By James Halliday, The Australian, August 12th 2017.
‘I was in Margaret River last month for the presentation of the 2017 Cullen Award for Excellence to Dr John Gladstones. As a research scientist studying the growth of lupins, he made trips to the Bramley Research Station in Margaret River in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and became interested in the climatic suitability of the region for viticulture. In 1965 he delivered a paper suggesting that Margaret River had advantages over most other regions of Australia, which directly led to the establishment of Vasse Felix, Moss Wood and Cullen.
While Gladstones’ paper made him the father of Margaret River wine, he had already spent all his spare hours away from lupins on a broader examination of Australian and international wine regions, seeking to match wine varieties with regional climates/terroirs in a way no one else had done. It led to his groundbreaking work Viticulture and Environment (1992), which was awarded “Special Distinction in Viticulture” by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine in Paris.
As his world view grew, he became interested in climate change, its causes and its effects. His brilliant scientific mind directly challenges the accepted wisdom on the danger of rising temperature and CO2, arguing it will be beneficial, enhancing the growth of all plants and their fruits (provided the rises are in lock step). Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press, 2011) has profoundly influenced and educated me like no other book on the subject.
Vanya Cullen also goes where angels fear to tread with strict adherence to biodynamic viticulture, and a solar-powered, carbon neutral winery that is busily trialling beeswax-lined amphorae and ceramic eggs for her red wines — all in all taking winemaking to a natural level achieved by few others. And the wines are devastatingly beautiful to drink, with nary a hint of yellow or brown colour.
2015 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet. It would be inappropriate to use the word “elegant” in describing this wine, simply because it is on another, higher level, making the word hackneyed in this instance. The fragrant bouquet, silky palate and perfect tannins are unique to this wine, which is made with endless patience and care by Vanya and her team. 13% alc, screwcap
98 points; drink to 2040
2015 Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay. Wastes no time in asserting its blue-blood ancestry with vital freshness and citrusy acidity. The layers of white flowers, white-flesh stone fruit and grapefruit will become more rich and complex with age, but it’s so full of life that there is every reason to enjoy it now. 13% alc, screwcap
97 points; drink to 2025
2016 Cullen Mangan Vineyard Margaret River Merlot Malbec Petit Verdot. A 78/15/7% blend, matured in French oak (34% new) for seven months. Bright crimson-purple hue, with a super-fragrant bouquet that’s followed by an immaculately balanced and structured palate full of juicy red fruits. Terrific value. 13% alc, screwcap 96 points; drink to 2036′