Sarah Pidgeon, Winemaker of Wynns Coonawarra Estates

We were recently lucky to be able to meet Sarah Pidgeon, winemaker of Wynns Coonawara Estates who is challenging our ideas of how wines should be made. Known for its iconic terra rossa soil that the single estate wine is grown in, we speak to the renown winemaker about the famed wine estate.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I grew up in Armidale in NSW. I didn’t come from a wine family background, I just loved the idea of winemaking and really wanted to study it so, I enrolled at Roseworthy in South Australia. I was one of the youngest people studying winemaking there and was pretty green about what was involved in making wine, but it was even more interesting and inspiring than I expected it to be. I love that you get to live in beautiful regions and surround yourself with people who love food, wine and travel – I have never looked back. I came to Coonawarra as a young winemaker and fell in love with the region, the terra rossa soil and with Wynns, where I have worked since 1998. I feel privileged to continue the tradition of excellence and innovation as winemaker at Wynns, working with fruit from some of Australia’s top vineyards on the internationally famed terra rossa soil.

Can you briefly tell us about Wynns Coonawarra Estate?

What is now Wynns Coonawarra Estate was founded by Scottish pioneer John Riddoch. He planted vineyards in 1891 and completed the estate’s three-gabled winery. In 1951 Melbourne wine merchants Samuel and David Wynn purchased Riddoch’s original vineyards and winery and renamed the property Wynns Coonawarra Estate. The Wynns family recognised the intrinsic qualities of Coonawarra wines – their richness and intensity of fruit character – and set out to build an independent identity in the region. They created the famous label that has made John Riddoch’s winery an Australian wine icon. Today Wynns Coonawarra Estate is the region’s pre-eminent wine producer and largest single vineyard holder with the best and longest established vineyard sites in Coonawarra. Its wines are regarded as benchmarks for the district, lauded for their consistent quality and depth of flavour.

You have included Riesling grapes in one of your Reframed expressions. Can you tell us why this was done?

This is a very Wynns’ version of the classic Rhone blend shiraz viognier, with a lovely historical twist.  Viognier is not part of the Coonawarra story; however Riesling is. We included ‘Rogue Vines’ on the label because some of our oldest shiraz vineyards at Wynns historically had rogue Riesling vines growing amongst them. When harvesting the grapes, you’d see a flash of green fruit amongst the red which we didn’t mind too much as it added to the perfume. However, in the 1990s we rejuvenated our vineyards, and the rogues were removed. Now we’re putting Riesling back into our shiraz wine on purpose!

Your winery is one of the few ones in the world which has not been affected by the phylloxera. Can you elaborate how Wynn has managed to avoid this?

The states of South Australia and Western Australia are two rare places in the world that are completely phylloxera free. This gives us the rare opportunity to grow grapes on their own roots and means that we are the custodians of some of the oldest shiraz and cabernet vineyards on their own roots in the world.

How are the Wynns Reframed wines different to other wines out there?

Wynns Coonawarra Estate is an Australian icon with a legacy of world-renowned cabernets that reflect the pinnacle Coonawarra terroirs. With our Reframed wines we’re approaching varieties in different ways using unusual varietal combinations for Coonawarra and the Limestone Coast that are either unique or hard to find, brought to you by the same trusted team at Wynns. Moreover, single varietal wines have been a hallmark of Australian winemaking for four decades – something that is unique to Australian wine drinking culture and different to other parts of the world. There has been a shift and Australians are now more open to exploring blends, which we deliver in our Shiraz Riesling and Cabernet-Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Reframed wines.

Your wine grows under colder climates than expected due to its geographical location. Can you tell us how it affects the grapes?

The Bonney Upwelling is an Antarctic coastal current that arrives just off the coast near our region in the summer months. It signals the start of the fishing and crayfish season and means that the water temperature is freezing right in time for summer. This means that in the key time that our grapes are ripening we have beautiful warm days and remarkably cool evening breezes that refresh the grapes during their ripening. We believe this is a key factor in the bright colours and fresh flavours that are the hallmark of Wynns and Coonawarra.

Which expressions do you recommend for beginners?

All the Wynns Reframed wines represent the perfect opportunity to make a start on your wine journey. All four wines are completely unoaked and give people the chance to learn about fruit flavours in fresh, fun wine styles. 

And for advanced drinkers?

Wynns Black Label Cabernet and Shiraz are both beautiful expressions of the oldest vineyards from Wynns in the heart of the terra rossa soil. These medium bodied wines age beautifully but are also great to enjoy on release to showcase the best of our cool climate and terra rossa soil.

Tell us something about Wynns Coonawarra Estate that people might not be aware of?

At Wynns, we’re famous for our cabernets. However, our oldest vineyards are actually shiraz. Not many people know how beautiful Coonawarra shiraz can be in a cool climate aromatic style.

What is a great pairing that you would recommend with your wines?

Wynns Reframed Shiraz Riesling – Chilli Crab – shiraz riesling. Little bit Asian in style, easy fun food, luxury but messy and outdoorsy. The wine is so fruity that it’s ok.

Wynns Reframed Cabernet Rose – Turkish vegetarian gozleme for something more wintery with melted cheese and pan fried mushroom. Haloumi, kale and mint. For summer, salt and pepper squid is a simple option.  

Wynns Reframed Cabernet-Franc Cabernet-Sauvignon – Beef sirloin and basil salad, with the red meat providing freshness Approaching winter,  pasta with chickpeas and zaatar with baby spinach.

Wynns Reframed Fiano, Pinot Grigio, Arneis – Thai-style mussels. Soba noodles, lime, cardamon and avocado make for a fresh, light lunch dish. Enjoy alone or with lightly fried tofu. 

Wynns Shiraz – On a recent visit to Malaysia I was introduced to Dragon’s Breath Eggplant. The intense signature smokiness of this dish was a surprise match with our lovely fruity Wynns Shiraz. 

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon – It has become a tradition for Sarah and Sue to recommend salmon with this wine. We change the recipe each year but it’s an important message that we’re deliberately sending to change people’s minds about only considering red wine with red meat.


Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic and drinks writer and is the editor of independent publication Food For Thought. He has been a freelance journalist for the 15 years and has previously worked as a lawyer and in digital marketing. He currently is the Principal Consultant of A Thought Full Consultancy, a food and beverage marketing consultancy.

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