A new accent for Rymill’s Cabernet

Coonawarra Cabernet wins award. Hardly news, you might think.

But as a Top 10 Wine in the Adelaide Review Hot 100 South Australian Wines, the 2010 Yearling Cabernet Sauvignon from Rymill boasts several unusual aspects, not least that it comes from a winery that has often struggled for visibility. Having flashy neighbours such as Parker, Majella and Balnaves can make it difficult to shine.

Since the middle of the last decade, however, Rymill has been steadily growing in stature in terms of both its product and public perception. One vital ingredient in that upturn is senior winemaker Sandrine Gimon, whose French origin makes for another point of difference on the famed terra rossa strip.

A graduate of classical French wine schooling at Reims, Gimon’s frenetic intercontinental career brought her to Houghton in Western Australia in 2001. Returning to Australia in 2005, she was keen to work in a cool climate setting and took up a vacancy at Rymill.

The Yearling is the second rank range of wines at Rymill, so the victory gazumped not only much more famous and expensive Coonawarra entries, but also its own senior Cabernet. All the Yearling wines sell at around $15 and have an accent on fruit and approachability. The Cab “barely sees oak,” Gimon, who was delighted by the award, says.

“I guess it’s saying that this wine is really answering some needs in that its fruity, it’s regional, it’s at a good price point and we’re trying to over-deliver on the quality.”

Gimon works only with estate grown fruit, and the vines have the benefit of sitting on the prized terra rossa-on-limestone profile – after a controversial expansion of its boundaries was finalised in 2003, the Coonawarra’s shape became more cigar-box than cigar, and incorporates a range of soil geology.

“It helps to have good fruit and access to pretty outstanding vineyards,” Gimon said.

Modern Cabernet Sauvignon in the Coonawarra is sometimes criticised for an overly heavy style, and makers have been accused of turning their backs on the medium-bodied model set by the legendary 1950s “clarets” of Wynn and Redman (cue finger-pointing at Robert Parker, the US uber-pundit, and his love of lumbering oak treatment). Gimon says that in every Rymill wine, balance is all important; even in the premium Cabernet, where the tannins and wood impart a structure that takes time to knit, new oak is never used exclusively.

“We are trying to work on the finesse of the Coonawarra, not on the oak punch. I don’t believe that 100 percent new oak is what the wine needs,” she said.

Gimon, a naturalised Australian, is an enthusiastic Coonawarra convert, and says the region’s isolation works in its favour to create a great sense of community: help and advice are always at hand, and freely given.

She doesn’t care to be singled out for Rymill’s successes, pointing instead to the current team of “talented youngsters” involved in production from vineyard management through to marketing, and a responsive board that incorporates three generations of the founding family.

The winery’s layout also means that Gimon traverses the cellar door with every trip between vat and vineyard.

“Not a week goes by when I’m not having a chat with a customer, and you learn a lot with this kind of contact. It’s true you can’t please everyone, but it’s interesting to tweak the style and have direct feedback.”

Gimon doesn’t write off the notorious 2011 vintage, saying the Rymill whites are “fantastic” – her debut Gewurztraminer is getting rave reviews – and the Yearling reds “honest and very good”. The 2012 season, however, was so ideal that she describes it as “a luxury” – the fruit, she says, will do all the work. Things are definitely looking up at Rymill.

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