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‘Family Sustainability’ – Ivybrook Farm, Maslin Beach, SA

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David Hunt is the fourth generation to have custodianship of a small farm, known as Ivybrook, which is tucked away on Thomas Road, 2km from Maslin Beach, South Australia. His great grandfather, Peter Hunt, was the the first Hunt to walk onto the property in 1913, with his wife Ruth. Here, they established a sheep and grain station across 200 ha of prime coastal land. The place wasn’t known as Ivybrook until Peter and Ruth’s son, Charles, took over the farm, with his wife Ivy, in the 1930s. They had a son, Keith who worked the farm full time, until his retirement. Keith’s youngest son, David, began working on the property in the early 1980’s.

“Dad and Mum, and me and my two brothers, we’ve lived here all our lives,” says David. “We were brought up on the farm and I’ve always loved the land… It’s definitely something that runs in my blood. I worked with Dad on the farm for a number of years before moving away to learn a few new things,” David continues. “I went to school with Chester Osborn, who encouraged me to look at wine, and I ended up working for d’Arenberg, and eventually became their vineyard manager.”

While working at d’Arenberg, David’s interest in wine increased and, eventually, he was inspired to plant some of his own vines, back on the Ivybrook family farm.

“Dad thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to plant some Shiraz on the property,” recalls David, “but, I wanted to make sure the place could still earn and be viable, and allow us to live on the property into the future. I thought we could sell our fruit to some of the bigger wineries in the area.”

David eventually convinced his Dad to let him plant some Shiraz on the property in 1997, while he was still working at d’Arenberg. He split his time between the two places, managing both vineyards using a chemical (conventional) regime. Once the Ivybrook vines were old enough, he eventually started selling his Shiraz to places like Hardy’s and Wirra Wirra.

“I set up the vineyard at Ivybrook with some Shiraz clones, and back then, I was pretty conventional with my approach to growing grapes,” says David.

Ivybrook Vineyard - photo courtesy of Ivybrook Farm

Ivybrook Vineyard – photo courtesy of Ivybrook Farm

The vineyard stretches across 16 ha on the Ivybook Farm and is planted mostly with Shiraz, with a small patch of Tempranillo and Mourvèdre sharing about half a hectare each. 

“We have some really interesting and diverse soils here,” explains David. “Most of it is planted over a limestone base with a red clay loam on top. The property slopes down towards the coast with the soils becoming more sandy, with a bit more clay. And down by the creek, where we have some Tempranillo planted, is mostly grey alluvial soils.”

While the vineyard was initially managed conventionally by David, spraying out chemical pesticides and herbicides according to the salesman’s spray diary, he soon grew tired of this approach, and says he felt uninspired to continue working in such a way.

“We initially just cut back on the amount of chemicals we were using to manage the vineyard,” says David, “which I guess is what people call minimal input management, but I still wasn’t too happy with that approach, and I thought I needed something more than just using less chemicals.”

This new train of thought eventually led David to discover biodynamics.

“I was getting over the conventional side of viticulture,” explains David, “and I wanted to do something different. That’s when I heard of a biodynamic workshop being held in the McLaren Vale, which I went to, and that pretty much started me on the biodynamic path, and I haven’t looked back.”

Like many biodynamic farmers across Australia, David buys in most of his preps from the BAA, in Bellingen, NSW, but builds his own compost heaps and makes his own compost teas from materials gathered off the farm. He applies the tools and techniques for biodynamic farming across the whole farm, which includes a veggie garden that feeds the whole family, as well as a few cows and sheep that are raised on the property. David uses the sheep to control the weeds in the winter time, and he has a miniature Angus dung herd, which he plans on using to make his own preparation 500.

“Something about biodynamics just renewed my enthusiasm for viticulture and farming,” says David, “and encouraged me to appreciate my job on the land and the better ways it can be done… We’re going down the BD path slowly, so we can get things right and keep the whole place going into the future. Eventually, I want us to be able to make our own 500 and other preps,” David adds.

David's Dad and Son, Pete, pruning the vines - photo courtesy of Ivybrook Farm

David’s Dad and David’s son, Pete, pruning the vines – photo courtesy of Ivybrook Farm

Today, the Ivybrook reigns are slowly being handed over to David’s eldest son, Nick, who studied winemaking at Adelaide University and now works at Yangarra as an assistant winemaker. Since 2008, Nick, who is the fifth generation Hunt to work on the Ivybrook farm, has been making small amounts of wine from parcels of fruit grown in the Ivybrook vineyard.

“Back in the early days I’d help Dad out in the vineyard,” says Nick, “and just learn as much as I could about what he was doing. In 2006 I did a vintage over at Tintara and then went overseas to California and did vintage in the Napa Valley, before running out of money and coming back home to start studying oenology at Adelaide uni.”

Nick’s says his approach to winemaking at Ivybrook is fairly straightforward. The fruit is hand picked and taken back to the winery on the back of a quad bike, where it is loaded into half and one tonne open top plastic fermenters. The Ivybrook winery is pretty basic, which is why they only make red wine, as there’s no refrigeration on site.

“We use frozen containers to cool down the grapes and keep the temperature steady during fermentation,” explains Nick. “After ferment is finished to dryness we press straight to barrel on gross lees (large dead yeast cells). We try to keep the oak influence down as much as possible, so, at the moment, we use about 20% new oak,” continues Nick. “We’ll basically have separate barrels and then blend them together on the bench, before we bottle.”

Ivybrook wines is relatively new venture for the family, and so there’s not a real lot of it to go ’round, just at the moment.

“We only pick between five and six tonnes of our own fruit to make our wines,” says Nick. “We made just over 400 cases in 2014, which was the most we’d ever made… the rest of the fruit is still sold to guys like Wirra Wirra and Tintara.”

Diversification matched with keen foresight has allowed the Hunt’s at Ivybrook Farm to remain a viable and sustainable business throughout the last 100 years. David’s ‘crazy’ idea to plant a vineyard, more than 20 years ago has, today, led to the creation of a small boutique wine label, which will see his son Nick carry on the family legacy at Ivybrook Farm for many more years to come. Being open to new ideas, new opportunities and new ways of doing things, that, is the essence of sustainability.

D// – The Wine Idealist

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