, and time for a feel-good story. After a year that has seen increasing focus on how we're treating our planet, and how we plan to move into the future, it was so wonderful to meet a truly marvellous human being on a recent trip to Margaret River with Wine Australia.
Vanya Cullen is formidable, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I wouldn't like to cross her, but somehow, I think I never will. She has been the chief winemaker at Cullen Wines for the past 30 years. Her father, Kevin Cullen, founded in 1966 and earlier this year it was named Winemaker of the Year 2020 by James Halliday, the man behind the equivalent of the Michelin Guide for wine in Australia.
But this is not a story about another female winemaker, although I never tire of those. It is about a woman who has been ploughing a sustainable furrow in her vineyards for decades, and, all of a sudden, she is on trend.
"We were minimal chemical inputs from the beginning, because dad was a doctor and he saw the effect of chemicals on his patients, particularly the potato farmers," she says. "We went organic in 1988, and became certified organic in 2003. Then in 2004, we went biodynamic and became certified biodynamic in the vineyard in 2005."
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Biodynamic farming is like organic with celestial knobs on. It views the farm as a whole ecosystem, incorporating the phases of the moon and special soil preparations. As we walk around the beautiful Cullen vineyards with her rescue dog, Solstice, Vanya explains the thinking behind it further.
"It's all about the land. It's been about creating micro biologically alive soils which have balanced vines, which produce balanced fruit, and then we don't have to add anything to the wines," she explains. "The wine makes itself. We don't add or take anything away. We don't add any yeast, any malolactic, any acid, any tannins, any flavours."
The vineyards are green, 30 different cover crops are planted between the rows of vines to encourage biodiversity, and the ground is springy. The cover crops help with carbon cycling, which is part of a way bigger plan. With all of these improvements in the vineyard, and having installed a 45-kilowatt solar-energy system in 2014 which provides 40pc of Cullen's average consumption, the winery has moved from being carbon neutral in 2016 to being carbon negative. "We did a test on our soils which showed that we are actually sequestering more carbon than our whole business is emitting," she says.
Vanya has given some of her wines amazing names - Full Moon Cabernet, and Rose Moon Pet Nat. I have two of her more conventionally named wines in today's line-up.
CULLEN VINEYARD SAUVIGNON BLANC/SEMILLON 2016
€34.99, 13pc, from Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Martin's, Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; and wineonline.ie
Perfumed, with lime, delicate peach, tropical fruit and a touch of spice, this is complex, the citrus notes balancing the textured layers of toasty nougat.
CULLEN MANGAN EAST BLOCK 2014
€44.99, 14pc, from Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, and wineonline.ie
Made from Petit Verdot and Malbec, the floral nose leads to a palate packed with ripe dark fruit with rich flavours of plum, black cherry, fennel and liquorice.
PENFOLDS RAWSONS RETREAT SHIRAZ CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2017
€11.95, reduced from €14.95, O'Briens
From one of Australia's most famous wineries in the Barossa Valley region, this is one of their entry-level wines with plenty of raspberry and blackcurrant ripeness and a touch of spice.