Sue Hodder, senior winemaker, Wynns Coonawarra Estate

Winemaking at Wynns is a creative privilege – we are inspired by the future and also the past ...

While most of us have had dreams of fleeing the confines of the concrete jungle to work on a vineyard, we’d hazard a guess that few of us would know where to start. It takes more than knowing the difference between a pinot and a shiraz to be a winemaker, and a lot more know-how to become the senior winemaker at one of Australia’s preeminent wineries. Sue Hodder has been maintaining the standard of excellence of Wynns Coonawarra Estate wines for 25 years, working her way to the top of her field after starting a career in viticulture. Sue will be bringing her wealth of knowledge of the winemaking craft (and numerous bottles of Wynns Coonawarra’s finest) to Treasury Brisbane’s Art of the Palate event on Tuesday August 28. Before folks get to sample the seductive drops on offer, we asked Sue a few questions about the art of winemaking and what makes Coonawarra an ideal spot for healthy vine growth.

We’d love to know how you got into winemaking! What was it about the craft that drew you in at the start?
For me, it was the seasons and the opportunity to make something special each year. I came from an agricultural background and that remains fundamental to my approach to winemaking today.

How does a budding winemaker typically enter the industry?
Via different backgrounds. I am trying to encourage young people to consider agriculture, viticulture and winemaking. Working a vintage in any vineyard and winery is always a good start!

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the Wynns Coonawarra Estate vineyard, can you set the scene?
A good starting point is to look at our beautiful wine labels. The three-gabled winery is well represented on the label and this is what you see when you come down our driveway. Coonawarra is relatively flat – a big-sky landscape with amazing sunsets and sunrises. The red, terra rossa soil is a narrow strip of soil that is planted with vines. Along the main road, there are the signs of many recognisable Coonawarra wine labels. The Coonawarra region is actually named after an Aboriginal word meaning ‘honeysuckle’.  Whilst we are quite isolated – 450 km from Melbourne and 380 km from Adelaide – Coonawarra is renowned for its special geological and climatic features that nurture vines bearing the highest quality of grapes.

What is it about the Coonawarra region that makes it such terrific wine country?
The climate, the terra rossa soil and the special community! Coonawarra has a Mediterranean-type climate – winter rainfall and dry summers and cool nights, combined with beautiful soil and a small winemaking community. As mentioned, our terroir is what makes Coonwarra famous around the world because of a natural soil phenomenon called the terra rossa. Meaning literally ‘red earth’, terra rossa is a low, cigar-shaped ridge of soil stretching 20 kilometres long and up to two kilometres wide. Terra rossa topsoil is rich and free draining but it is also thin – just five centimetres to 100 centimetres deep. It is one of the best soils for growing vines in Australia – ideal for creating small, well-coloured berries that develop in optimal sunlight. The end result is a yield of intensely-flavoured grapes that are perfectly suited for making premium wines.

What would you say is a signature element of your wines that makes them stand out?
Wynns wines are known for their bright fruit and balance. Winemaking at Wynns is a creative privilege – we are inspired by the future and also the past. At Wynns, our winemaking style is a testament to the quality and heritage of our vineyards and underlies our philosophy of making wines that reflect vintage but retain distinct regional character. We’re also proud of our heritage. Last year, we released the 60th vintage of our most iconic wine – our Black Label cabernet.  This label was the first commercially labelled cabernet in Australia – something we’re very proud of.

What are some of the key tenets of your winemaking philosophy?
Everything starts in the vineyard. The winery is where we carefully refine and maintain quality. Wynns wines should be both good drinking when young and age worthy. 

What’s next for Wynns Coonawarra Estate?
Maintaining and rejuvenating our old and young vineyards, looking after the soil and telling our great stories!

You will be working with The Lab’s Kris Effenberger to create a memorable eating and drinking experience for Art of the Palate. Can you give a hint of what you’ve got in store for diners?
Wynns Coonawarra Estate has always been a passionate supporter of art and culture.  In fact, in 1952 David Wynn commissioned legendary printmaker Tate Adams to produce the wood engravings that serve on the Wynns’ label as we know it. No doubt the Art of the Palate will be memorable for guests – enjoying beautiful Wynns wines paired with a fantastic four courses, surrounded by inspiring art. Guests can look forward to hearing more about Wynns and our renowned terroir – famous for producing world class wine. They’ll be treated to several of our new release Wynns wines – including our iconic Black Label Cabernet, our most famous wine, along with flagship wines Michael Shiraz and John Riddoch Cabernet.

Art of the Palate will be taking place on Tuesday August 28 at The Lab Restaurant and Bar at Treasury Brisbane. Tickets are available here.


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