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Monday 3 October 2022

Major milestone for Coonawarra wine legend

The winds of change have blown vigorously through the wine industry during the 30 years that Sue Hodder has been a winemaker at iconic Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

Climate change, different wine fashions, the acceptance of women winemakers and very different styles of marketing have all occurred during the three decades Hodder has spent crafting thoughtful cool-climate wines, almost a quarter of a decade as head winemaker.

Then there is the switch from cork to screw caps, higher quality oak and far greater attention to what happens in the vineyards.

Hodder's long stint comes despite other opportunities, a fleeting desire to craft wines from her own vines and the tendency for winemakers to seek pastures new after a few years at the one address.

The release this week of a quartet of premium Wynns red wines marks 30 years of Hodder and 40 years of John Riddoch Cabernet, one of Australia's most globally respected high-end wines and a relative bargain at $150 a bottle compared to many rival releases with far inferior pedigrees.

Hodder took over from legendary Peter Douglas as Wynns senior winemaker and has spent over two decades working in tandem with friend and colleague Sarah Pidgeon in a rare all-female winemaking team.

"I find great satisfaction in the fact that we are able to produce quality cooler-climate wines that are collectable, but also accessible and affordable," she says.

"When I started at Wynns in the early 1990s, the fashion was very much towards big, rich, powerful red wines that appealed to the critics of that time, and I'm delighted that medium-bodied wines like the ones that we produce in Coonawarra are very much back in vogue.

"A lot of people dipped into their cellars over the pandemic and it has been gratifying to recieve so much feedback on how some of the older wines have rewarded the people who looked after them, often for decades."

Hodder says that after 30 vintages at Wynns she still enjoys her role, and being part of a close-knit team.

“I still have great joy in walking out the back door to our historic triple-gabled winery,” she says. "While this beautiful building remains largely untouched, we do now use smaller tanks, oak fermenters, different oak barrels, and an optical berry sorter.

"These winemaking tools just enable us to be more confidently creative.

"Our winemaking team has had remarkably few changes over the years – we are a family at Wynns, and our house style remains clear.”

That house style is, for me, confident elegance.

Hodder's wines are always well balanced, impressively structured and immediately accessible, while often destined for a long haul in the cellar.

Hodder grew up in Alice Springs and began her wine career as a viticulturist before moving into winemaking. She joined Wynns in 1993 as a winemaker under the guidance of the ebullient Douglas before being appointed senior winemaker in 1998.

She was named a Fellow of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO) in 2021 for her outstanding contribution to the Australian wine industry.

I ask her why she has not been tempted, as so many winemakers are, to strike out on her own with a small plot of land and her own label.

"I've been tempted, but I love it here and working with our special team," she says. "I would have lost access to some great vineyards, great viticultural support and our high-tech lab.

"I like being part of a page in history, and Wynns certainly has that great history."

Over 40 years of Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon it has been hailed as one of just a handful of truly great Australian wines and is named after the pioneer who first plated the vineyards back in 1891.

The new-release 2019 is one of the greatest; judiciously utilising great fruit to produce a stunning wine. I gave it 98 points, and I'm generally at the lower end of the scorings table. It has intense fruit concentration but also a brightness and lightness about it.

John Riddoch Cabernet is made using the top 1% of all the fruit from estate and grower vineyards, many of them decades old.

“The 2019 John Riddoch is certainly amongst the best wines we have made at Wynns Coonawarra Estate," says Hodder. "It was a brilliant vintage and has produced a fine and medium-bodied wine from an optimal growing season.”

The other wines in the 2022 Wynns Premium Release launching on Wednesday are the superb-value 2020 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), and the 2019 vintages of the Michael Shiraz ($150) and the Davis Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), that uses fruit sourced from Hodder’s favourite vineyard. All are of exemplary quality.

# Wynns Coonawarra Estate was established in 1951 with history dating back to the late 1800s. It is the region's pre-eminent wine producer, and largest single vineyard holder.


1 comment:

  1. Yep, a class act, Winsor. Sue and company viticulturist Allen Jenkins carried out an ambitious program to rejuvenate old vineyards and consumers of today's Wynns wines are the beneficiaries. Sue ensured Allen had all the resources he needed for the mammoth task that started way back in 2002 and helped establish the single vineyard wine portfolio.