Moon Dance: Interview with Vanya Cullen

Vanya Cullen B&W

By Fergal Gleeson

I caught up with Vanya Cullen, Chief Winemaker and Managing Director of Cullen Wines, one of Margaret River’s leading wineries on the release of their flagship Chardonnay Kevin John.

Did a person need to be mad to start making wine in Margaret River in the early days?

More like passionate and with faith. The locals used to say that mum and dad were mad for “putting the sticks into the ground” so I guess it’s all about perception and education as to what is mad and what isn’t. Everyone is a little crazy at times if you sit down and think about it. It’s more about where the heart sits.

What’s the must try wine from your range?

All of them! They are all made with the same care and attention without chemical use, with a connection to nature and with the highest quality intentions. So it comes down to what style you like. If I had to pick would say Kevin John and Diana Madeline.

What’s the wine that you think people should pay more attention to in the Cullen wine stable?

Definitely the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends. I believe and always have that they are the dark horses of our portfolio. Always have thought that especially with bottle age!

What can people expect at the cellar door?

To drink some of the world’s great wines on the place where they are grown. A comfortable nurturing, natural, friendly environment with knowledgeable, willing staff that talk you through the tasting.   If you are hungry you can stay for a delicious lunch overlooking the vineyards which grew the wines. A beautiful, natural, unique experience.

Do you feel pressure when you’re releasing new wines like an actor on opening night?

They are your children and you hope they do well!

What was the biggest lesson you’ve learnt along the way?

Patience and faith in the earth’s ability to make great wine. Let the heart of the land speak in the wine rather than the mind of the winemaker. In other words hands off the wine and more about the winegrowing. Hard not to do anything and let go as you don’t control it anyway.

Vanya & Di Cullen
Vanya and Diana Cullen

What has been your experience as a senior female in a male dominated industry?

Quality wine is hard work. You have to be passionate about it male or female and have a clear idea of where you are headed ie. vision. I am lucky to have had my mother as a mentor. Still miss her every harvest (and dad too).

Do you think about wine trends or make wines that you like to drink?

Make wines from the land that they are grown on.

What do you drink when you are not drinking your own?

Lots of delicious everything. Love drinking great biodynamic wines.

What are your views on biodynamic and natural wine making?

It’s really important to have a sense of the land in your wines which is what biodynamic wines do. Natural wines push the limits and have a more expressive nature and taste, however it is really important to have quality as your first intention so that the biodynamic wines and natural wines are not just an excuse for bad wine. Then they become the best quality expression of place, unique and beautiful.

Do you think Italian and Spanish varietals will play a big part in the Margaret River wine scene in the future?

Dr John Gladstones got it right when he described the Margaret River region as being suitable for growing  bordelaise varieties and in particular cabernet sauvignon. Chardonnay grows well everywhere and does so in Margaret River, as do Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.

It’s better to make what is great even better. Don’t know about Spanish or Italian varieties.

Where to from here for the Margaret River region?

Better quality wine and recognition of one of the world’s great wine growing regions and in that develop wine tourism more.

What does the future hold for Cullen?

Holy Grail… Even better wine grown sustainably.


This article featured in the spring 2017 issue of Marque Magazine. Photos from People of Wine.


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