Cabernet Sauvignon Panel Tasting – Producer Profiles

This article first appeared in Decanter,
Tyson Stelzer

Cabernet Sauvignon Panel Tasting – Producer Profiles

Katnook Estate
The dynamic and enthusiastic Wayne Stehbens has been a mainstay of Coonawarra since 1979, transforming the original property of the region’s founder, John Riddoch. In recent years, diligent vineyard management and ongoing trials in trellising, leaf plucking, canopy management, soil surveys and yield monitoring have transported Katnook’s cabernet sauvignon to new heights of more even ripeness, avoiding the green and vegetal characters of the past. Odyssey is Katnook’s most powerful expression of Coonawarra’s signature variety, built for the long-haul and bolstered by more than three years in new French and American oak barrels, with some parcels double oaked.

Leeuwin Estate
No cabernet in Margaret River has been more dramatically transformed over the past decade than Leeuwin Estate Art Series. Once a style of clunky oak, assertive tannins and haphazard ripeness, a complete makeover in the vineyards and winery have elevated this wine to its rightful position alongside the estate’s famous Art Series Chardonnay. Southern Margaret River cabernet can be an edgy character, but attentive vineyard management has produced more even ripeness and permitted earlier harvesting to capture the hallmarks of the variety. Leeuwin’s Art Series philosophy is to represent its finest and most age-worthy wines, and its cabernet sauvignon now confidently meets this brief.

Fermoy Estate
Margaret River’s famed Wilyabrup zone is home to many of the region’s most celebrated estates, and Fermoy is one of the older vineyards in its heart. Today, a young and capable female winemaking team vinifies a significant production of more than 30,000 dozen in a winery adjacent to the old vineyard. Last year, Fermoy returned to Western Australian ownership after twelve years in the hands of a Swiss investor, with new investment promised in the vineyard and winery. Fermoy’s Reserve Cabernet is the hand-picked fruit of a single block of dry grown vines planted in 1985 and matured in French oak barriques.

Lenton Brae
Bruce Tomlinson’s 1982 estate is in the skilful hands of winemaker son Edward, who crafts a set of wines of ever-finer precision and varietal purity. To this end, a sorting table was introduced in 2006, and cane pruning was initiated in the vineyard in 2007 so as to create, in his words, “richer, riper and less angular and austere fruit flavours.” His flagship cabernet sauvignon is a barrel selection of estate grown cabernet (tweaked with a little merlot and a drop of petit verdot) from original 1982 planted estate Wilyabrup vines.

Night Harvest
Twenty-six years is a long time in Margaret River viticulture, and Andy and Mandy Ferreira have been involved in the establishment of some 3000ha of vineyards in the region over this time. Contract harvesting remains a large part of their business, and hence the name of their brand. They have produced their own wines since 2005, employing contract winemakers Kevin McKay of Forester Estate, who has grown and made wine in Margaret River since the Ferreiras first arrived, and Bruce Dukes, one of Western Australia’s most respected contract winemakers, and recipient of the Winemaker of the Year Award at the West Australian Wine Industry Awards last year.

An estate of the pedigree and longstanding heritage of Penfolds astutely upholds a mantra to maintain the style of its classic wines in spite of the ever-changing winds of popular preference. For this reason, when single subregion and French oak became the catchcries of the Barossa, RWT was born rather than meddling with the multi-region, American oak recipe of Grange. In precisely the same manner, the single region, French oak Bin 169 has recently been introduced alongside Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. From two prized Penfolds Coonawarra vineyards, this inaugural vintage arises from a season of particularly refined and powerful cabernet sauvignon.

Big changes are at hand at Arlewood. In mid-2007, the estate sold its 1988 planted Wilyabrup vineyard to Vasse Felix, acquiring a new vineyard south of the Margaret River township two years later. The estate’s 2007 wines were harvested prior to these changes. The ripe cabernet sauvignon of this warm season from a single block in the estate vineyard was matured for two years in half new and half second-use French oak. Just 700 dozen were produced of the final wine of this era for Arlewood.