By Fergal Gleeson
Biodynamic winemaking can sound “kooky” with it’s practices such as burying organic material in cow horns to develop the natural sprays and coinciding activities around lunar movements. Vanya has been subjected to some scepticism for her advocacy of biodynamics.
I spoke to biodynamic Burgundian winemaker Pascal Marchand recently. When he started biodynamic winemaking he was laughed at and thought of as a “hippy in the woods”. No one laughs anymore. Burgundy now has the most biodynamic vineyards in the world.
Vanya feels that Australia has reached a “reluctant acceptance” of organic and biodynamic winemaking. “It’s pleasing that we now reached a tipping point where for whatever reason people are moving to organic and biodynamic practices,” she says.
She acknowledges it has been a lonely place.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the earth. Not putting toxic chemicals into the earth that people eat. People understand how probiotics creates gut health. This is similar. It’s about the creation of balanced aligned soils and healthy vines. Then you don’t have to add anything to correct the wines because they are coming from a balanced place.”
Cullen Wines have fitted seamlessly into the trend for natural wines as evidenced by her release of a petillant naturel ‘Rose Moon’, the Malbec & Petit Verdot blend ‘Red Moon’ and ‘Amber’, a white wine.
“There is a problem with the lack of definition of ‘natural wine,’ she says. “Some people just buy grapes from everywhere and you are supposed to like it because it’s a natural wine. All our wines are natural but ‘Red Moon’ and ‘Amber’ are supernatural.”
They are totally different from the iconic classic wines like ‘Diana Madeline’, recently awarded best Cabernet blend by the Halliday Companion and ‘Kevin John Chardonnay’.
Vanya Cabernet Sauvignon
In 2012 Cullen Wines released Margaret River’s most expensive Cabernet named ‘Vanya’, which has been awarded the Halliday Companions best Cabernet in two of the last four years.
The new releases of ‘Vanya’ sell for $500, a considerable sum, but it’s worth noting that there are more than 25 wineries in Napa Valley releasing more expensive Cabernets. It is also less than half the price of first growth Bordeaux. They are exquisite wines.
“Mum loved the Cabernet bled which is why “Diana Madeline’ used the classic Bordeaux varietals Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. I loved single varietal Cabernet. After 9 years of being fully biodynamic I thought now we have a wine that is good enough. These decisions are made at the tasting table and in the vineyard. There are no rules!”
Cullen Wines have just released a ‘2016 Vanya’ and two versions of ‘2017 Vanya’ – ‘Full Moon’ and ‘Flower Day’. “It would have easier to blend them into one wine to sell but they are so different I wanted to honour nature and show the difference,” she says.
“We are a young region and still delineating sub regions. There’s ‘Bordeaux’ and there’s ‘Pauliac’. It’s a point of interest. It’s about identifying what it is that’s great,” Cullen says.
A milestone year like her 30th anniversary naturally causes some reflection. “It’s been a love story about the earth, nature and friends. At times it’s been really difficult. But I feel blessed. Mum and dad gave something to the world. They were people of integrity. It’s a love of all those things!”
What next for Cullen Wines? “Understanding the vineyards and making them better. Keep evolving the wines and improving them. Like the holy grail,” says Vanya. “You never get there! You always believe that the best is yet to come. But you must enjoy the journey!”