“Our whole approach to farming is that it’s not just about being sustainable in the vineyard and using biodynamics,” says Anna Hooper, winemaker for Cape Jaffa Wines, on the Limestone Coast, South Australia, “because (biodynamics) also encourages really creative thinking. So, we follow not just the agricultural aspects of biodynamics, but also try to be creative in the way that we approach other things, as well.”
Cape Jaffa Wines was established by Derek Hooper and his father during the 1990’s, after they headed west from Coonawarra, in search of a new place to grow wine, and get away from the contentious boundary dispute that was going on in the region, at the time. Here, on Limestone Coast Road, in Mount Benson they found a 320 acre parcel of land and proceeded to plant it with 70 acres of vitis vinifera vines. Today, Derek and his partner Anna Hooper manage their entire property, which also includes sheep, and a veggie garden big enough to feed their own family, as well as the staff who work for them. The whole property certified biodynamic, by Australian Certified Organic.
“We moved to Cape Jaffa because of the uniqueness of the site,” explains Derek, “which is affected by the maritime climate, and the soil types of terra rossa, over fairly shallow limestone… We farm the property biodynamically because we reckon that it’s the best way to properly care for our environment, and also express this unique place in our wines.”
Anna arrived in Cape Jaffa in 2001 and was working for international negotiant conglomerate and biodynamic advocate Michel Chapoutier, who was embarking on a joint winemaking venture with the newly established Cape Jaffa. Anna was tasked with converting one of the Chapoutier vineyards from an organic regime to a biodynamic one. Derek had already been learning about, and practicing, biodynamics as a means of vineyard management soon after Cape Jaffa was established, and in 2005, both he and Anna attended the International Biodynamic Wine Forum, organised and hosted by Julian Castagna, in Beechworth, which cemented their adoption of biodynamics as a viable means of farming the Cape Jaffa vineyard.
“Derek and I were sold on the biodynamic approach to winegrowing when we attended the biodynamic wine forum in Beechworth in 2005,” says Anna.
“That’s why we went and got certified, too,” adds Derek, “so that we wouldn’t get caught up in all the rabble of people who say they’re organic, or biodynamic, but aren’t certified to prove it.”
The Cape Jaffa vineyard sits only 8kms from the coast, and during the summer months (growing season) there is a south-easterly breeze, courtesy of the bonney upwelling, that blows the ocean surface water across the land, which has a cooling effect on the climate, and prevents the daytime temperatures from rarely getting up above 35˚C.
“The maritime influence is unique to this coastline, and to western Victoria,” explains Derek, “so we don’t get those usual South Australian temperature extremes… Overall we’re definitely in a cool climate region, without being an ultra cool climate, like Tasmania. This means we can make some really lovely shiraz and cabernet.”
“My personal gut feeling,” says Anna, “is that our moderate temperatures make us suitable to a range of varietals, like shiraz, but sauvignon blanc and pinot gris seems to ripen fairly well here, too.”
Being pioneers to the region, Derek and his father planted a whole bunch of, mainly, classic varietals including, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, some Viognier and Pinot Gris. The vineyard is now almost 22 years old and, according to Derek and Anna, Shiraz and Cabernet remain the best performing varieties, in terms of the wine they make.
“Our Shiraz has definitely been the standout for us, and the Cabernet’s in this region are bloody good too,” says Derek. “I reckon they’re even more consistent than the Coonawarra.”
The white varieties, however, are a little tricker to grow in Cape Jaffa, because of a reduction in the amount of nitrogen that’s available in the soil for the vines to access. This lack of nitrogen is due, in part, to the cool, maritime climate, in combination with the free draining sands, over terra rossa and limestone soils, and the naturally de-vigourating effect that biodynamics has on crop yields, which makes it hard for the vines to get their fix.
“The whites struggle because they need more nitrogen, and a bit more water to improve their vigour,” says Anna. “Nutrient retention is important, especially for white wine varieties, because it will give you consistent vigour, whereas, here, we don’t have that large clay content to withhold nutrients and water.”
Composting is one sure fire way to help build up the organic matter in the soil, and to improve nutrient availability and good water holding capacity.
“We do lots of compost applications, which is a huge part of our vineyard management plan,” explains Derek, “and we’ve certainly built up our soils over the years, and that’s been shown through carbon testing we’ve had done, which show that it’s been built up to that of the natural vegetation that existed before, and possibly beyond.”
“Biodynamics gives us an open minded philosophy to think laterally about how to solve any problems we find,” says Anna, “and I think that’s maybe what lead me to doing some of the interesting blends that I’ve tried recently.”
To try and combat yield issues with some of their white wines, Anna has made a few interesting wines that feature blends from an intriguing combination of grape varieties, as well as some fascinating blending percentages. For example, the white wine, Anna’s Blend is a mix of Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon (in that order), and then there’s the Viognier, Shiraz blend (again, in that order), which is comprised of 80% Viognier and 20% Shiraz. Curiouser and curiouser…
“I love to blend,” says Anna, “particularly with the whites… and, I like to be creative with what we do in the winery. So, whereas I respect the fact that we do still make a single vineyard wine that’s all about trying to capture the essence of the place it was grown, with our other wines we have a few quirky blends that I enjoy experimenting with, like the Viognier/Shiraz, which is red wine in colour, but much more aromatic than a normal Shiraz from this region.”
For the certified biodynamic, estate grown and single vineyard range of Cape Jaffa wines, Anna ferments the fruit using wild yeasts, in open top rainwater tanks. For the reds, she plunges the cap three times a day, by hand, so that extraction process is more gentle on the wine.
“As soon as the wine has finished fermenting, we leave it to settle,” explains Anna, “and then press it into barrel, where it stays for, usually, 12 months, depending on how it’s progressing. Later, I’ll clarify the wine, if it needs it, with bentonite and give it a light filtration to brighten it up and help highlight the fruit characters… I like our wines to be heat stabilised, so I’m not averse to some clarification adjustments, if it’s needed.”
Not all of Cape Jaffa’s wines are from their own 70 acre vineyard, meaning not all of them are certified biodynamic. But, Anna and Derek are adamant they work with growers that do have some form of sustainability credential (such as, Entwine), and those Cape Jaffa wines that aren’t certified do not include the ACO ‘bud logo’ on the labelling. All their other wines, are certified biodynamic and are labelled so.
“We want to be adventurous with our winemaking,” explains Anna, “because it should always be fun…”
“And, for us, it’s a matter of showcasing the honesty and truth of the site in any of the wines we make,” adds Derek.
D// – The Wine Idealist
Links and Further Reading
- Cape Jaffa Wines (website)
- Cape Jaffa (map)
- Terra Rossa and Limestone soils (Wikipedia)