Colleague and protégé of former Winemaker of the Year winners Sue Hodder and Allen Jenkins, Sarah Pidgeon is making her mark at Wynns with some highly successful wines.
Making her mark with the V&A Lane wines of Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Sarah Pidgeon is an insightful winemaker, aware of the custodianship and responsibility one has when working with an historical, much-loved brand, though she is also brave in her pursuit to push the boundaries of convention and style.
“Coonawarra is such an interesting region, being an early grape-growing area. The three-gabled building, I am very lucky to walk into that every day. It’s endlessly inspiring.”
The patchwork of vineyards along the famed terra rossa strip is a long way from Armidale, NSW, where Pidgeon grew up. Though now she can’t imagine being anywhere else. But Coonawarra is like that. Its flat vineyard-filled plains, its clean, crisp air and its misty grey skies get under your skin. What makes one stay, though, is the people.
Sarah Pidgeon has been working with the wines of Wynns for over 20 years, alongside her colleagues and mentors, Sue Hodder, Wynns’ Senior Winemaker, and Allen Jenkins, Viticulturist. They are a formidable team, relentless in their pursuit for quality, and while they are respectful of the Wynns history, they have been on a path of continual evolution, both in the winery and the vineyards.
But as Coonawarra’s largest vineyard holder, there’s considerable diversity across Wynns’ vineyards. One special area is V&A Lane, a long, straight road surveyed in 1851 which was the old district boundary between the historical electorates of Victoria and Albert.
“We always liked the fruit,” said Pidgeon. “It was high quality, from old vineyards and had distinction. We had the idea to carve something out from this unofficial subregion.”
Pidgeon was given the role to develop the style of the range. This opportunity came at the same time that the winery’s new open fermenter area was built, which created new spaces for experimentation.
The first V&A wines were produced in 2008. It became clear at the beginning of the process that picking the fruit early was the key to obtaining the fresher, brighter style they were chasing.
Pidgeon talks about Wynns reds as being medium bodied with good depth, layers of flavour and richness, but also having clarity, precision and focus. The V&A wines are in line with this philosophy, though have a ‘lighter touch’.
“Knowing vineyards for a long time means that you can predict how they are going to be across different seasons; you can be braver and more decisive in your approach,” says Pidgeon.
Pidgeon has an interest in history and says the inspiration for the V&A Cabernet Shiraz came from the ‘claret story’, that goes back to the 1950s, where wines were made to a particular style rather than being about exact proportions.
For the V&A Lane Cabernet Shiraz, the grapes are co-fermented. For the V&A Shiraz, whole bunches are an essential part of the style, as they are chasing a silky, layered, medium-bodied wine with good aromatics, freshness and crunch. In most years it sees no new oak, as they want the “fruit to be the hero”.
Over her time at Wynns, Pidgeon has had an integral role in refining the oak usage through rigorous and considered trials over several seasons. They have moved from a complicated oak regime to one of simplicity and clarity, working closely with a small number of French coopers.
Pidgeon is also collaborating on two technical projects: one involving cabernet sauvignon flavour; and the other on ‘sorting technology’. She becomes very passionate when talking about the impact of climate change, which has become more apparent in Coonawarra over the past decade, with more extreme vintages and warmer seasons.
Pidgeon lists Pam Dunsford and Sheryl Henricks as mentors, and also credits winemaker husband Ulrich Grey-Smith for his continuous support.
But there is no doubt that Pidgeon herself will be one to inspire others: a highly successful winemaker, who graciously acknowledges the team that she works in, her family and community as all part of her success.
FACTS AND FIGURES
REGION | Coonawarra
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 25
ANNUAL CRUSH | NFP
STAND-OUT WINES | 2016 V&A Lane Cabernet Shiraz; 2016 V&A Lane Shiraz