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Innovative Pioneers – Kalleske Wines, Barossa Valley S.A.

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The Kalleske family arrived in South Australia in 1838, four years after the state was established by the creation of the Foundation Act of 1834. Fifteen years later, in 1853, the family set down their roots in the village of Greenock, in the Barossa Valley, and established a mixed farm consisting of sheep, pigs cattle, crop, and vineyards. For 149 years, the Kalleske family sold all of their fruit to various winemaking companies within the region, including Penfolds, of which a component of the iconic Grange, was made.

“Up until 2002, all the grapes were sold,” says Troy Kalleske, “basically like our beef, lamb, and wheat, because the grapes were just another part of the farming mix.”

Troy Kalleske is the first winemaker in his pioneering family. He studied winemaking at the University of Adelaide before going to work for Lindemans, Seppelt Great Western, and Penfolds until, in 2002, he and his brother Tony, decided to have a go at making their own Kalleske wine.

“We didn’t make much, but what we did make turned out alright… so we made a bit more in 2003,” says Troy.

In 2004, Troy and Tony decided to make Kalleske Wines their full time occupation. Today, Kalleske wines are made from 100% of the fruit that’s grown on the farm, and they no longer sell any of it to other winemakers or companies in the region.

Photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Centurion (really really old) Shiraz – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Aside from a brief flirtation with systemic chemicals in the 70’s and 80’s, the Kalleske farm and vineyards have always been managed organically, and nowadays, every vineyard is farmed according to the principles and practices of biodynamics.

“The farm was organic by default, but it wasn’t proactively organic,” says Troy. “For most of the vineyards’ history,” he continues, “we farmed organically just by not using chemicals but, there was a period during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, where Dad did use super phosphate fertilisers, herbicides, and so on.”

Troy’s father, John is a sixth generation Kalleske, and the reason behind the biodynamic farming methods now employed on the property. He started looking into biological agriculture as a softer way of farming the land, which eventually led him down the path towards organics, before making the leap to biodynamics in the 1990’s, again, making them pioneers in the region.

“When Dad started moving towards organics, and then biodynamics, there certainly was a lot of ridicule and mocking from some of our neighbours,” says Troy. “I guess they must have thought he’d gone a bit loopy. But, now, it’s amazing the amount of growers who are becoming interested in what we do… because they can see, at our different workshops and field days that we’re doing good things on the farm.”

The brief flirtation with chemical agriculture in the 70’s and 80’s demonstrated to John Kalleske that their previous means of farming (organics by default), was a much better way to grow things on the property.

“Dad noticed that since he started using synthetic fertilisers he had to use more and more and more as the years went on to get the same yields and results as previous years,” explains Troy, “and he also noticed that the soils just got harder, becoming more like concrete. He was getting more water run off underneath the vines, as opposed to it soaking into the ground.”

Since 1998, the Kalleske farm and vineyards are 100% certified organic and biodynamic. They are certified by the Biological Farmers Association of Australia (BFA).

“Certification is very important to us,” says Troy, “even though it can be a bit of a pain sometimes, in terms of the time and money involved, but it is important for the consumer, so that they know they’re getting a genuine organic, or biodynamic product.”

Despite acknowledging the importance of organic and biodynamic certification, Troy would still prefer to see the certification process be reversed by having those that farm with agrochemicals apply for a license instead.

“(Certification) is totally the wrong way around,” explains Troy. “Organic and biodynamic farming should be the convention, because it’s much better for the environment, and those that choose to use poisonous chemicals on their farm should be made to get a license, because they’re the ones that are doing the most damage.”

Johann Georg Shiraz block - photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Johann Georg Shiraz block – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Despite having grown grapes in the Barossa Valley for well over 150 years, Troy is the first Kalleske to become a winemaker and turn the grapes that his father and brother, Kym, grow into the well-known Barossa wines people drink today.

“The winemaking is pretty simple and traditional,” says Troy. “I think that wine should reflect the time and the place where the fruit was grown.”

All Kalleske wines are fermented using wild yeasts, native to their vineyard and winery, and most are done so using open top concrete fermenters. No additions, such as tannin, or enzymes are added to the wines, with only the minimal amount of sulphur added during racking, and right before bottling.

“If you have good quality, sound fruit, there shouldn’t be a need for much intervention,” says Troy.

This good quality fruit comes from biodynamically managed soils, which are comprised of predominately sandy loam over red clay, with a sporadic mix of iron and quartz stone, as well as limestone spaced throughout the different vineyard sites. The Johann Georg Shiraz Vineyard is the Kalleske’s oldest site, consisting of vines that were planted back in 1875, which are dry grown and named in honour of the first Kalleske to migrate to Australia in 1838.

“We sit at approximately 350m elevation, which is a lot higher than most of the other vineyards in the Barossa. It means we have slightly cooler than average temperatures throughout the year,” says Troy, “and, because the soils we have are not super fertile, the vines do it a bit tougher, which means lower yields, and slightly smaller berries, but a much higher concentration of flavour.”

Troy is a strong believer and supporter of his Dad’s methods of biodynamic farming out in the vineyard, because it means he gets much higher quality fruit to make wine with back in the winery.

“Biodynamics is one of the keys to good farming,” says Troy, “because it unlocks the nutrients that exist in the soil, and enlivens the microbes, which are crucial for healthy soil. I like the fact that biodynamics looks at the bigger picture, as opposed to the reductionist, scientific method, and allows you to see how everything really is a lot more interconnected than what we might realise.”

The Kalleske's - photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

The Kalleske’s – Kym, Troy, John, Lorraine, Tony – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

The Kalleske’s are pioneers in the Barossa Valley, not just in a migratory sense, but, more importantly, in an innovative farming sense. They had farmed their property successfully for over 100 years without the use of systemic chemicals and industrial agricultural techniques, and as soon as they began using them, they could see, almost immediately, the degenerative affect these chemicals had on the soil. Switching back to organic, and then biodynamic management of the Kalleske vineyards, has meant that Troy is able to make, arguably, some of the best wines coming out of the Barossa, and the fact that he can do this from fruit grown from ancient, sustainably managed vineyards, should be proof enough to demonstrate the clear and positive benefits of organic and biodynamic agriculture.

D// – The Wine Idealist

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