2015 Tom Cullity with Virginia Willcock
Friday, March 29, 2019 in News
Since 2006, Virginia Willcock has helmed the winemaking program of pioneering Margaret River winery Vasse Felix. A much-celebrated figure in the industry (she almost has more ‘Winemaker of the Year’ awards than there are grapes in a bunch), Willcock’s deep connection to the region she has tended for close to 30 years shines through in all of her wines. None more so than Vasse Felix’ flagship red, Tom Cullity. Langton’s Classified ‘Outstanding’, this is perhaps the pinnacle of Margaret River Cabernet.
Named for the founder of Vasse Felix, the Tom Cullity is one of Australia’s most recognisable and desirable Cabernets. As Langton’s launches pre-arrival access to the 2015 Vasse Felix Tom Cullity, Willcock shared some insights on the vintage Gary Walsh has deemed ‘the best Tom Cullity to date.’
Tom Cullity with first Riesling in March 1968
You’re releasing the 2015 vintage of the Tom Cullity right now, yet we’ve seen vintage releases of other flagship Margaret River Cabernet blends as recent as 2017. Can you explain why you choose to age your wines much longer and what you’re trying to achieve in the wine?
Ageing wine allows the primary characters to settle into it and the secondary savoury elements to show, creating a more complete and harmonious wine, particularly with Cabernet. We release the Tom Cullity as a four year old wine so that if collectors want to enjoy at least one of their bottles immediately, the wine is going to look complex and delicious the first time they taste it as we’ve already done part of the ageing process for them.
What’s your abiding memory of the 2015 vintage?
It was a mild roller coaster with warm and cool temperatures intermittent, and I recall picking the last block of Cabernet in the morning before a significant rainfall event that afternoon. It was beautiful to watch the rain knowing all the grapes were safe in house.
Some wineries reported longer ripening periods during 2015. Was this your experience in Margaret River?
2015 was a relatively early harvest by long term standards in Margaret River, yet very similar to the prior eight years for us. Flowering was slightly earlier compared to the previous eight years, so there was a slight lengthening of growing season.
In comparison to the 2014 Tom Cullity, you’ve gone with roughly the same amount of Cabernet but more Malbec in the 2015. Can you talk us through your selection and how that has manifested in the wine?
The selection of exact blend percentage is vintage dependant due to the nuisances of character developed in each variety in that particular season. The ideal goal is to find a harmonious balance where the season is expressed and the most complete wine created. There is about 4% more Malbec in 2015.
Bart Molony in the vineyard today.
You’ve also dialled back the use of new oak (from 62% in 2014) to 51% for the 2015 Tom Cullity. With greater time for the grapes to develop on the vine and less new oak, can we expect a greater emphasis on primary characters?
Not only is less new oak used in 2015, we also brought it out of oak two months earlier than the previous vintage. The fruit was more earth-driven in 2015, with slightly lower levels of aromatic berry fruits, so too much new oak would likely have dominated and too much time in oak would have dried the wine out. We feel the timing and volume of oak used was ideal as the wine is still delicate and succulent. I wouldn’t say primary characters are accentuated due to this change; this was a decision of basic preservation and adjustment to suit a different vintage.
Vasse Felix Cellar Door
The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh described the 2015 vintage as ‘the best Tom Cullity to date.’ Do you agree? Is this your best yet?
Your favourite or ‘best yet’ vintage of such a special place bottled is a bit unfair to ask of its prime caretaker. I love the characters of each vintage because they all tell a seasonal story. I can say that that 2015 Tom Cullity is more savoury and restrained, yet deeply complex and refined, and to stretch a varietal bow, if you’re a Barolo lover it may be your favourite cabernet ever.
Secure the 2015 Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet blend first, with pre-arrival access. Shipping from May 1.