Diana Cullen, who pioneered winemaking in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, has died aged 80.

A formidable and much-loved character, she was described in a Decanter feature as ‘the first woman in Margaret River to wear trousers in the late 1950s.’

In 1956 she and her late husband Kevin bought a block of land in Margaret River. They were the first people to plant test vines there, going on to establish the first vineyards in the area in the early 1970s.

The experiment was a success – despite the ridicule. In 1977 she won the first trophy to be given to a Margaret River wine at the Canberra National Wine Show.

Cullen went on to introduce the first Merlot and Cabernet Franc cuttings to be planted in Western Australia, as well as pioneering innovative trellising and canopy management techniques and a wood ageing program for Sauvignon Blanc.

Away from the vineyard, Cullen was heavily involved in the implementation of the regional appellation scheme, providing a means of controlling the style and quality of local wines. She was also a founding member of the Margaret River Wine Industry Association.

Her service to the development of viticulture and the wine industry was rewarded in 1999 when she was made a Member of the Order of Australia. Cullen always said her greatest achievement was when she rallied to stop the mining of oil on the Western Australian coastline in the 1960s. Environmental protection was always a priority – the Cullen winery has always been run organically.

Cullen is survived by six children, none of whom went into wine except her daughter Vanya (named after the Chekhov character – her mother was a keen Russian scholar), who became senior winemaker at Cullen in 1989 was voted Australia’s Winemaker Of The Year in 2000.

Written by Richard Woodham4 March 2003