Listen to Diana Cullen’s original interview with the Busselton Oral History Group in 1997, where she discusses the history of Cullen Wines and the beginning of the wine industry in Margaret River more than 50 years ago here.
In early 1965 Kevin and Diana started considering other uses for their land and they came up with the idea of lupins. They decided to get in touch with Dr John Gladstones whom they had known for some time, who was at the time senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia and had studied lupins in his post graduate research.
More recently however, Dr Gladstones had put considerable work and research into his 1965 paper titled ‘The climate and soils of southwestern Australia in relation to vine growing’, which was closely followed by his 1966 paper titled ‘Soil and climate of the Margaret River – Busselton area; their suitability for wine grape production’, where he identified the Margaret River region as having similar characteristics to the best wine regions in the world.
At the invitation of Kevin and Diana, Dr Gladstones visited their property in Wilyabrup in the spring of 1965, when his first paper was not yet printed. According to Diana, Dr Gladstones upon seeing their land said “Oh, you’re mad growing cattle and sheep, why don’t you grow grapes?” Diana and Kevin had thought about this idea since 1956, but this was the push they needed to go ahead and were quick to spring into action. In July of 1966 Kevin rallied support for a local meeting of interested parties in Busselton, inviting Bill Jamieson from the Agricultural Department to attend and Dr John Gladstones to speak. With Kevin’s encouragement and enthusiasm, this initial meeting garnered a good deal of support, with over 100 people in attendance.
Despite Kevin’s strong work commitment to the Busselton Community, he and Diana were keen to undertake a test planting with the vine cuttings they had requested from the Swan River Research Station. In 1966, in partnership with Geoff and Sue Juniper, Diana and Kevin planted the first vines. Unfortunately however, whilst Kevin and Di were away, due to a misunderstanding, these fledgling vines were sprayed with a poison and subsequently pulled out of the ground without their knowledge. This parcel of land later became Juniper Estate.
In 1971 Kevin and Diana again undertook vine planting, this time on their own land in Wilyabrup, where the current vineyard still operates today. In 1995, the adjacent Mangan Vineyard was planted (owned by Rick Cullen and Bettina Mangan) and managed and farmed biodynamically by the Cullen Estate. The two estates contribute exclusively to the Cullen vintages every year.
In 2005, the iconic Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot was elevated to the top Langton’s classification category of ‘Exceptional’ – reserved for just 11 Australian wines. The Kevin John Chardonnay 2007 was awarded the World’s Best Chardonnay at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards. In 2011, the Diana Madeline 2009 received awards for Jeremy Oliver’s Wine of the Year, Nick Stock’s Best Cabernet Merlot blend and Ray Jordan’s Best Cabernet Merlot. In 2014, The Diana Madeline 2012 received James Halliday’s award for Best Cabernet Blend, James Halliday Wine Companion 2015
Committed to biodynamic viticulture, Cullen Wines has evolved into an iconic winery that has always been focused on quality, integrity and sustainability at all levels of the business.
Dr Kevin John Cullen and Diana Madeline Cullen
Dr Kevin Cullen grew up in Western Australia and studied medicine at the University of Western Australia, where he became the first recipient of a Medical Degree. He was an outstanding student and in 1941 was invited to Melbourne University to continue his medical studies. It was here that he met the enigmatic young Diana Adams. Diana was studying Physiotherapy and was at the top of her class and a popular student. Read more here.
Vanya Cullen has been working on the farm most of her life and has been winemaking at her family’s Wilyabrup estate since 1983. She was appointed to Chief Winemaker in 1989 and Managing Director in 1999. During that time she has been rigorously experimenting in the vineyard (especially with soil and trellis management) and in the winery all the while looking to give her wines greater complexity. Her palate has been honed by judging throughout Australia and overseas, and by her continuous pursuit of a thorough knowledge of the wines of the world. Read more here