There are few grape varieties as steeped in regal metaphors as Cabernet Sauvignon. That status is deserved, due to its power, structure and ability to express a unique character nearly anywhere it\u2019s planted. But not all Cabernets are created equal.\r\n\r\nIn Napa, the \u201cking of grapes\u201d often rules with muscle and opulence, while in its native home of Bordeaux, its reign has been a long and more complex one. And in Australia, two different and distinctive Cabernet kingdoms have developed: Margaret River and Coonawarra.\r\n\r\nMargaret River, a windswept slice of Western Australia\u2019s southern coast, produces medium-bodied Cabernets of elegance, complexity and transparency. Almost all wear a crown of briny sea spray, pencil lead, eucalyptus and currant.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nCoonawarra, a region with nearly 130 years of wine history, rests about halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, on the southeast edge of South Australia. The region, with its famed, ancient terra rossa soils, sits 60 miles from the sea, and spawns rich, sturdy Cabs etched in dark berry fruit, mint and dried herbs.\r\n\r\nThough many Australian winemakers have unlocked Cabernet\u2019s magic, only a few have devoted their lives to this noble grape. They\u2019ve searched endlessly for an understanding of the connection between grape and land. Here are six of Australia\u2019s most devoted subjects, who\u2019ve helped shape Cabernet\u2019s reign down under.\r\n\r\n\r\nCullen Wines\r\nMargaret River\r\nJust two miles from the Indian Ocean, beneath towering jarrah trees in the heart of Margaret River wine country, is a winery that has done more to advance Australian Cabernet Sauvignon than almost any other. And yet, for all its influence and accolades, Cullen remains a salt-of-the-earth, family-run farm.\r\n\r\nVanya Cullen, the managing director and chief winemaker, seems to be in constant motion. She dashes from winery to tasting room, from vineyards to veggie patch. Her parents, Kevin and Diana Cullen, were at the forefront of grape growing in Margaret River.\r\n\r\nNot only have the Cullens crafted some of the most heralded wines in Australia, they\u2019ve also been longtime environmental leaders.\r\n\r\nThey started to plant vines as early as 1966, and they achieved commercial success by the early 1970s. Their vineyards are located in what\u2019s now known as the premier Cabernet subregion, Wilyabrup. Vanya, the youngest of six children, grew up among her family\u2019s vines. She started making wine alongside her parents in 1983, and was appointed chief winemaker in 1989.\r\n\r\nNot only have the Cullens crafted some of the most heralded wines in Australia, they\u2019ve also been longtime environmental leaders. The family has championed biodynamics, water self-sufficiency, solar power, carbon neutrality and sustainable packaging. Their restaurant, one of the oldest and most beloved in the region, serves biodynamically farmed produce sourced from the property.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nCullen\u2019s top Cabernet bottling, Diana Madeline, is one of Australia\u2019s most heralded wines. A limited-release selection, it bears Vanya\u2019s mother\u2019s name and includes small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Complex, elegant and very ageworthy, it expresses Cullen\u2019s vines and the influence of the nearby Indian Ocean.\r\n\r\nRecently, Vanya introduced a second limited-release Cabernet Sauvignon that bears her own name. Made with the minimal intervention philosophy she\u2019s so passionate about, it also spends time fermenting in terracotta amphorae.\r\n\r\n\u201cOver the three decades of working at Cullen, the love for Cabernet Sauvignon has deepened,\u201d Vanya writes regarding the latest release of her namesake wine, from the 2015 vintage. \u201cCullen Vineyard, with its land, vines, wines and people\u2026is my life\u2019s work.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nMoss Wood\r\nMargaret River\r\nA few miles up the road from Cullen resides another of Margaret River\u2019s founding estates, Moss Wood. Its long-lived Cabernet Sauvignons have helped set a benchmark for the variety in the country.\r\n\r\nProprietors Clare and Keith Mugford are hands-on at the winery, where they head up the winemaking and viticulture. Unlike the Cullens, however, the Mugfords were not the original owners.\r\n\r\nThat title goes to Bill and Sandra Pannell. The Pannells first planted vines on the northern end of the Wilyabrup subregion of Margaret River in 1969, around the same time as other regional founders Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Cullen.\r\n\r\nThose first Cabernet plants were cuttings taken from vines at Houghton winery in the Swan River Valley, about 180 miles north of Margaret River. Today, some of the defining characters of Margaret River Cabernet are attributed in part to the Houghton clone, as it\u2019s now known.\r\n\r\nMoss Wood\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon is a tightrope walk of elegance and power.\r\n\r\n\u201cWestern Australia has the Houghton clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is virtually not used at all in eastern Australia,\u201d says Keith Mugford.\u00a0\u201cIt has fruit flavors and tannin balance quite different from the clones used in the rest of the country.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhen the Pannells retired in 1984, they handed the reins to Keith Mugford, who had made wine for Moss Wood since 1979 (Bill and Sandra Pannell\u2019s children created highly acclaimed wine labels of their own). Keith officially took ownership of the estate in 1985, with his wife, Clare. They still tend to Moss Wood\u2019s original vines, as well as to Ribbon Vale Vineyard, which they purchased in 2000, located just one mile down the road.\r\n\r\nMoss Wood\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon, which includes a little Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, is a tightrope walk of elegance and power, swaddled in its youth by toasted oak, intense berry fruit, tobacco and tar. \u201cWe like the fruit to have ripened to the point where the dominant features are the dark berry-type fruit characters, but not so ripe that the floral notes of Cabernet Sauvignon are lost,\u201d says Keith. \u201cThe tannins should have good concentration, underpinning the palate rather than dominating, such that wine has smoothness and balance.\u00a0None of these characters should be dominant, but rather the wine should be a harmonious combination, even when young.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe wine takes decades to reach its stride, and it can be cellared for 40 years or more.\r\n\r\n\r\nWoodlands Wines\r\nMargaret River\r\nWhen Andrew Watson, commercial director at Woodlands, talks about his home in Western Australia\u2019s premium Cabernet producing region, he waxes lyrical.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou can drive from Margaret River town, where you can smell the trees and the undergrowth, and in minutes be at the beach, where you can smell the salt and seaweed,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s still so pristine and isolated, you can still see what it was like 300 years ago.\r\n\r\n\u201cPeople seek this out. Most people in Margs have come from another life. They\u2019ve all chosen to be here.\u201d\r\n\r\nAmong those transplants were Andrew\u2019s parents, David and Heather Watson. They established Woodlands Wines, among the oldest wineries in the region, on a site just south of Moss Wood in 1973.\r\n\r\nThe Watsons maintain a focus on traditional winemaking with minimal intervention.\r\n\r\nFor nearly two decades, its Cabs were considered among Australia\u2019s best. The winery\u2019s 1981 Andrew Cabernet Sauvignon, named after their son, was the first Margaret River wine to receive a national red wine trophy, winning best red wine categories at competitions such as the National Wine Show of Australia, the Perth Wine Show and the Mt. Barker Wine Show.\r\n\r\nFrom 1992 to 1999, the Watsons took a break from winemaking to send their two sons to school in Perth, selling their fruit to local premium wineries. When Andrew and his brother, Stuart, came of age, they, too, chose to live in Margaret River.\r\n\r\nWoodlands was reborn, and the brothers didn\u2019t miss a beat. With Andrew in his current role and Stuart as chief winemaker, the Watsons maintain a focus on traditional winemaking with minimal intervention. The family vineyards are dry-farmed, and they\u2019re on track to be certified organic in 2018. A second vineyard, Woodlands Brook, purchased in 2007, will also likely receive the designation.\r\n\r\nCabernet Sauvignon shows up in several Woodlands blends, like the Margaret bottling. The winery\u2019s top Cab follows the tradition of being named after a family member each year. Andrew describes its style in two words: \u201celegance and intensity.\u201d It encompasses everything that\u2019s great about top-notch Margaret River Cab.\r\n\r\n\r\nWynns Coonawarra\r\nEstate Coonawarra\r\nFew are lucky enough to have a commute like Sue Hodder, senior winemaker at Wynns. She resides in an old limestone house in the heart of the historic vineyards.\r\n\r\nFor 25 years, Hodder has been a champion of the winery that put Coonawarra on the map, alongside Winemaker Sarah Pidgeon and Viticulturist Allen Jenkins, who\u2019ve worked with her for more than half of her tenure at the estate.\r\n\r\n\u201cI walk to the winery through the vineyards,\u201d says Hodder. \u201c[Its] rich history goes back to the Coonawarra Fruit Colony of the 1890s and the families who planted vines and orchards then.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe winery was built by John Riddoch in 1891, and its vines thrived in the region\u2019s terra rossa soils through the end of the 19th century. But a combination of economic hardship and the region\u2019s relative isolation soon ground production to a halt. It wasn\u2019t until 1951, when Melbourne-based winemaker and merchant Samuel Wynn and Co. purchased the property, that Coonawarra\u2019s wine industry was revitalized.\r\n\r\nWynns\u2019s most lauded wine, the Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, is touted as Australia\u2019s first varietally labeled Cabernet Sauvignon.\r\n\r\nCuttings from Wynns\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon vines are now highly sought after in Australia. There are 14 different clones, including heritage selections, with many still on their own rootstocks. Wynns produces a range of single-vineyard Cabernets each year, and each is crafted with an eye to better understand how its different vineyards perform.\r\n\r\nWynns\u2019s most lauded wine, the Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, is touted as Australia\u2019s first varietally labeled Cabernet Sauvignon. It was also the country\u2019s first to use the term \u201cestate\u201d to denote fruit grown on site. It has become one of Australia\u2019s benchmark Cabs, in all its dark-fruited, dried-herbed, minty glory.\r\n\r\nIn 2017, in honor of the wine\u2019s 60th anniversary, Wynns held a tasting of all 60 vintages. It demonstrated Coonawarra Cabernet\u2019s superb aging potential. \u201cI am inspired by what has gone before me, by our vineyards and by working with great, inquisitive people,\u201d says Hodder.\r\n\r\n\r\nPenley Estate\r\nCoonawarra\r\nPenley Estate may not possess the long history of Wynns, but it does have a fresh, young winemaker and a family lineage that stretches back to the early days of South Australia.\r\n\r\nRight in the heart of Coonawarra, Penley was founded in 1988 by siblings Ang, Bec and Kym Tolley. The name Penley is a mashup in honor of their parents, Judith Anne Penfold Hyland and Reginald Lester Tolley. Both the Tolleys and the Penfolds are founding families of the South Australian wine industry, the latter widely known for establishing one of Australia\u2019s most famous wine brands.\r\n\r\nPenley\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon plays a starring role in the winery\u2019s many \u201cseries\u201d labels.\r\n\r\nIn 2015, Kym Tolley retired as chief winemaker, and his sisters sought to breathe new life into the brand. They revamped the label and opened a sleek tasting room in McLaren Vale in 2017, where visitors from Adelaide can more easily taste the bottlings.\r\n\r\nIn 2016, they also hired a new winemaker, Kate Goodman, who arrived fresh from a role at Punt Road, an acclaimed Yarra Valley winery. While Goodman produces a very different style of Cabernet Sauvignon under her own Yarra-based label, Goodman Wines, she\u2019s made exciting changes to the Cabs at Penley.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are working hard to harvest earlier to capture the vitality of the vineyard,\u201d says Goodman. \u201cOak influence has been refined to allow the wines more space to express themselves. In addition, we are moving towards natural fermentations, using a lot more small, open fermenters and larger-format oak.\u201d\r\n\r\nPenley\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon plays a starring role in the winery\u2019s many \u201cseries\u201d labels. One, the Tolmer, is part of its Heritage Series, and named for the Tolley\u2019s great-great grandfather, a police commissioner of South Australia. Another, the Phoenix, is part of the Mythology series. Each express variations of Coonawarra Cabernet\u2019s trademark power, fruit intensity and distinctive dried herb and mint characters.\r\n\r\n\r\nDiGiorgio Family Wines\r\nCoonawarra\r\nThe winemaker at this family-run operation may not share the DiGiorgio name, but he has earned a reputation as a master of the region\u2019s Cabernet Sauvignon.\r\n\r\nHis name is Peter Douglas, and he has worked with Cabernet Sauvignon at established wineries worldwide, including Ch\u00e2teau L\u00e9oville Barton in Bordeaux and various Constellation Brands wineries in Napa Valley.\r\n\r\nIn Coonawarra, Douglas has worked for Lindeman\u2019s, Penfolds and Wynns, where he was chief winemaker for almost 15 years. He\u2019s also consulted for dozens of wineries throughout the region, and his extensive experience has provided an unparalleled understanding of the grape and how to craft superb bottlings of authentic varietal expression.\r\n\r\nDouglas\u2019s extensive experience has provided an unparalleled understanding of the grape and how to craft superb bottlings of authentic varietal expression.\r\n\r\n\u201cI have been fortunate enough to have made Cabernet in California and Bordeaux as well as Coonawarra, and very much consider here to be consistently the best,\u201d says Douglas, who\u2019s worked for DiGiorgio since 2004.\r\n\r\nThe family purchased the winery, the second oldest in Coonawarra, in 2002, with Frank DiGiorgio leading the charge. It\u2019s surrounded by old vines on terra rossa soils, some of which are more than 115 years old and part of John Riddoch\u2019s original Coonawarra Fruit Colony. Others are between 40\u201355 years old.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe acquisition of the 110-year-old winery was a natural progression for the DiGiorgios, who\u2019ve been a Coonawarra farming family since the early 1950s. After years of selling fruit from their nearby Lucindale Vineyards, planted in 1989, the DiGiorgios started their own wine label in 1998.\r\n\r\nDouglas has worked his charm on these top sites. DiGiorgio\u2019s well-priced Coonawarra Cabernet is a warming, fragrant combo of cherry-chocolate cake and dried green herbs, with a core of stony earthiness. It\u2019s full-bodied, fruity and laced with tight, savory tannins that will allow it to age gracefully for the next decade. In other words, it\u2019s everything that makes Coonawarra Cabernet a top drop.