Vanya Cullen Vintage Wilyabrup

As we release the next in the our series The Winemaker, Max Brearley profiles Vanya Cullen – Owner, Managing Director and Chief Winemaker at Cullen Wines. Watch the full length film below for a glimpse of one of Margaret River’s most awarded winemakers.

A Connection To The Land

“It’s a very beautiful thing to do” says Vanya Cullen as she reflects on her role as Cullen Wines Winemaker and Managing Director, “It’s very much about nature and as much as we can keep that purity of nature in the wines we do.”

With thirty-three vintages to her name at Cullen, Vanya has a deep connection to the land from which she creates some of Australia’s most renowned and highly awarded wines. In vintage, the vineyards surrounding the winery are a blur of activity, as the prized fruit is hand picked, before making its short trip to the iconic stone built winery. There Vanya works side by side with her team. It’s hands on work, where the skill of the individual is prized over machinery.

“In a sense wine is about people in that it’s about connection to the land. I think that’s why the best experiences you have with wine are often in situ, where the wine’s made; you remember those most because you had that connection to the land.”

Nature gives us the opportunity to make these wines and each vintage is different. Every year we have that excitement of: can we make a better wine this year?

Vanya Cullen, Cullen Wines Wilyabrup

An Outward Looking Ethos

A family philosophy of “quality, integrity and sustainability” are at the heart of day-to-day life at the Wilyabrup winery, the approach being about “not trying to take anything from the land that we’re not giving back.” Organic and biodynamic, they are among a small group of wineries that are certified. Many talk of using the principles, but don’t follow through on certification. For Vanya, it was something that “felt good”, a move that put respect for the land first. “There’s a very straight line from that intelligence in the soil to the glass of wine that you drink” she says.

While the approach to winemaking is very much about the care of the land, Cullen founders, Dr Kevin and Diana Cullen, fostered an outward looking ethos from the early days, looking beyond the region for inspiration. “Dad created our Chardonnay tasting which we’ve had for 32 years now,” says Vanya. “He wanted to benchmark against the greatest wines in the world, and really to bring the standard of Margaret River Chardonnay up.”

Describing, her mother Diana Madeline Cullen, a trailblazer in Australian wine, Vanya says “she led by example; of working hard and having as much of the facts as she could gather to make the best quality wine.” Travel played a part in this outward looking pursuit for quality. “She was never frightened to take other people’s advice. Travelling the world with Dad she would come back here with new ideas that she would find. Everything that she did was about making better quality wine.”

The legacy continues today, striving for quality, Vanya says, “I can’t make a wine if the grapes aren’t good enough. That’s the reality check.” The process is one of intuition each vintage, of benchmarking against those that have come before and the memories of drinking good wine. “There’s always something; you think well maybe that could be better. You’re always very judgmental about your wines. There’s a sensory memory of a time. So in a way you’re in the present but you’re travelling back to the past when you drink wine and remembering all those good times.”

There’s a very straight line from that intelligence in the soil to the glass of wine that you drink