In Conversation with: Sue Hodder, Wynns Chief Winemaker

by Katherine Arteche
15 Dec 2021

A review on the 2021 Wynnsday Collection by Wynns Coonawarra Estate

It must most definitely have been a beautiful day out in the vast Coonawarra wine region of Australia as Wynns Chief Winemaker, Sue Hodder, calls us from her cosy abode, all wrapped up in her patterned sweater. “I’ve never been to Singapore,” she said. “I hear so many great things about it; so many things to do, I thought I could finally come visit.” 

“No, trust me Sue, I think we’d rather be where you are,” I told her. On our side of the world, it was a sweltering 30 degree Celsius out and before me laid four bottles of Wynns’ finest wines from the 2021 collection, of which two were Shiraz.

Because of Singapore’s cloying humidity and perpetual heat, I’ve always stayed away from the spicy red. Its peppery notes usually jar my al fresco wine-and-dine fantasy, and drinking it indoors while keeping the sun out isn’t my idea of a fun time either.

However, back in the seasonal climate of Coonawarra, a Shiraz would be perfect, whilst being spoiled for choice. In fact, the Black Label Old Vines Shiraz 2019 happens to be Sue’s favourite in this year’s collection.

Wynns Collection Release 2019 Black Label

Shiraz wines are sentimental to Wynns. In the late 1890s, long before the winery owned the Coonawarra name, the estate dedicated a large portion of its vineyards — a suggested 350 acres — to Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

This ingenious move was implemented by John Riddoch, thereafter known as the founding father of the Coonawarra Fruit Colony. The ground it was founded on is the unique terra rossa (red soil) and its almost-ideal traits — well-drained, silty-clayey composition with neutral pH conditions — that contributed massively to the vineyard’s growth and grapes characteristics. 

Hence named after the old vines (first planted in 1894) in Undoolya, the Black Label Shiraz is made from the oldest of them. On the nose, one will immediately pick up the berry fruits, one which is first hinted at in its red-leaning colour profile.

On the palate, there is some heat as expected, and obvious acidity. I thoroughly enjoyed it with a delicious plate of seared cod and tiger prawns in laksa sauce (which resulted in a delightfully creamy aftertaste that helped to subdue the spice), a stunning entrée prepared by Chef Lennard Yeong, an avid home cook-turned-MasterChef Asia contestant and is now the in-house chef at Miele. 

Wynns 2019 Black Label Shiraz

“2019 was an equally lauded vintage – more elegant and a worthy style to contrast the 2018,” said Sue. “The Black Label Shiraz and Black Label Cabernet will be strong vintages in vertical tastings of these iconic labels.

Overall, Wynnsday 2021 sees the return of our flagship wines, John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon and Michael Shiraz from the acclaimed, warmer 2018 vintage.”

Sue takes us through the rest of the vintages, of which make up more than half of the Wynnsday 2021 Luxury collection. The annual wine releases, namely Wynnsday, dutifully takes place every year on the first Wednesday of October.

The second Shiraz is the acclaimed Michael, a 2018 vintage that is one of Wynns’ best. The build-up from the first sip develops into very subtle flavours, firstly almost candy-like, perhaps attributed to the red fruits and cloves, then peters off into a little bit of spice. 

Wynns 2018 CE Michael Shiraz

There’s no better word to describe the Michael Shiraz other than it’s grand. It’s the pride and joy of Wynns when it comes to Shiraz and is named after David Wynns’ young son.

The first of its kind was bottled in 1955, then relaunched in 1990, where thereafter it is only made in exceptional years and in small quantities.

Ideally, one would love nothing more than to have more of it, but its exclusivity correlates to when the fruits are at their best. Located at the southernmost point of South Australia, the growing conditions at Coonawarra Estate are optimal for intensely flavoured grapes, namely due to its rich red soil and cool, sun-loving climate.

It is also because of the temperature that helps gives the grapes its vivid red colour, Sue says. 

Wynns Chief Winemaker Sue Hodder

Sue Hodder is one of two winemakers at Wynns, the other being Sarah Pidgeon. Sue carries with her over two decades of experience as Wynns’ winemaker, and started her first vintage in 1993.

She later made Senior Winemaker in 1998, and since then has had numerous accolades including Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Winemaker of the Year award (a joint win with viticulturist Allen Jenkins) and Woman of Inspiration by the Women in Wine Awards.

She commends her early viticultural training that gave her an invaluable insight into the importance of the vineyard in quality winemaking. 

Towards the end of our call, she mentions Jeannie Cho Lee, a Master of Wine whom I had the pleasure to interview. We enthused a little bit about women in the business and I was pleased that it wasn’t just about overcoming the disparity of females in winemaking, but also on merit, that these exceptional professionals have excelled in their own spaces.

Wynns 2019 Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

It is impossible to talk about Wynns without touching on the Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that has garnered the Coonawarra region its reputation as the best in the region. The Wynnsday Luxury collection comprises just two — Black Label 2019 and John Riddoch 2018.

The first Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon made in the founding father’s name was made in 1982, which was then recognised as the Best Red Wine in Australia, a title the wine has been identified by on more than one occasion. Similar to Michael Shiraz, the John Riddoch is made exclusively in small quantities and only from the best available fruit grown on the estate's extensive Cabernet Sauvignon plantings.

Its flavour profile is complex yet easy to taste; immediately an enjoyable fruity profile. A healthy glass would complement dishes with white meats (I had lettuce-wrapped chicken doused in ginger-scallion oil).

Wynns 2018 Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon

The Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 bears the same fruity profile, though inevitably more in comparison, and is highly tannic, if one would prefer their wines like so. In fact, it is this “fine tannin framework” that this Cab Sauv is dependent on, for that intense finish rounded up my spicy dish pleasantly, albeit nary a buttery aftertaste as I had from the Shiraz. I did quite like that.

Truly, judge a wine not from its bottle. The vibrancy of Wynns’ wines and more so of Sue herself are a stark contrast to the brooding, sophisticated bottles these selections are encased in.

As we wrap up the year and welcome the next, you best be opening a bottle of Wynns’ red and share it with everyone you know. And the rest goes into the cellar.

The Wynns Coonawarra 2021 Collection can be purchased via major retailers and e-commerce websites, including Cold Storage and Lazada.