A BIOLOGICAL FOCUS
I have always seen biological farming as an extension of Organics. As a child, I would be amazed at how many worms would come up from the soil whenever a vegetable was harvested from the ground. Dad would tell me that, "wherever there are worms, there is food". With an early view towards organic certification, we wholeheartedly began our vineyard journey looking at natural ways to combat insects and disease in the vineyard. We avoid using pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers and other such inorganic methods.
This 'top-down' approach, although effective, lacked long-term environmental sustainability. For me, it's not just a question of preventative versus curative. Our main view is that issues of insects, disease and weeds are in fact indicators of poor soil nutrition. Rather than concentrating on ways to 'combat' this pressure, our primary focus instead is on nurturing the health of our soil so that our vines can do what nature intended and support themselves.
Biological farming acknowledges the need for equilibrium within the soil; its physical structure, its nutrient composition and its microbial populations must all be in balance for a plant to withstand attack. All life begins and ends with the soil (including us!), it is a living, breathing system with an incredible ability to replenish and sustain life.
The way in which we manage the soil and its microbial populations determines not only the health and vitality of the vines we grow, but the quality of the wine we produce and the well-being of the environment in which we live. This is circle of life stuff!
My bi-annual compost tea brew is always fun to make with a whopping 1000 L of active microbial goodness going out over the whole farm, not just the vineyard. Our small flock of Pekin ducks are slowly growing with our sights set on an army of 100 to flood the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Additionally, cover crops are planted in the mid-rows to fix nitrogen, soil is aerated to offset compaction during vintage and we balance out the use of soluble and slow-release nutrients. Each approach works towards soil rehabilitation by increasing microbial activity and naturally unlocking and recycling nutrients.
Particularly in the winery, I have experienced positive changes with the quality of fruit. I need not intervene as much with additions, yeasts are more reliable, fruit flavours are brighter, and the overall stability of the finished product foretells of impressive longevity. Overtime we have seen - and tasted - the difference that biologically healthy soil makes to the fruit we grow on our vineyard. It does take time, but the rewards are massive and we are excited for things to come.
VINTAGE 2019 WRAP-UP
2019 was our third dry vintage in succession and a great success, in particular, for our shiraz and tempranillo varieties. The vines, with average vine age of 21 years, will produce exceptional reds capable of developing further in bottle over many years.
2019 will likely be remembered for an overall hot, dry summer with a rather quick vintage. To kick off harvest, our chardonnay and rosé came off in February along with the gris, and our Reserve shiraz was picked on March 5th - after a super-hot week. We were then greeted with around 20 mm of rain, with temperatures dropping massively - we had one of our coldest March nights on record, with a low of 3 degrees Celsius greeting us at 5am!
The rain, lower daily temperatures and cooler nights gave us some breathing space though and a chance for the remaining varieties to recover and continue their sugar accumulation at a slower rate.
The tempranillo mid-March and Estate shiraz coming off late March finished off our vintage beautifully. We are supremely excited to see what comes of the tempranillo. We have a mix of three clones from Ribera del Duero in North Western Spain, nearby to royalty such as Vega Sicilia and Alejandro Fernandez and his 'Pesquera' vines.
We're hoping to release our first tempranillo next year as a 'semi-Crianza' or 'Joven' style, depending on how it looks in barrel. Some of our 2019 tempranillo may also be held back from sales for an additional year to age in bottle and be released as a 'Reserva' style, this will depend on demand and how the wine presents over time in the winery.
The 2019 chardonnay will remain on its lees for around 10 months before being bottled ahead of a release in the late first half of 2020. The Reserve shiraz was transferred to a unique mix of new and neutral French oak barriques after fermentation for what will be a total of approx. 14 months.
2017, 2018, and 2019 completes a hat-trick of dry vintages and all have produced wines of outstanding quality. The last vintage may be over, but the next one has already begun!
VINTAGE 2020 WRAP-UP
January 2020 feels like a year ago when I think about it. So much has happened since the bushfires. We were one of the first vineyards in the Beechworth region to arrive at the decision not to make wine this vintage. Our decision though, was not made lightly.
At the time, we needed a way to know sooner, rather than later, whether to cut our losses or to invest the time, energy and funds needed to get the grapes ready for harvest. We chose to speak with experts in the wider industry - whom held no bias, and had first-hand experience dealing with past bushfire vintages. In wanting to understand what they were doing this time around, an early detection method was generously shared, so rather than waiting until closer to harvest to test, we tested our grapes in late January and were able to make an informed decision very quickly.
Not wanting to spend extra money having a team come in to drop smoked fruit, two of us slowly began dropping fruit in February and managed to finish the whole vineyard in April! We chose to drop the fruit rather than leaving it on the vine to rot for two reasons. Firstly, rotting fruit can harbour disease and draw in birds that come back the following year looking for more fruit - disease can also linger if fruit is left to hang.
The most important reason though, was vine health. After harvest, whilst the leaves are still green, vines use the opportunity to draw in energy from the sun and store the sugars made in their trunks as food for the following year. This is very important for good budburst the following spring. If fruit remains on the vine the carbohydrates continue to be pushed into the fruit rather than stored in the trunk and the vines have very little, if any energy to comeback to life properly the following spring.
For us ... our vines are the lifeblood of our business. As tedious and costly as it is to drop fruit that is not going to be used to make wine, the cost of fruit quality and vine health is much, much greater. Quality is paramount to us.
I'm very excited for the 2021 vintage. We will have our first Albariño crop and *fingers crossed* a full 10 acre harvest of all varieties. We expect a wet winter, which is great news for the vines that could do with a good drink heading into next year after the dry, hot summer we've just had.
Here's to a bumper 2021!