Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vanya Cullen: Margaret River's biodynamic pioneer

I last visited Cullen in the Margaret River region of Western Australia about 15 years ago, hard though that seems to believe. I loved their wines, even more their vineyards and winery. It was - and is - a very special place.

In the meantime they've gone organic and, more recently biodynamic, a step that has changed the wines less than you might imagine. I think they were probably pretty well organic then.

Many people in the natural wine fraternity I suspect would hesitate to label their wines natural. They use sulphur (as I'm sure I'd be tempted to do if I made wine in Australia and needed to export it), and oak - slightly too much so for my taste in the case of their top of the range Diana Madeline Cabernet though as a 2009 it was far too early to tell. On the other hand it was Cullen's wines that convinced me of the effect of the biodynamic calendar. I tasted their Sauvignon Semillon earlier this year on a leaf day and it was totally out of kilter. Happily yesterday (a fruit day) it was tasting fresh, crisp and delicious as was the 2009 Kevin John Chardonnay, my favourite wine of the tasting.

Vanya Cullen says that she went down the biodynamic route because their soils were so depleted. She says they'd tried everything else but biodynamic treatments were the only thing that reinvigorated the soil. "The minerality in the wines has increased as has the sense of tasting the land in the wine."

This sense of connection with the property also brought her personal solace when her mother Diana died back in 2003. "It helped to take the emptiness away" she says simply.

Although some other Margaret River producers such as Cape Mentelle and McHenry Hohnen are experimenting with biodynamic treatments none is approaching it with such rigour or conviction as Vanya. "It's such a joyful way to farm and the best way to be a custodian of the land for future generations".

Cullen's stash of cows' horns. Apparently 6 will treat the whole property. I have to say I find this the hardest aspect of biodynamics to get my head round but for an explanation of how it works in relation to wine see this YouTube video from Mark Beaman of Paul Dolan vineyards.


  1. A serious question: are they obturated by cork or is it a screw cap ?
    Two diffferent bottles of the same year, some weeks apart, may taste different for other reasons than just fancy fruit or leaf day.
    And a silly ironic remark: apart from cow’s horns, do they also inspect the flight of birds and the looks of fresh liver ? ‘Cause I applied for the position of augur at Cape Mentelle’s (some very good wines there by the way) but they wouldn’t have me: the auspices did not look good.
    I decided it must have been one of those “ shit days” and cursed my luck .....

  2. Can't imagine why they wouldn't want you on board, Luc ;-)

    Almost all Australian wines are under screwcap now even the top reds. Except Grange. But it's an interesting issue why wines taste different on different days - one which I'll come back to.