‘No ‘I’ in Team’ – Domaine Rewa, Central Otago, New Zealand

REWAlowres

A great wine is nothing without a great vineyard, a vigilant viticulturist and a careful winemaker. Sometimes throughout history, some people have been blessed to be all three, but in the new world, this is rare. In most cases it takes a great team to make a great wine.

“We all work together really well and I have complete confidence in my team,” says Philippa Shepherd, owner of Domain Rewa in the Lowburn subregion of Cental Otago, New Zealand. “It’s hugely comforting to have Grant and Pete, and I honestly couldn’t do what I’m trying to do, without them.”

Philippa is a native New Zealander, who lives and works in the banking sector, in London. She purchased the Domaine Rewa property in 2010, after realising that it was as good a time as any to buy some land in Central Otago, with the view of returning there, one day, and fulfill her dream of wanting to live the farming lifestyle her family lives, and one in which she grew up.

“I grew up just outside of Dunedin on a sheep and beef farm, and I’ve always wanted to get involved in the family business,” says Philippa, “and I’ve always had a passion for food and wine, so my father encouraged me to buy some land.”

After a number of years researching different properties in Central Otago, in a time when vineyards seemed to be for sale left, right and centre, Philippa, on the advice of her parents, purchased an already established vineyard, which was planted in 1996 by Aurum Wines and, today, is known as Domaine Rewa. The vineyard was named after Philippa’s grandmother who, in turn, had been named after the native New Zealand honeysuckle, the rewarewa tree, which is more common to the dual island’s northern half that it is in the south.

“My parents were the one’s who had seen the property and they said it was amazing, and in such good condition,” recalls Philippa, “and they told me, ‘you’ve got to buy this’. So, I put in an offer, and within four days, I was the owner of a vineyard in Central Otago… Honestly, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but, fortunately, I’d met Grant Rolston from Vinewise, and he and his partner Gary (Ford) have helped me all the way through… they look after everything on the vineyard.”

Domaine Rewa - photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Domaine Rewa – photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Grant Rolston is one half of Vinewise, a viticultural services company who specialises in organic and biodynamic vineyard management. Vinewise works with a number of respected wine labels, including Quartz Reef and Surveyor Thomson. On the instructions of Philippa, Grant set about converting the vineyard over to a biodynamic regime.

“It was Philippa’s idea to be biodynamic on the property,” says Grant, “and that’s what we do best here, so we set about converting the site to BD.”

“I’m friendly with Michael Seresin,” explains Philippa,” and I sought some advice from him about how the vineyard should be managed. Grant is passionate about biodynamics, so it was all very natural for it to be managed in this way.”

Domaine Rewa is a 12.5 ha piece of land, of which 5.5 ha is planted with pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris. The bottom half of the vineyard starts near the road side, which leads to Wanaka from Cromwell, and goes back up towards a terrace, where the riesling is planted, on the foothills of Mount Pisa.

“The site is fairly flat near the road, where all the pinot and chardonnay is planted,” says Grant, “on good soils that have been affected by ancient glacial outwashes, typical of Central Otago, which is a mixture of schist and river granite.”

Domaine Rewa is right next door to Surveyor Thomson, which is also cared for biodynamically by Vinewise, under the guidance of Su Hoskin, who prepares individual biodynamic regimes for both properties. They both share the Highland cattle dung herd, which are able to roam freely between the two pieces of land, and provide the manure essential for making preparation 500, on each property. Plans are already in place to have the property certified by BioGro, which will add extra weight to Philippa’s commitment to properly looking after the land.

“To be successful at biodynamics, you need to be a good farmer, for a start,” explains Grant, “and you need to be totally committed to it, and that needs to come from the top, from the owner… and if that’s not there you will struggle. But, if it is, it’s a lot easier to achieve success.”

“I’m of the view that if Grant is happy and passionate about managing the property using biodynamics,” says Philippa, “then they’re going to do the best possible job they can, which is ultimately what I want, and the same goes for the winemaking. If Pete can make what he loves, then we’ll get the best possible wine from the site.”

Pinot Noir - photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Rewa Pinot Noir – photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Like the vineyard management, Philippa hires a contract winemaking facility to turn her biodynamic grapes into Central Otago wine. Peter Bartle works for VinPro, a company that offers winemaking services for those vineyards and their owners who don’t own or have access to a winery of their own. This doesn’t mean, though, that Peter only interacts with the vineyard once the fruit arrives in the winery during vintage.

“The best way to learn about how to make wine is to learn about the vineyard and get to know it really well,” says Peter, “so, during the growing season, I’ll visit the vineyard at least once a month and talk with the guys running it, to try to get a sense of where they think the season is going.”

Having regular contact with the fruit is important, and Peter’s been interacting with this vineyard long before it was known as Domaine Rewa.

“It’s an interesting site,” says Peter. “It’s suffered from a lot of disease pressure over the years, but I’ve noticed that it’s now a lot better, especially in the last couple of years since Grant and Su have been looking after the place. This last year the fruit looked really nice, with good balance.”

Peter puts down the shift from previously disease prone fruit to healthy fruit to the introduction of biodynamics by Grant and Su from Vinewise.

“Biodynamics has definitely had something to do with the improving health of the site,” explains Peter, “especially in the chardonnay. It’s just amazing… if you were picking by numbers that vineyard spits them out perfectly.”

Domaine Rewa - photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Domaine Rewa – photo courtesy of Philippa Shepherd

Peter makes three wines from the Domaine Rewa vineyard – pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling… the pinot gris is sold to another wine label in Central. The pinot and chardonnay are carefully transitioned from grape juice to wine via a wild ferment, but Peter still prefers to inoculate the riesling, for now, because of the vineyards history with excessive botrytis. Peter’s aim is to reflect the site in the final wines, but also try and reduce the presence of power and muscle that many Central Otago pinot’s are usually known for, compared to, say, their Burgundian benchmarks.

“I try to make varietal wines with balance, especially with the pinot (noir),” explains Peter. “I prefer to head into the feminine end of the spectrum, rather than the masculine… the picking decision is one of the most important decisions I can make, as a winemaker. The second, especially with the pinot, is deciding when to press off.”

Philippa, again, puts her utmost trust and respect into the work that Peter does with her Domaine Rewa fruit, encouraging him to exercise his own creativity and control over how the wines will ultimately end up.

“My directive to Pete is, ‘make what you like’, and that way he will make the best wine he possibly can,” explains Philippa.

- -

“At some point, when I return home, I’d like to learn about the viticultural side of things and spend a lot more time on the property, and maybe think about establishing a winery on site where the wines can be made,” says Philippa.

Until that time comes, Philippa and Domaine Rewa are in good hands, under the stewardship of Grant Rolston and Peter Bartle. All together, they make a great team that is able to produce some deliciously pure tasting wine from Central Otago, New Zealand.

-

D// - The Wine Idealist

- -

Links -


‘A Little Island of Granite’ – Sutton Grange, Victoria

logo

What used to be a thriving town during the prosperous days of the early 19th century, Sutton Grange has now been reduced to a population of around 150 people, after a typically devastating Australian bushfire ravaged the town, burning down most of the area’s established civic buildings and homes, and leaving behind nothing but scorched earth on the land that remained. Today, the town survives off the back of a few determined farming families who raise sheep and cattle, breed thoroughbred horses, and grow wine.

“My family has been in wine for a long time,” says Sutton Grange winery’s Gilles Lapalus. “My father and grandfather were both wine merchants, and my uncles had vineyards in Burgundy… so, basically, I was born in a barrel.”

Gilles Lapalus is a French expatriate, hailing from the small Burgundian town of Cluny in France’s northeast, who has worked in many parts of the winemaking world, including Chile, Italy, California, Bordeaux and, of course, Burgundy. Gilles eventually settled in Australia in 2001 and started work as the vigneron (grower/maker) for Sutton Grange winery, located 30 km south of Bendigo in the Harcourt region of Victoria, Australia.

The vineyard on the Sutton Grange estate was first planted with shiraz and cabernet sauvignon in 1998, then merlot in the following year. Subsequent years have seen the vineyard expand to a total area of 12.8 ha, with further plantings of viognier, and some experimental Italian varieties, including sangiovese, fiano, and aglianico. The soils are mostly granite based, with smaller pockets of basalt, quartz, and clay, which undulate throughout the property that lies at the foothills of Mount Alexander.

Winter Time on the 500 block, Sutton Grange - photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

Winter Time on the 500 block – photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

The vineyard features four distinct blocks, each comprised of the seven different varietals; The HoG (Hill of Grange), Ram’s Horn, 500, and Italia.

“The HoG faces north and was the first to be planted with syrah (shiraz) and cabernet,” explains Gilles, “which is 300m above sea level upon hills and slopes. And, some of these vines have recently been grafted with aglianico… the Ram’s Horn has a different orientation with the vines facing south-south east, and it is much cooler than the rest of the vineyard. The granite is a little closer to the surface and is mixed in with some quartz. The 500 is planted with only viognier,” continues Gilles, “and it faces east and has lots of granite boulders on the surface around the site… it’s a wine that is feeding on the rocks. On Italia, we planted only Italian varietals (sangiovese and fiano) and they slope up and down in a dome effect on the landscape, which is rich in iron oxide… it’s one of the most exciting blocks on the property,” says Gilles.

“We’re trying to amplify these variations in soils and utilise biodynamics to help the vines access the decomposed granite underneath,” continues Gilles. “When I arrived in Australia, biodynamics was not something that a lot of people were talking about, but the plan here is to produce premium end wines that are unique, and express this place and it’s soil, and the best way to do that is to use less chemicals… biodynamics is the best tool to do that.”

Emulating his ancestors in Burgundy, Gilles is a vigneron, meaning he manages the vineyard and makes the wine for Sutton Grange, and, therefore, is a part of the entire process of winegrowing. It was he who introduced biodynamics as the weapon of choice for farming on the property.

Making Preparation 500 - photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

Making Preparation 500 – photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

“Humans have been farming for 5000 years and the evolution of that farming technique is just biodynamics,” explains Gilles. “Until the end of the 19th century, all agriculture was organic, but, what happened was chemical farming was developed after World War I and the rest of the farming that went before was forgotten… Rudolf Steiner was simply taking the old methods of farming and agriculture and writing it down and adding to it.”

“The reason for us using biodynamics is that you eventually reach a point where everything is synchronised and in balance, on the property,” continues Gilles, “and the conditions for practicing it here are extremely favorable. The climate is very dry, with only around 400mm of rainfall every year, so we have low fungal disease pressure and the grass stays low and is easy to maintain.”

Gilles makes some of his own biodynamic preparations on the property, including prep 500. He gets the manure for the 500 and the cow pat pits (CPP) from the 200 head of Hereford cattle that graze on the property. The cowhorns, which are crucial for making the 500 BD prep, come from the property next door, and he collects stinging nettle (504) and casurina (508) from the Sutton Grange property to make these other preps. All other BD preps are purchased from Biodynamic Agriculture Australia.

Grazing the HOG - photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

Grazing the HOG – photo courtesy of Sutton Grange

When transforming the fruit he grows into wine, Gilles approaches the task with an open mind, preferring to let the wine go off on its own, rather than impose some sort of formula for a fixed end product.

“When the grapes are ripening, that’s when I start to think about what they could become,” says Gilles. “I try to be as open as possible in my approach (to winemaking)… respond to what we’ve got and be very instinctual about what’s happening to the wine.”

“There are words that you hear everywhere now, like ‘low intervention’ and ‘natural winemaking’, but low intervention is still a lot of intervention, because you are still making (winemaking) decisions, even if you do nothing,” explains Gilles. “One of the most important things for me, in terms of winemaking decisions, is picking date, because that’s what dictates, more or less, what you do after, back in the winery.”

While Gilles does take what could be considered, a natural winemaking approach to the Sutton Grange wines, he doesn’t believe that this is a relatively new approach to winemaking, either here in Australia, or in France. He thinks it’s simply a reaction to the increased intrusions of some modern day technologies as a way to find balance in his ancient occupation.

“Natural winemaking has always existed,” says Gilles, “and there’s always been people who have worked like that. The more we have access to these super heavy technologies that come into winemaking, like reverse osmosis, or ultra high pressure treatments, the more of a reaction we’re going to have against them. Which means more natural wines and wines like them will be made, because if you go to one extreme, you need to go to the other to achieve the balance.”

Gilles Lapalus (photo by James Broadway) - courtesy of Sutton Grange

Gilles Lapalus (photo by James Broadway) – courtesy of Sutton Grange

“The best position,” says Gilles, “is never to be in the extremes, because the extremes might show the direction, but can also show up any deficiencies… if you can find the balance, you can get the best of both worlds.”

Finding the middle ground for Gilles means utilising some modern technologies, such as temperature control (almost crucial for winemaking in the soaring temperatures during an Australian vintage), or controlling the size of the ferment and what exactly goes into it.

“We have an impact on the outcome of the final wine, simply by making certain decisions,” says Gilles. “Such as, controlling the temperature and size of the ferment, what percentage of whole bunch to use, or not… all of these decisions take the grape in a certain direction, but then we don’t add anything. No tannin corrections or acid, no yeast additions, no enzymes, no nutrients or bacteria’s… we try to not let go of the wine, but follow it.”

- -

With Gilles Lapalus at the helm of Sutton Grange, he’s setting up the winery for the future. By planting and experimenting with some Italian varietals (some predict these types of grapes will be better suited to the future climate of Australia because of the effects of climate change), and combining this with his French winemaking heritage, Gilles is creating wines that easily express their unique Australian provenance through biodynamic farming and natural winemaking techniques.

“”My job is to try and show and express this little island of granite here in central Victoria,” says Gilles.

-

D// - The Wine Idealist

 

- -

Links -

 


Raw Materials – Cambridge Road, Martinborough.

bsdj44_H1A2dQjqqiGAYfziGWYJHXnwxIxhovMhaO9k

 

“There’s nothing sadder than having great fruit that you’ve toiled over for almost a year, pruning and shoot thinning and growing it to get it to perfection, and then something goes wrong in the winery and you have to throw all that fruit away,” says vigneron Lance Redgwell from Cambridge Road, in Martinborough.

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to Lance yet. In the 8 vintages he’s been growing wine on his 5.5 acre vineyard, located in the small village of Martinborough, on the southern end of New Zealand’s north island, Lance has been toiling away, farming biodynamically, and experimenting with whole block ferments to try and unlock the secrets within the soil of this unique wine growing region.

The Martinborough wine reigon, sometimes referred to as Wairarapa – not to be confused with Waipara on the south island – is a unique place for wine growing as it is relatively flat and lies at the confluence of the Ruamahanga and Huangarua rivers. According to Lance, these two water ways contribute rich alluvial soils, which are deposited over a lot of ancient volcanic activity. This, says Lance, “results in a more diverse mineral makeup in the subsoil, courtesy of these two streams.”

“Martinborough is not your typically brilliant vineyard area,” says Lance, “because it’s not on a hillside, but the wines from here still have a fairly solid reputation, and they are delicious to drink. They feature textual elements that are unique to Martinborough, particularly in the Pinot… they’re complete wines, with good tannic length, but enough generosity as well, and that comes from the diversity of our soils.”

Cambridge Road Vineyard - photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

Cambridge Road biodynamic vineyard – photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

Lance bought the property from its previous owners, Murdoch James, who had been managing the vineyard organically for a while, before a period of neglect saw the vineyard fall into a pretty shabby state, with some herbicide sprays being introduced to control weeds.

“Just before they sold it, they decided to stop doing organics and started spraying a bit of herbicide under the vines,” says Lance. “By the time we bought it, it was pretty over-grown and looking pretty tired.”

To bring the vineyard back to life, Lance introduced biodynamics, which he’d spent some time studying at Taruna College, in Hawkes Bay, on the advice of James Millton, the Godfather of biodynamic viticulture in New Zealand.

“We began cultivating the vineyard as soon as we bought the place,” says Lance, “and we threw some (preparation) 500 over the property to activate the soil and get it living again. Then, we brought in some rock dust, lime and sulphur to make some more adjustments to the soil, and, within 8 months, the vineyard was absolutely cranking… we went from stunted yellow canopies to fully vigorous green canopies in no time at all.”

The Cambridge Road vineyard runs north-south and the vine rows are 220m long. Despite its small size, the vineyard features three distinct microclimates, with each having a unique effect on the ripening times of the Pinot Noir and Syrah that the vineyard has been planted with.

Cambridge Road vineyard - photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

Life in the Cambridge Road vineyard – photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

“The first 60m of the vineyard has the protection of a shelf belt,” says Lance, “and those vines perform massively different than the rest of site. They’re more lush, more vigourous, with bigger canes, and the wind doesn’t dry them out as much. Then,” continues Lance, “in the middle, the vines get smashed by the winds sort of spiraling over the windbreak and then collapsing in the centre of the field, and that’s the lowest vigour section of the site. The vines here are half the size as the rest of the vineyard. And then further towards the back of the vineyard, you start to get heavier soils and a more balanced wind effect, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish,” says Lance.

The three separate microclimates brought on by the winds swirling overhead, combined with the different the soils underneath the vineyard, means that the fruit that grows on the vines will ripen at different times to each other, which is something Lance has slowly gotten used to.

“In the early days (with Pinot), we’d look for similarities in ripeness with the fruit, and so we’d pick in patches… but I’ve since realised that natural variation is a positive thing,” explains Lance. “Once I accepted these different microclimates within the vineyard, I stopped trying to pick the fruit separately, based on their vigour, or soil type, and now I just pick all of it together. The trick for me,” says Lance, “is finding balance in the must, right from day one. So, with all the fruit co-fermenting together, it’s already a balanced wine when it comes off skins, instead of having to try and find balance in a blend, later on.”

“It’s not uncommon for me, nowadays, to chuck the whole Pinot block into one big fermenter and just run with it,” says Lance. “For example, in 2011 when we did it, it ended up being a 4.5 tonne ferment.”

Lance Redgwell - photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

Lance Redgwell – photo courtesy of Cambridge Road

Lance takes a rational, minimal interventionist approach to winemaking, and is not adverse to making the necessary adjustments, if need be, to stop the wine from going bad. It’s really just a case of how you define, ‘going bad’.

“One thing I’ll never do is serve people shit,” says Lance. “We’re in business, at the end of the day, and if something’s too funky I’ve got to either fix it, or ditch it, and I don’t have the budget to ditch it. But,” continues Lance, “the good news is, that I seldom have a wine that is dodgy or goes too funky… (even though) I actually like a bit of biological corruption. I think a good wine is often funky on the fringes, because that’s what makes them interesting… so long as it’s in balance.”

Over recent vintages, Lance has increased his faith in using the wild yeasts from his vineyard to ferment his wines. This is done more successfully by utilising the ‘pied de cuve’ method of isolating a certain yeast culture from the vineyard by picking a few grapes and having them start fermenting, before the rest of the grapes are picked, so that you have a pre-prepared, but wild starter culture ready to add to the final ferment.

“I have used cultured yeast before,” says Lance, “in fact I have a particular favourite because it adds a nice, clean, fruited perspective to the wine, but all things in moderation and we’re getting better at using wild cultures, to the point where we’re trying to build up specific ones from certain parts of the vineyard.”

- -

Ultimately, it comes back to all the hard work that’s done out in the vineyard first, so that the raw materials are the best they can be. Then, all that needs to be done in the winery is a process of careful transformation.

“By farming the vineyard properly and timing things correctly, we can grow grapes that are full of vitality and energy… then my job as a winemaker is not to interfere with that essence and vitality, and just try to retain it, so that when we consume it as humans, we’re getting that same wonderfully positive energy that the wine contains.”

-

D// - The Wine Idealist

- -

Links -


Cool Climate Respect – Stefano Lubiana, Tasmania

splash-page2_5

“Just because you’re doing biodynamics, doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good vineyard,” says Steve Lubiana, winegrower and owner of Stefano Lubiana wines from Granton in Tasmania. “You have to be a good farmer first… you can put on as much compost and BD preps on as you like, but if you’re not in touch with the vineyard, as a farmer, then you’re missing the point.”

Steve established Stefano Lubiana wines in Tasmania back in 1990, after growing up on a vineyard and in a winery owned by his parents, in the Riverland wine region of South Australia. Steve then studied winemaking at Roseworthy College, near Adelaide, and began to seek out places he could grow cool climate grapes, and make premium sparkling wine.

“I wanted to grow cool climate grapes, so I looked around South Australia, up in the Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley and then over to Margaret River before arriving in Tasmania, on my honeymoon,” explains Steve. “I then spent a year looking around Tasmania, and found this property just outside of Hobart. We moved here in 1990 and started growing grapes.”

When Steve and his new wife Monique took over the property in Granton, they sold most of their fruit to the likes of Yalumba, Hardys and Penfolds, in order to eek out a living, before embarking on their own winegrowing adventure.

“Most of our money went into buying the property, and with interest rates being up around 18%, at the time, we really didn’t have much money at all,” says Steve.” So, we would grow the grapes and try to sell all the juice… and hopefully make some profit along the way.”

Stefano Lubiana Vineyard - photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

Stefano Lubiana Vineyard – photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

The 140 ha, north facing property, is planted with a predominant mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Merlot. The vineyard lies on consistent silt and gravel loams over a hard clay base, and was originally planted on the property’s steep slopes. Steve began by managing the vineyard conventionally, with chemicals, and using second hand equipment to help him do it.

“We didn’t start growing organically, because the site is pretty tough, with steep slopes, second hand irrigation, second hand tractors… and we’d planted the rows a little too narrow,” says Steve. “We found it quite difficult and eventually had to move down to the flatter country. Once the vines were established there, it was a lot easier to convert over to biodynamics, which we did.”

As Steve recalls, it was a program on the ABC called Big Country, which aired back in 1989, and featured a segment about Alex Podolinsky, and biodynamics, which resonated with Steve and opened his mind up to this particular way of farming.

“I was sold on biodynamics before we even arrived in Tasmania…” explains Steve, “and after watching that program on the ABC, it just made so much sense to me, and I thought ‘this is exactly right’. So, I started using the principals of BD to grow my tomatoes in the back yard.”

“For me, biodynamics is about commonsense, and having respect for the land and the farmer, and the product, and the consumer, and that way, everybody wins,” says Steve.

Steve hired vineyard manager, Mark Hoey, to help him convert his 25 ha vineyard over to biodynamics.

“I come from a farming family in the Adelaide Hills, where we grow grapes,” says Mark,”… and we started using biodynamics on the family vineyard. Every time I saw a problem arise on the farm, I could see a better solution to fix it by using biological and biodynamic methods,” continues Mark.

Stefano Lubiana barrels - photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

Stefano Lubiana barrels – photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

Mark has established a large scale composting system on the property, and he and Steve make a little of their own preparation 500 from manure collected from their neighbours cows. Mark is also making kelp and other weed and herb teas to apply onto the vineyard throughout the year. For the remainder of the biodynamic preps, Mark gets them from the local BD group, which meet regularly. Since converting over to biodynamics, both Steve and Mark have noticed a significant difference in the look and feel of the vineyard.

“The vineyard is much greener and healthier, rather than being brown and dusty and dry,” says Steve. “The soils are so much more fertile, there’s more humus and it has better water holding capacity, better porosity, which is definitely a sign that the soil is healthier.”

“Fo me,” says viticulturist Mark, “the vineyard looks much more alive, especially compared to some of the surrounding sites. These vineyards seem a bit lifeless, whereas ours is quite vibrant with vines having good colour in the leaves, and the soil is full of worms.”

According to Mark and Steve, the Stefano Lubiana vineyard is relatively free from pest and disease pressures, except for the summer time when the fungal disease, powdery mildew, can strike. The vineyard has good air drainage, and benefits from the temperate, yet cool, climate of Tasmania.

“The lows aren’t too low, so we get very little frost,” explains Steve, “and in summer the temperature usually sits around the mid to high 20′s, which means we get a good, long, growing season. The seasons are definite, rather than one relatively long hot or cold spell, so the grapes are able to easily retain their natural acidity, without burning off too much of their varietal character, and so the wine is really able to express itself,” says Steve.

The biodynamic regime that Steve and Mark apply to the vineyard is carried over into Steve’s approach to winemaking, where he keeps a firm eye on the important origins of his craft.

Steve and Monique - photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

Steve and Monique – photo courtesy of Stefano Lubiana

“You’ve got to get the fruit right first,” explains Steve, “and look for the balance between sugar and acid in the grapes. The winemaking, like all good wines, should be done in the vineyard, so the winemaker becomes more like a caretaker who makes sure nothing goes too far wrong. You can’t make quality, you can only lose it.”

Steve is starting to experiment more and more with wild yeast ferments and reducing the amount of fining and filtration he does to his wines, especially where Pinot Noir is concerned. But, when it comes to making acid additions, he’ll make them if he has to.

“If I have to add acid, then I will, but I haven’t done so a while,” explains Steve. “I don’t make any enzyme additions, and we’re doing more and more wild yeast ferments. I still do some fining and filtration, to help remove things like brett (brettanomyces), but now that I’ve got, and can maintain, my own barrels, we’re doing that a lot less now.”

The Antipodean Biodynamic Calendar, by local Tasmanian Brian Keats, is utilised in the Stefano Lubiana winery, where it helps Steve to make the decisions about the best days for racking and bottling his wine.

“We use Brian’s calendar quite a lot to help us make decisions for handling the wine,” explains Steve. “So, we rack our wines on a descending moon phase to help clarify the wines, which helps us reduce the amount of filtration needed, and we tend to bottle the wine on fruit days.”

- -

Stefano Lubiana is now fully certified biodynamic by Australia Certified Organic (ACO), having started converting the vineyard in late 2009. The vineyard is now completely certified, and 2014 was Stefano Lubiana wines’ first, fully certified, biodynamic vintage.

“Biodynamics teaches me respect for the land, and I try to bring that into every facet of my winemaking,” says Steve.

-

D// - The Wine Idealist

- -

Links -


In Conversion – Surveyor Thomson, Central Otago, New Zealand

Picture 1

Arriving in Central Otago in 1857, the landscape would have been just as spectacular as it is today, but with an added layer of foreboding and isolation. Apart from any number of native Māori tribes, no one had yet fully explored the area and mapped or recorded its existence. Experienced surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson, who’d gained experience and recognition for his precise mapping and engineering work in Singapore, arrived in New Zealand and was awarded the position of chief surveyor of Otago. Thomson’s primary objective was to explore and map the previously unobserved and undocumented wilderness of this huge inland territory.

Thomson’s pioneering cartography paved the way for much of Central Otago’s European settlement, which in subsequent years, saw the gold rush of the 1860′s, New Zealand’s biggest gold strike. This was followed by the establishment of farms and orchards, and, much later, vineyards, which today, along with tourism, provides much of the economic prosperity for the region. Our ability to visit and explore the relentless and breathtaking beauty of Central Otago nowadays, owes much to those first lonely efforts of John Turnbull Thomson, back in 1857.

Today this surveyor, Thomson, is honored by his great-great-grandson, who owns a 22 ha patch of land that overlooks Lake Dunstan in the Lowburn region, in the Cromwell Basin sub-appellation of Central Otago. Thomson’s great-great-grandson, David Hall-Jones, who lives in Hong Kong with his wife, PM Chan, has called this 22 ha property, Surveyor Thomson, in honour of his pioneering relative, John Turnbull Thomson. The vineyard management and winemaking duties are contracted out to two specialised businesses in Central Otago, namely, Vinewise (for the viticulture) and Central Otago Wine Company, or COWCo (for the winemaking). Su Hoskin works for Vinewise, and manages the 22 ha property using biodynamics, which is planted exclusively with Pinot Noir, while Dean Shaw from COWCo, transforms these grapes into wine.

“We’re just sluts,” laughs Dean, “… even though we’re a contract facility, we still want to make the best wine we can from the best grapes that Su grows.”

Vineyard Entrance - photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

Vineyard Entrance – photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

English born, Su Hoskin arrived in Central Otago and became aware of biodynamics while working at Burn Cottage. From there, she formalised her biodynamic training at Taruna College, in Hawke’s Bay, before coming back to Central Otago to begin teaching what she’d learnt to other interested farmers and winegrowers in the region. At the end of one of her classes, Su was asked to join Vinewise and look after the Surveyor Thomson vineyard, and convert it over to biodynamics, which she began doing in 2013.

“For me, being able to grow healthy food and not having to use chemicals, and being able to do it all quite easily without having any major problems, just seems sensible to me,” says Su.

Su has been give the mammoth task of establishing a biodynamic regime on the Surveyor Thomson site, from scratch. Of the total 22 ha property, 14 ha is planted with Pinot Noir on a patchwork of four distinct blocks known as North, South, Terraces and Moon. Coincidently, Moon was already called that before biodynamics was implemented.

“The vineyard rests on a gentle slope with good air drainage,” explains Su, “overlooking Lake Dunstan, and at the foot of Mt. Pisa… so, it’s pretty much paradise. Quite often,” Su continues, “we’ll get rain clouds going right around the vineyard with no rain actually falling on the property, so we use a drip irrigation system to help the vines receive water.”

The vineyard was first planted in 2000, and managed conventionally up until 2012, when some organic processes were implemented. Owner, David Hall-Jones’ mission was to stop using synthetic agrochemicals altogether, and join the many other, well established, winegrowers in the region pursuing a more natural system of land care.

“The vineyard wasn’t in a devastated state, by any means,” says Su, “but the first thing I noticed, after we started using biodynamics was the amount of life that was brought back onto the land. Biodynamics just enhances everything.”

Biodynamic Preparations - photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

Biodynamic Preparations – photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

Su and her team built a preparations hut to house the critical biodynamic preparations (500-508), using natural materials, and installed twelve cow pat pits, or CPP, which are compost pits for cow dung that has been mixed with powdered eggshell and basalt dust, then combined with the biodynamic preps 502-507. Each pit has been labelled after the constellations, so Su can identify, record and monitor what’s going on in each pit. A small herd of Highland Cattle have been incorporated onto the property to feed the cow pat pits, and apparently, nothing, or no one, else.

“The cows have brought a huge animal presence to the vineyard,” says Su, “taking it from only stark machinery, like tractors, moving through the vineyard, to a peaceful herd of cows. They bring a peaceful rhythm to the place, as well as providing good fertiliser… they’re just a dung herd, we won’t be eating them, I hope!”

Apart from the obvious benefits of not poisoning such a pristine environment like Central Otago, with a swathe of potentially toxic and harmful chemicals, biodynamics brings out the true taste of whatever it is that it’s helping to grow, highlighting nuances and increasing the nourishing elements that all foodstuffs should inherently possess.

“As consumers we’ve been seduced by so many foods that have colouring and flavours added to them that the true taste is masked or missing, so we don’t really what it is we are tasting,” says Su.

Allowing these transparent and subtle tastes and flavours to shine through is the job of Surveyor Thomson’s winemaker, Dean Shaw, from Central Otago Wine Company, who subscribes to the benefits that biodynamics brings to wine, but only as far as a sceptic will allow.

The Terrace Block - photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

The Terrace Block – photo courtesy of Surveyor Thomson

“I’m not a card carrying member of biodynamics, but I believe in the fact that it can help improve the quality of the wine,” says Dean. “I’m a sceptic, but what I do love about biodynamics is that people (who practice it) really do try hard.”

Dean Shaw’s approach to transforming the Davis and Dijon Pinot Noir clones into wine is as hands off as necessary, or as Dean self-deprecatingly describes, “I try to be lazy in my approach to winemaking.”

Dean arrived in Central Otago in 1993, after completing a post-grad winemaking degree, working at Rippon and then with Rudi Bauer at Geisen in 1996 and ’97. The first wine he made for Surveyor Thomson was in 2003.

Utilising wild yeasts, Dean explains, “I’d love for the ferment to finish by itself. If it does, then I’m not getting involved, even if it goes in a direction that I don’t want it to. I just try and steer it in the right direction, however sometimes it doesn’t want to do that, and if I went and manipulated that ferment somehow, then I would miss the opportunity to learn.”

This is not to say that Dean will sit and watch a perfectly good bunch of grapes ferment and spoil. On the contrary.

“Half the problem, for me,” explains Dean, “is learning and knowing what to do and then trying not to do anything. But, in order to have that kind of attitude, you need good material and that means good grapes, and so really, it’s all about the vineyard, which it always is.”

Dean is under no illusions about trying to emulate, or make a Burgundian style Pinot Noir in Central Otago. To do that would be, “pointless,” he says. But, Dean has developed a working knowledge of what a Central Otago Pinot could be, based on the uniqueness of the place where the Pinot he makes, grows.

“Pinot is a low tannin varietal,” explains Dean, “and I want to get some tannin out of it. So, we add a lot of riper stems, rather than greener stems, and I love the complexity that that creates. It seems to add a whole other dimension to the wine… there are big calls I make, such as when to pick, which will shape a wine, but the less I can do, the better, so that the vineyard speaks.”

- -

Surveyor Thomson are currently in conversion to biodynamics, and are seeking certification through BioGro. Su is also implementing all of the required objectives to receive Demeter certification, in case the owners decide to pursue that as well.

Despite being, “just sluts,” as Dean surmises, Su and Dean take their roles as caretakers and custodians for the Surveyor Thomson land very seriously, and with great pride and accomplishment. Something that the original European pioneer through these dramatic lands, John Turnbull, aka Surveyor Thomson, no doubt would have wanted.

-

D// – The Wine Idealist

- -

Links -


From the Ground Up – Burn Cottage, Central Otago, NZ

 

Picture 1

The Sauvage family are American mid-west cotton and wheat farmers, originally from Oberlin, Kansas, who own land holdings right around the world, including a cotton farm in Moree NSW, Australia, and the wine estate known as Koehler Ruprecht, in the Pfalz region of Germany. Son, Marquis Sauvage, is a heavy metal fan and passionate about wine. He owns a wine bar in Colorado, and a wine distribution company that sells wine throughout a number of US states. In 2002, along with his wife Diane, Marquis purchased a much sought after property in Central Otago, New Zealand, and called it Burn Cottage.

“Marquis and Diane were visiting the Mornington Peninsula and then spent a few days in New Zealand,” explains Burn Cottage viticulturist, Shane Livingstone. “When they arrived in Central Otago they fell in love with the place, and decided to buy some land there.”

Shane Livingstone is Burn Cottage’s newly appointed viticulturist, having started working for the Sauvage family back in May 2014. He’s taken over from Jared Connolly, who established the vineyard with the Sauvage family in 2003, along with Californian winemaker, Ted Lemon of Littorai wines fame, and Peter Proctor, New Zealand’s own biodynamic master teacher. 

“The Sauvage family decided to go biodynamic right from the start,” says Shane, “and approached Peter Proctor to help them through those early stages.”

Burn Cottage Vineyards - photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

Burn Cottage Vineyards – photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

The vineyard was initially planted with Pinot Noir, partly because of Ted Lemon’s experience with the grape in Burgundy, having been the first American to manage a Burgundian estate, at Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. Pinot accounts for over 93% of the total vineyard area, which is nestled between two large hills either side, protecting the rows from both northerly and southerly winds. Smaller plantings of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner soon followed to complete the 11 ha site.

“The grapes are planted on a mix of clones and rootstock,” explains Shane, “which have been carefully matched to each block. All of the Pinot is planted on north and north east facing slopes and the Riesling and Grüner are planted on an east facing slope, down in a gully on the property.”

“There aren’t too many other vineyards around Burn Cottage,” Shane continues, “and it gets really nice early morning sun. The hills cast a shadow which allows the site to accumulate a little more moisture than usual, which is a good thing, because moisture is a rarity in Central Otago.”

The average rainfall in Central Otago is between 350-600mm, making it the lowest average anywhere in New Zealand. Couple this with the region’s large diurnal range of hot days and cold nights, and minimal organic matter on the surface of the land, and you have an extreme region for growing grapes. Thus,  careful management of the soil is extremely important.

Dynamising Biodynamic Preps - photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

Dynamising Biodynamic Preps – photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

“Biodynamics deals with an individual place or farm,” says Shane, “and invokes the whole property, which gives it a sense of personality, while also helping to build up healthy soils.”

According to Peter Proctor’s book, Grasp the Nettle, “an essential part of the art of farming is the observation of soil quality. When the biodynamic activity is working well in the soil on the farm, soils… have a common look to them.”

This common look is indicated by a slippery feel, dark chocolate-like colour, and a sweet earthy smell, otherwise known as humus. Biodynamics works by increasing the humus, or organic matter of the topsoil, which is derived from natural (rather than synthetic) inputs, such as compost. The preparations, especially 500, which is derived from fermented cow manure, boosts the microbial and bacterial communities, as well as fungi, within the soil, thereby increasing soil fertility. This means that the plant that resides within the soil can retrieve all the necessary nutrients it needs to grow, healthy and strong.

“One of the things about conventional (chemical) agriculture is that you’re bringing in all these inputs onto the farm, topping it up and force feeding it with synthetics until the property no longer resembles what it once was,” says Shane.

These synthetic off-farm inputs, in effect, end up stifling, or masking the true nature of the farm, or vineyard.

When a vineyard’s soil is healthy and fertile, the roots of the plants are free to forage further down in search of water, beneath the topsoil and into the subsoil, which is where ideas of terroir begin to take root, so to speak. Here lies all manner of clays, rocks and other minerals wine lovers cherish for providing a wine with a sense of place that is unique to a particular area. For example, the famous Kimmeridgean soils of Chablis are comprised mainly of limestone, clay and fossilised oyster shells. In Chablis, it’s said that these distinct soil types are what gives the wines their steeled, flinty and austere character, something which is unique to the region, and therefore denotes notions of terroir.

Without that healthy, fertile layer of humus in the topsoil, a vine’s ability to access and actively seek out water and nutrients from beneath the earth is severely stunted, and usually results in the roots lazily spreading out along the ground. Biodynamics promotes vitality not only within it’s farmers, but more importantly within the soil itself. This leads to healthier, more fertile soil, and therefore, more nutritious produce can be grown, such as grapes. Once in the hands of a skilled winemaker, these healthy grapes can be transformed into a wine that is able to express an authentic sense of place.

Cows Grazing at Burn Cottage - photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

Cows Grazing at Burn Cottage – photo courtesy of Burn Cottage

“We’re looking to make good wine, the best wine possible, which gets expressed through the careful management of the property… biodynamics helps us to do that,” explains Shane.

Burn Cottage is more of a mixed farm, rather than just a vineyard. In addition to the 11 ha of vineyard, there is a further 20 ha of farmland, which is home to grazing cattle that provide manure to make the cow pat pits and 500, as well as meat for staff. Sheep graze the grass and weeds and chickens scratch and spread out the manure, while bees help to pollinate other plants around the property, which promotes biodiversity and creates many natural biological controls to ward off unwanted pests and disease.

“We’re making more and more compost teas from the plants used in the biodynamic preparations,” says Shane, “because, ultimately, what we’re trying to do is build up the resilience of all these plants and animals so that they can stand on their own two feet, because they all interact with the property and bring out its character.”

By actively encouraging more biodiversity within a vineyard and incorporating other plant and animal species – similar to how a rainforest works – a sustainable integrated network, or web, from the soil up, is created, and helps the entire farming organism to be much more healthy and resistant to the types of pressures usually faced in a monoculture farming system.

“Instead of using up your entire chemical arsenal to try and fix a problem, biodynamics gives you a bigger toolbox, with more natural options to help tackle the kinds of problems farming presents,” says Shane.

-

D// – The Wine Idealist

- -

Links -


‘Nature’s Farmer’ – Hochkirch Wine, Victoria

Label

“Everyone has heard of the Garden of Eden,” says John Nagorcka, winegrower and farmer from Hochkirch Wines in Victoria, “but, you haven’t heard of the Garden of Monsanto, or DuPont.”

John comes from a farming family, but moved away from the land to study radiology at university in Melbourne. He worked in the field for a while after graduating, but soon the intrinsic feelings for farming returned, and in 1990 he and his wife, Jenny, purchased the family farm in Tarrington, within the Henty wine region of Victoria, and set about establishing a 3 acre vineyard on the property.

“We planted according to best practice in Australia at the time, which is low density, high fruiting wires, wide rows, and a whole stack of different varietals,” says John, “simply because we weren’t sure what would work.”

Vines hadn’t been planted in the region for over 100 years, so John had very little to go on, in terms of what grape varieties would be best suited to the cool climate of Henty. The vineyard was managed ‘conventionally’, using synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides to counter weeds and disease pressures, but the layout of the vineyard, as well the types of grape varieties they planted was wrong. So, in ’95 and ’96, John replanted. Noticing the similarities in climate in Henty with Burgundy, John focussed on Pinot Noir, planting 4.5ha alongside smaller plantings of Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon and Shiraz.

“We did some more planting in 1995 and 1996,” says John, “and modified the way we did things, ending up with much higher vine density, lower fruiting wires, and narrow rows, because we learnt that that method worked much better in our environment.”

Hochkirch Vineyard - photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

Hochkirch Vineyard – photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

John continued to use glyphosate, or Roundup as it’s more commonly known, to combat weeds, but soon found that the health of the soil was slowly being depleted, becoming cracked, hardened and more compacted.

“We used Roundup initially, and did so up until 1999, for weed control,” says John, “which was the only non-organic input we used. But, that’s a pretty significant non-organic input.”

Roundup is a systemic herbicide used to kill weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops, such as grape vines. It works by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the synthesis of certain amino acids, and absorbed through the foliage of the plant or weed, which gets translocated to its growing points.

“Roundup destroys soil, and I could see the soil (of my vineyard) becoming progressively compacted. Then problem weeds started appearing, which were fairly resistant to glyphosate,” explains John. “Herbicides tend to kill some plants very easily and other plants with great difficulty,” John continues, “so you end up selecting for certain weeds and plants that are resistant to herbicide, meaning that they proliferate and you have a very unnatural selection of different species of weeds that are very resistant to glyphosate.”

This unnatural selection and proliferation of Roundup resistant weeds means that stronger doses need to be applied each time. This, of course, simply forces the weeds to evolve to become even more resistant, meaning you then have to use a broader and more powerful mix of chemicals, which can be highly toxic to not only the soil and plants they’re being sprayed on, but also to the humans who are doing the spraying.

“It’s a troublesome spiral,” explains John,” because you’re actually creating the problem of weed control. The whole point of management is to reduce and avoid problems, and by using herbicides you’re creating problems… and that’s a highly unsatisfactory method of weed control, even without the environmental and detrimental soil effects.”

(In the immortal worlds of Dr Ian Malcolm, “life, ah… finds a way.”)

Harvest at Hochkirch - photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

Harvest at Hochkirch – photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

Dissatisfied by the damaging effects of Roundup and the costs associated with having to continue buying more and using more each time (much to the delight of Monsanto!), John went looking for a better way of doing things. He stopped spraying glyphosate and transitioned to organic viticulture, and then discovered biodynamics.

“Biodynamics is something that arouses passions in people, either positive or negative,” says John. “I’d expected it to be something somewhat arcane, and tending towards mysticism, but what I found was a method of farming that made a good deal of sense by focussing on farming from the perspective of nature.”

“The point is,” continues John, “there’s nothing natural about farming, it’s a very unnatural activity, even though, in our technological world, farming is about the only natural thing that goes on, but it’s not. As soon as you start to farm, you disrupt nature’s organisation and then you have to maintain a healthy environment and a productive enterprise that best deals with that disruption.”

Biodynamics puts the human element back into agriculture by cultivating a very natural method of farming, despite agriculture’s intrinsic unnaturalness, and allows, or rather encourages, a farmer to work with nature, rather than against it.

“Biodynamic farmers really enjoy and love what they do,” says John, “whereas a lot of conventional farmers don’t. If you look at conventional farmer’s kids, many don’t want to continue to farm, which accounts for the progressive loss of people living and working on the land. If you’re livelihood requires you to use all of these nasty chemicals,” continues John, “well, that’s not how people want to live. If you’re farming organically, or with the BD method, you’re riding the tiger of nature and using it to achieve your ends, which is a much more exciting thing to do.”

John Nagorcka - photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

John Nagorcka – photo courtesy of Hochkirch Wines

One of the best elements of biodynamic viticulture, or farming of any kind, in addition to its harm minimisation of the environment, is that it allows the products grown in this way to taste better, which of course is fundamental when it comes to wine.

“Conventionally grown wines tend to taste fairly flat, in comparison with many biodynamic wines, which can taste more alive,” explains John. “When things grow naturally, funnily enough, they taste better. They have better flavour, better nutrient balance, and they end up being a totally different product.”

John doesn’t do much when it comes to making his Hochkirch wines, describing it as, “particularly boring.”

“We hand pick, and with the reds (Pinot and Shiraz) we invariably destem, but still use a lot of whole bunch in the ferments,” explains John. “Fruit is put into open top fermenters, and usually sits there for a variable period, depending on how warm it was when it went in. I like to have it sit for about 4 to 5 days before it starts to ferment, using wild yeasts. We then let it sit between 2 and 6 weeks, before it’s pressed into tank and left to settle for 24 hours. Then, it’s moved into mainly old wood, where it stays for a year. It gets racked once, and sulphured if it needs it, and then a further seven months later it’s bottled.”

John doesn’t usually make any additions to improve the wine, unless it’s been a particularly hot year, and then he’ll add acid if he thinks the wine needs it. John says, “fining and filtering is unnecessary because it inevitably strips the wine of its character.”

“Everything we do out in the vineyard is designed to avoid having to do those sorts of manipulations back in the winery,” explains John.

-

“The whole concept of the Garden of Eden is where things are presented at their absolute best,” says John, “and that’s our idea of nature, despite all of the stupidity of conventional farming methods, we still have this fundamental idea. What biodynamic farmers are doing is presenting a method of farming based on nature. We’re growing things with the BD method, the way nature intended them to be, and that’s what really motivates me to do what I do,” says John.

- -

D// - The Wine Idealist

-

Links -

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,020 other followers