Vanya Cullen has taken her cabernet merlot into the top echelon of Australian Cabernet through dogged determination, curiosity and superb technical skills. The exemplary vineyard site is planted on ancient granitic soils in the central Willyabrup sub-region of Margaret River. Cullen has adopted the principles of biodynamic viticulture to “achieve greater individuality of site through working with nature rather than against it”. This estate style is about freshness and complexity, structure and suppleness. The wines have pronounced cassis and cedar aromas with fine beautifully ripe tannins. Earthy, anise, gamy aromas and flavours develop with age. Diane Madeline Cabernet Merlot is named in memory of Di Cullen who established the winery and vineyard with her husband in 1966 and is pure bottled philosophy.
Top Vintages 2010, 2008, 2004, 2002, 2001,1999,1998,1997,1996,1995,1994
The vines that now provide the Diana Madeline – the wine was so dubbed with the 2001 vintage, as a tribute to Vanya's mother – were planted in 1971 (with some subsequent plantings in the 1990s from the Mangan Vineyard, used because they mature sufficiently to provide top-notch fruit), using what are known locally as the 'Houghton clones'. Cullen's is located in the Willyabrup subregion of Margaret River, which features the granitic soils typical of Margaret River. The old vines have sent their roots down seven metres into the granitic soil, moderating the tougher years. The vines are on Scott Henry trellising. Vanya's belief is that this assists in providing darker fruits and more supple tannins, as well as a “better ripeness at lower alcohol levels”, all of which helps to instil “a feeling of place” into the wines.
Cabernet is the dominant variety, with varying amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and even occasionally some Malbec and Petit Verdot, all of which are vinified separately and then matured in a mix of new and used French oak for a year and a half, as a general rule. A small amount, usually around 10 to 15 per cent, sees partial barrel fermentation while the remainder of the fruit enjoys extended maceration. The oak is usually about 30 per cent new (again, it varies from vintage to vintage), with Vanya preferring the tighter grained French oaks. Her preference is for barrels from the Louis Latour cooperage, although she is also fond of those from Taransaud.
Vanya believes that the vines now have significant age to provide a much greater depth of fruit, describing the style of DM as “about freshness and complexity, structure and suppleness”. She believes that the soil, in warmer years, imparts ironstone nuances to the wines. In cooler years, this comes across more as a seaweed character.