Acceptance of 2016 John Riddoch by La Place de Bordeaux in September – the first Australian wine distributed by this influential vinous marketplace – will see this Cabernet Sauvignon, beloved in Australia, now reach a prestigious network of international fine wine buyers and collectors in more than 100 countries.
Fans will also be able to follow the course of its history in a new book – Imagining Coonawarra: The Story of John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, written by Andrew Calliard MW of Langton’s auction house.
In keeping with this fanfare, it was timely that Wynns’ senior winemaker Sue Hodder opened a series of John Riddoch back vintages for a public masterclass as part of Coonawarra’s annual Cabernet Celebration festival in mid-October. She showed off examples of vintages from each decade since the introduction of John Riddoch in 1984.
Together, the back vintages of this elegant, medium-bodied style tell a compelling story: that John Riddoch avoids a set recipe to instead pursue different ideas about how to best celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon.
‘Making John Riddoch is my opportunity to point something out about the vintage and the vineyards that I find interesting,’ says Hodder, ‘and I am prone to change my ideas on what’s interesting.’
Making John Riddoch
Hodder initially selects up to 30 separate parcels from at least 16 targeted vineyards that have proven quality levels and distinctive characteristics. She looks for ways to allow the vintage to speak through the resulting blends, mostly from only two or three vineyards.
While fruit from each preferred vineyard has admirable character – from the oldest, Johnson’s (planted in 1954), through to the 2003 nursery block – there’s no guarantee of their place in each year’s combination that makes up a John Riddoch blend.
Each vineyard is allowed to shine separately to the John Riddoch blend, with Wynns having issued a single-vineyard Cabernet Selection each year since 2004. These show a distinctly different personality to the corresponding year’s John Riddoch.
The vertical tasting highlighted the importance of vineyard rejuvenation which viticulturist Allen Jenkins has implemented since 2000.
Tough decisions to grub underperforming or diseased older vines, grafting superior clones and radical retraining of primary canes have resulted in berries producing clean, vital flavours from aged rootstocks.
Hodder is also fussy about whether any particular vintage makes the grade, and is fiercely protective of the prestige that John Riddoch has built up since it was launched in 1982.
On nine occasions, the wine has not been produced –1983, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2014 – meaning that rigid benchmarks of quality have never been compromised.
In Hodder’s mind, it reinforces that every bottle of John Riddoch is a unique statement and a valid chapter in Wynns Coonawarra Estate’s rich 129-year history.