“The grape supplies everything that’s needed,” says Stan Ivanov, winegrower at Mill About Vineyard, in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. “It supplies its own yeast and enzymes to help with fermentation, the bacteria necessary for malolactic fermentation is also there, and so is all the acid and tannin. So, what else do I need?”
Stan, and his wife Nelly, moved to Australia from Bulgaria, in the eastern corner of Europe, near Turkey, and settled in the suburbs of Adelaide back in the mid 90’s.
“Nelly and I arrived in South Australia about 20 years ago, from Bulgaria,” says Stan. “After a while we decided that it wasn’t pleasant to live in the suburbs of Adelaide, because it was overcrowded and too noisy, so we started looking around for other properties. We bought this vineyard because I was getting sick of drinking so much mediocre wine, and thought I would just make my own, to drink instead.”
In 2007, they purchased a rather neglected 6.4 acre property located on the southern fringe of the Barossa Valley, at the bottom of the Adelaide Hills. The vineyard was quite old, having been planted around 1924, but it had been left to grow wild and untamed by the previous owners. As a result, many of the vines hadn’t been pruned for close to 20 years.
“The vineyard is almost 90 years old,” says Stan. “Half the grenache was missing when we bought the property, so we had to replant a lot of it to get it back to its original size. The five rows of semillon were intact and in reasonable condition, while the three muscat varieties are still recovering. We planted saperavi and mataró, to compliment the grenache.”
Despite not being certified, Stan says the vineyard is managed more than organically.
“We’re not certified, and I have no objections of those who are,” explains Stan, “I just think it’s the wrong way around. We are definitely more than organic, because we don’t apply things like copper and sulphur, which are allowed under organic certification. These are toxic chemicals,” continues Stan, “and copper is actually a heavy metal, which can stay and accumulate in the soil after years of spraying.”
Australian Certified Organic Standards 2013, does allow for a certified organic grower to use copper and sulphur sprays, but there are restrictions. Table 47.A on page 36 of the ACO Standards reads that the maximum levels of heavy metals, such as copper, found in certified organic soils is not to exceed 50 ppm. Suspension and even loss of certification can apply to those growers who do not comply.
“All we do in the vineyard is prune, mow the grass and mulch with organic matter,” says Stan. “In the wintertime we’ll let our sheep into the vineyard to help with cutting the grass.”
Because of the vineyard’s age, and subsequent neglect, it hasn’t received any artificial inputs for over 20 years. Stan says that there is very little pest and disease pressure where they are located in the Barossa.
“Our site has good ventilation, so the vineyard dries out quickly,” says Stan. “The only pest problems we face is from the birds, because our property backs onto bush land. In 2011, we didn’t suffer any mildew problems, and because the vines are dry grown and planted on their own roots, they’re usually much healthier, anyway.”
Stan and Nelly decided to carry on this absence of synthetic chemicals by taking a very relaxed approach to vineyard management.
“We try to do as little as possible,” says Stan, “as our name implies. Mill About means to do nothing, and that’s our way of doing things… we work only when it’s required.”
That’s not to say that Stan and Nelly are lazy winegrowers.
“We’re always busy with things that need to be done,” explains Stan, “but we don’t rush things. We don’t just do things for the sake of doing them, there’s always something to be done, and we just enjoy walking around and observing our place.”
Stan’s approach to winemaking is simple and he considers himself to be a natural winemaker. He makes his wines with no additions whatsoever, and he says that he is able to do this because of the types of grapes that he grows.
“We planted saperavi and mataró (mourvèdre) because they help balance out the sweetness of grenache,” says Stan. “The saperavi is unique in that it produces full flavours at very low alcohol, about 12-12.5 baumé, so we pick it early and retain the natural acidity in the grape, meaning we don’t need to add anything to the wine.”
Stan uses co-fermentation as a method for making Mill About’s wines, which is the practice of fermenting two or more grape varieties at the same time. The grapes are picked, crushed and fermented together using indigenous yeasts. Stan says he’s never had a problem with stuck ferments.
“It’s a misconception that wild yeasts are unreliable,” says Stan, “we’ve never had any problems with our ferments. Because we don’t spray with any artificial chemicals in the vineyard, the population of indigenous yeasts is pretty strong.”
“We can make a starter culture by picking some grapes a week earlier, crush them and let them start fermenting,” explains Stan. “These yeasts will multiply and then we’ll use them as our starter for our main ferments. We’ve never had a stuck ferment, it’s always healthy and it means each vintage is different… We just stick to the old principals that people have been using for centuries, probably millennia. If you have a healthy vineyard you will have no problem.”
Stan makes no sulphur additions to his Mill About wines.
“We don’t use any preservatives in our wines,” explains Stan, “so in the winery there’s no benefit for us to rack the wine. That would actually be quite risky, if we did so, because the wine has nothing to stop it from oxidising… By adding anything, especially sulphur dioxide, you’re masking all sorts of flavours. Why should I add anything that hasn’t come from the grape?”
Stan doesn’t make all that much wine from his Mill About Vineyard, usually just under 100 cases per vintage. Most of his wines are sold out to family and friends, and a few places around Adelaide, Melbourne, and a little in Japan, of all places. For Stan, growing wine is more about pleasure and enjoyment, than anything else.
“We try to live peacefully with ourselves and our surroundings, because life is too short to be involved with all sorts of unnecessary things,” says Stan. “It’s about enjoying yourself. If you can produce your own food and drink in a healthy way, then that’s something good.”
D// – The Wine Idealist