The history of Cabernet Sauvignon is that of kings. A wine made for the ages, Cabernet Sauvignon inspires thoughts of dimly lit cellars filled with rows of dusty bottles and the smell of oak barrels steeped in blackcurrants. The idea of time well spent, of savouring the finer things in life. Of reward for patience. The heritage and prestige of this humble grape is renowned, almost mythical.
Coonawarra and Cabernet Sauvignon
Coonawarra is a place that stands tall among Cabernet growers. Meaning “honeysuckle" in the local indigenous language, Coonawarra is easily recognised by its famed ‘terra rossa’ soils. A shallow, deeply coloured earth that sits over a limestone base. It’s this soil that holds the key to capturing a purity of flavour. Add a warm, dry climate that’s uniquely tempered by cool nights (courtesy of an ocean upwelling off the coast of South Australia), and you have the beginnings of an opus. Cabernet sauvignon has a rich and long history in Coonawarra. First planted in 1893 by John Riddoch, the Cabernet plantings here have inspired some of Australia’s best wines.
Patrick of Coonawarra
Patrick began with Cabernet Sauvignon, when he purchased the ‘home block’ from Hollick in 1989. These 60 year old vines surround the family home, where son and winemaker Luke Tocaciu would learn his craft. “Cabernet Sauvignon is where dad started,” Luke explains. “Our family story could be told in the home block”. While the family and business expanded, so too did the Cabernet plantings with the addition of the northern Coonawarra ‘skinners block’. Patrick of Coonawarra now has 25 hectares of Cabernet plantings. Luke says “some of my favourite memories are of tasting some of those early Coonawarra Cabernets that really put our region on the map. It’s a variety that we, as winemakers, aspire to make”.
A Changing of the Old Guard
Cabernet Sauvignon is still the world's most popular wine. Although over 150 million cases of Cabernet were consumed world wide in 2019, that figure is down 9%. The last few years has seen a distinct change in the way Australians approach wine. Millennials are taking the lead in wine consumption and reinvigorating long held beliefs about how to approach wine. So what does this mean for Cabernet? Winemaker Luke likes to think of modern Cabernet as a duality of style. A place where heritage, history and modern expressions of the grape are coming together to create something new. “It means that Cabernet now has a place across multiple generations” Luke explains. “Wines like our Cabernet Nouveau are so approachable and unique, I like to think it can intrigue some of the traditional Cabernet drinkers as well”.
Three Unique Cabernet Wines
Patrick of Coonawarra produces three distinct styles of Cabernet today. The “Home Block” is a single-site wine that lends itself to heritage. This is a wine that will sit well in those aspirational cellars of old, quietly culminating in a revenant wine experience that rewards you for time and patience. The Home Block rests on hallowed ‘terra rossa’, producing smaller, intensely flavoured fruit. Here is where Cabernet’s thick skins combine with a long and slow ripening period, and come together in a wine with character. Luke says “it’s a block that produces quite small and open bunches, and we use it for nice fine tannins and concentrated fruit”. The Home Block Cabernet is made from very low yielding vines, a long maceration period on skins to draw out the colour and tannin. Combine this with up to 60% new oak (predominantly French) and you get a wine that will cellar for up to 20 years. “Dad always wanted to release the wine with some bottle age” Luke explains. “He understood the importance of time in wines built like this, it’s a tradition we still hold to today”. The current release is 2018 and was awarded a whopping 98 points by Winestate magazine.
The addition of the North Coonawarra ‘‘skinners block’ has brought about a more modern interpretation of Cabernet for the team at Patrick. The ‘Two Blocks’ Cabernet takes its lead from heritage and tradition, while making a wine that’s bright and friendly. The ‘skinners block’ is renowned for its larger berries and bigger canopies. Luke says “it means we can make a wine with soft tannins, that’s more fruit forward and modern”. While it follows the same basic principles of the Home Block Cabernet, the Two Blocks has a shorter maceration window and uses 30% new oak. This makes it easily recognisable as a traditional Cabernet, but with a charming likeability that leaps out of the glass young. Its bright fruit permeates the air, while the palate feels silky and lush. The Two Blocks Cabernet is the perfect meeting point between tradition and modern style. Approachable young, but with cellaring potential of up to 10 years. The 2019 Two Blocks Cabernet was awarded gold at the Sydney International Wine Show.
Now it’s time to turn tradition on its head. Enter, Cabernet Methode Nouveau. It’s here that Luke has really been able to flex his winemaking skills. A serious deviation from the Coonawarra Cabernets of old, this wine will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about this grape. It’s about evolution really. Wine can be a fashionable game sometimes, and the last 5 years has seen a distinct deviation away from heavy wine styles among Australia’s wine drinking public. So what is this wine all about? Luke says “we made the Nouveau Cabernet from the lush grapes in the ‘skinners block’, then used reverse osmosis technology to remove the larger tannin molecules”. The wine had only 5 days on skins and spent some time in lager format oak puncheons. Wild fermented under a cover of CO2, the result is a beaujolais style wine that is still unmistakably Cabernet. It’s a wine that resonates with the emerging trends of a new wine drinking generation. But we think it will pique the interest of those who hold this grape close to their hearts too. Go on, we dare you!
Luke and the team at Patrick of Coonawarra are proudly celebrating their Cabernet legacy this month. We invite you to sample the evolution of Coonawarra Cabernet styles with our ‘Duality Pack’. It explores the stark contrast between tradition and emerging new ideas, and is ready to offer up a new perspective on this most noble of grapes. So where to from here? Only time will tell. But wherever we end up, you can be sure we will have a glass of Cabernet in hand.