“If I see something working (in the vineyard), I don’t need to go and find a (research) paper to make me believe what I see,” says Nick Paulin, viticulturist for Peregrine Wines in Central Otago, New Zealand. “When you walk through the vineyard and see a healthy looking vine and the fruit it’s producing, I know I’m doing something right.”
Peregrine have been quietly going about using an organic regime in their Central Otago vineyards since 2008. While Peregrine make wines from both organic and non-organic vineyards, their estate vineyards in Gibbston and Bendigo are certified organic by BioGro. Viticulturist Nick Paulin studied at the University of Lincoln, in Canterbury, and manages the estate vineyards, but only learnt about organics after he graduated and worked for a number of years at Felton Road.
“At uni, organics and biodynamics were covered off in about half a lecture,” says Nick, “which is a bit of a shame, because students come to work for us over the summer, and they don’t really know much about what we do… I’ve never applied a herbicide to a vineyard, and I never want to. That’s my philosophy and I don’t think I’ll ever change that path.”
Since graduating, Nick has only worked in organically managed vineyards, so, despite learning the theory of conventional farming at uni, he knows no difference in the real world. His winemaking colleague, Nadine Cross, however, has worked, and still does work, with some conventional growers to make wine.
“I get to see, in the same season, organic and non-organic vineyards, and can see the differences, especially in the years where there’s been some disease pressure,” explains Nadine, “and, I don’t see the same pressures in an organic vineyard as I do in conventional ones, which is not what most people would expect. Especially when you consider they’re usually in the same area, with the same soils and climate.”
Nick and Nadine have been working closely together at Peregrine for a number of years, and both fully subscribe to the organic way in which the estate vineyards are farmed. For them, it’s all about the soil, the vine, and the fruit quality.
“The main reason for us being organic,” explains Nadine, “is for soil and vine health, and the fruit quality that comes from that.”
“We have a strong focus on soil health,” says Nick. “I think of the soil as like the stomach of the vine, and so I try and make it as healthy and strong as possible. When (the vine is) healthy on its own, it reduces the need for other amendments, like fungicides and pesticides later on. If you ignore the fact that the soil is full of biology, which is how the plants interface with the soil, and you disrespect that by spraying herbicides, then you get into a vicious circle where the vine can’t get enough of the nutrients it needs to survive and grow, so you have to apply other things to supplement this, and you end up going around in circles, and clipping the ticket for the next guy (selling the chemical supplements).”
In the vineyard, Nick employs many of the methods that any organic or biodynamic winegrower uses to increase soil fertility and biodiversity amongst the vines. Methods like planting cover crops to provide habitat for beneficial insects and using the biodynamic preps 502-507 in compost piles, which are made from as much estate foraged material as possible. This includes things such as grape marc, prunings and cuttings from the vines and from surrounding trees, as well as manure from the cows that come from Peregrine’s owner, Lindsay McLachlan’s Bendigo property, which Nicks uses for his CPP (Cow Pat Pit).
“Viticulture in Central Otago is right on the limit (in terms of climate),” says Nick, “and frost can be a big issue. So, we installed a sprinkler system on our Bendigo vineyard to combat it, but it also doubles up as a means of irrigating the cover crops we grow in between the vine rows… We plant things like phacelia, and buckwheat and mustard, as well as many flowers, which do various things.”
Planting mustard can increase nitrogen availability in soils, and food plants like buckwheat and phacelia are used to attract a certain type of parasitic wasp, such as the Trichogramma wasp, into the vineyard. The wasp will lay its eggs into the eggs of pests, like the leaf roller caterpillar, which effectively kills and controls their spread throughout the vineyard.
“You go into the vineyard with all the flowers and it’s just humming with life,” says Nick.
Peregrine’s winemaker, Nadine Cross, maintains that the most important thing for her to be able to produce the best wine possible is the work Nick does out in the vineyard. For this reason, Nadine spends as much time as she can out in the vineyard with Nick so that she’s aware of everything going on between the rows.
“For me, what Nick does is the whole crux of winemaking,” explains Nadine. “If we can get that right out there, it’s pretty simple for me to finish things off in the winery. My focus is spending a great amount of time in the vineyard so I know what’s actually going on out there, and where things are heading.”
Nadine’s focus in the winery is to ensure that every Peregrine wine is an expression of the place the grapes are grown in, while balancing and maintaining fruit purity and elegance, without compromise.
“All our fruit is hand harvested,” says Nadine, “and for things like pinot, we cold soak for five days, and use some whole bunch in the ferment. I might add yeast, but for most of our organic blocks we don’t need to add any because things usually take off and naturally starts fermenting, anyway.”
Like the vineyards, Peregrine’s winery is certified organic, which means only certified organic winemaking additives are permitted. This includes most of the usual suspects, like tartaric acid, bentonite, enzymes (all naturally occurring substances), and so on, and Nadine will utilise these in her winemaking, as and when required.
“We’re not making funky wines, so I’ll add yeast if I need to,” explains Nadine, “I will add acid to pinot, if I need to, but not to any of the whites. I’ll use bentonite (in the whites), and egg white fining and a gentle filtration on all the wines (to clarify them), before bottling… I’m not someone who’s afraid to use the skills I’ve learnt, over the years,” continues Nadine, “so I will make additions if I need to because I want to produce the best quality wine I can.”
Peregrine don’t shout their organic credentials from the rooftops (and nor should they), but instead just quietly get on with trying to express their beautiful place in the world, just as many other winegrowers, like Nick and Nadine, do.
“It’s part of your instinct as a farmer and a producer that you know what’s best for your site,” says Nick,” … and, I don’t think being organic means we can charge more money, or anything like that. We just think it improves the quality of our wines, and it’s the best way to farm.”
“We don’t really promote ourselves as organic,” says Nadine. “Organics is something we all believe in long term. It’s the way of the future and how thing’s need to be… but, we want our wines to be front and centre, first.”
D// – The Wine Idealist
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