“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.”
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.
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.
“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