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Open this photo in gallery:Wynn's Coonawarra winery and Sue Hodder portrait

Sue HodderHandout

Sue Hodder arrived at Wynn’s Coonawarra 30 years ago and tirelessly worked to become one of Australia’s most celebrated winemakers. Located at the southernmost tip of South Australia, Coonawarra is a small town quite a distance away from most things— by Hodder’s estimation, it’s five hours drive to Melbourne or Adelaide — but while the remote agricultural community lacks hustle and bustle, it has become one of the world’s most celebrated regions for growing top-quality cabernet sauvignon.

“I think people in the world, understandably so, believe that Australia is either under flood or fire,” Hodder says during a Zoom interview last week. “Down here we’re neither — it’s cool and moderate. We’re just waiting to start harvest.”

Following in the wake of two great vintages, 2021 and 2022, Hodder says the cooler conditions during this year’s growing season will make for “a good year but with a very small crop.”

Hodder took the top job at Wynn’s in 1998 and became the winery’s first female chief winemaker (although custodian might be a more apt job description). Originally known as Chateau Comaum, the winery was founded in 1891 by John Riddoch, a Scottish pioneer who saw the potential for the region to make great wine. In 1896, Riddoch built the iconic three-gabled winery depicted on Wynn’s labels. David Wynn would rescue that structure in 1951 from being turned into a sheep-shearing shed and renamed it Wynn’s. Another believer in the region’s potential, Wynn started making dry red wines from Coonawarra vineyards at a time when Australians were more interested in drinking fortified wines. (Mostly, they drank beer.) His first vintage was produced in 1954 at the winery which operated without electricity or running water at the time.

Open this photo in gallery:Wynn's Coonawarra winery and Sue Hodder portrait

Wynn's Coonawarra Estate WineryHandout

Today’s winemaking team dedicates the majority of its attention to nurturing old vineyards and establishing new blocks that are being replanted with new vines — including some that have been produced from cuttings of established Wynn’s cabernet vines. “We have these tiny old vines planted in the 1950s that have survived various cycles of drought and different temperatures and are still producing lovely bright fruit in very shallow soils,” says Hodder. “We think there must be some adaptive modifications that have occurred.”

In four years, Wynn’s will celebrate the release of the 70th vintage of what is now called the Black Label Cabernet. Hodder is already assembling wines to be able to conduct a seven-decade retrospective tasting. “It would be great if we had more old stock, but we have some in the museum,” Hodder explains. “The cabernets from the 1960s — the whole decade — are the ones we really love… They are hard to find, but there are some out and about.”

Depending on the province, the 2018 or 2019 vintages of Wynn’s Black Label Cabernet may be available for Canadian consumers. The 2019 vintage is scheduled as part of the April 1 release at LCBO Vintages outlets.

Following this year’s harvest, Hodder will travel to Bordeaux in June to promote Wynn’s flagship John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon at La Place de Bordeaux, the market place for many of the world’s most collectable wines. For centuries, La Place has been the sales platform for Bordeaux chateaux. John Riddoch is one of 100 international wines from 11 countries that take advantage of the business model that sees wines made available to 300 sales agents who sell to merchants in 170 countries. “It’s going very well,” she says. “It has been amazing to be involved with that community and be in the room with the great cabernets of the world.”

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