The Battle of Bosworth was fought on the 22nd of August 1485. It was to be the final significant battle of the War of the Roses, a civil war between two rival claimants to the throne of England by the Houses of Lancaster and York. It resulted in Henry Tudor defeating Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Approximately 16,000 km’s from this final battle near Ambion Hill in Leicestershire, UK, the Battle of Bosworth was resurrected, some 516 years later, in the McLaren Vale, South Australia, by winegrower Joch Bosworth.
“I was going to call the label just, ‘Bosworth’, but a friend of my wife Louise, said that it sounded too boring, and suggested we should call it ‘Battle of Bosworth’, instead,” says Joch.
Joch claims no historical ties with this famous English skirmish, sharing the historical alliance between blood and wine in name only.
The wine label, Battle of Bosworth, was started by Joch after he returned home from his oenological adventures in California, where he worked for Robert Mondavi in Napa, and Willamette Valley Vineyards, in Oregon. He took over the reigns of his family’s Edgehill Vineyard, in McLaren Vale, where the Battle of Bosworth is now fought in its modern Australian incarnation.
The first crusade saw Joch attempt to convert his father’s vineyards over to an organic regime.
“My old man was a best practice grape grower during his time, which meant he did basically whatever the Department of Agriculture recommend was the best way of doing things,” says Joch.
“The climate here makes it that much easier to grow organically, than in many other places…”
“He was very anti-weeds, so he would use herbicide, but he never used an insecticide to control pests,” continues Joch. “He wasn’t too upset when I came home and wanted to stop using these sorts of chemicals altogether.”
The decision to try organic grape growing on his family’s property was obvious to Joch for a number of reasons, least of all because of the McLaren Vale’s favourable climate for agriculture sans chemicals.
“I really didn’t like using herbicide,” says Joch, “and I knew a little about the old techniques for grape growing in McLaren Vale. There were growers who were organic by default, because there were no chemicals to spray before the end of the war (WW2)… Besides,” continues Joch, “the climate here makes it that much easier to grow organically, than in many other places.”
If you arrive in McLaren Vale, in the spring time, you’ll surely be greeted by the luminescent green of new shoots emerging out from some gnarly old vines, signalling the start of another promising vintage. You might also spy the occasional spatter of a few small, yellow flowers, known as the sour sob, which was brought to Australia, from South Africa, all because someone thought they looked pretty.
The Oxalis pes-caprae flower is regarded as a noxious weed in Australia. It’s notoriously difficult to eradicate once it’s spread over a significant area of land. Gardener’s hate it, partly because the plant propagates through underground bulbs, which usually stay in the ground whenever the stems of the plant are removed.
“The sour sob is fantastic for viticulture… it’s life cycle is the exact opposite of the vine.”
Joch loves the sour sob. It’s actually used as the logo for Battle of Bosworth, and, if you visit the vineyard in the springtime, and time it just right, you won’t just spy the occasional spatter of this ‘Bermuda buttercup’, you’ll see a veritable carpet of golden yellow flowers sitting above a lush green sward, right underneath the vines.
“The sour sob is fantastic for viticulture, because it outcompetes everything else growing under the vine,” explains Joch. “It’s life cycle is the exact opposite of the vine. It starts to die off just as the vine starts to wake up and begins looking for water… Their bulbs travel through the ground and helps to aerate the soil, along with the worms, which means there’s a lot of biological activity going on in the soil.”
When the sour sob dies off, it leaves behind a ready made layer of sward, which Joch simply mulches, along with the cover crops he’s planted, such as triticale (wheat/rye) and beans. This naturally occurring mulch helps with things such as water retention, meaning Joch doesn’t need to irrigate as much, or as often, as he might if he was spraying the sour sobs and killing them (along with all that biological activity) with herbicides.
Working with nature, rather than against it, is the essence of organic farming.
When Joch started making wine under his own label, back in the late 90’s, he did so purely for his own amusement.
“I started making wine pretty much as soon as I came home from overseas,” says Joch, “because I thought it was fun and fairly profitable. I used to sell it ‘under the table’, mostly to people in McLaren Vale. Once I decided to take it a little bit more seriously, and I had to get a liquor license and start paying my taxes, I decided to start Battle.”
“In 2013, our Chanticleer was knocked out of the Scare Earth program…”
Joch’s aim with Battle of Bosworth is to express the unique qualities of his organically grown vineyards in wines that are characteristic of their place. He’s submitted wines to be considered for inclusion in the McLaren Vale Scare Earth project, which aims to explore the diversity of the region’s ancient soils through one of the area’s most significant varieties, shiraz. All wines must be from a single site and the presence of oak is to be kept to a minimum.
“In 2013, our Chanticleer was knocked out of the Scare Earth program for being too oaky,” explains Joch, “except that I hadn’t used any oak. I’d deliberately made it in a flexcube, because I didn’t want any oak influence whatsoever in the final wine… The next year, in 2014, I made the same wine in the exact same way, and this time I was told it was in, but that I had to keep an eye on oak.”
Joch puts the presence of perceived oak in his Chanticleer Single Vineyard Shiraz as being a natural part of the site, the vineyard, indeed, the terroir.
“The whole idea of the project is to try and uncover the unique characteristics of certain sites within the McLaren Vale,” explains Joch. “So, what is being perceived as being an oak character, or influence, in the Chanticleer, is actually a skin tannin from the shiraz, which gets expressed in the wine and mistaken for oak.”
Today, more wine than blood soaks the ground at the site of McLaren Vale’s own Battle of Bosworth. Ground that is teeming with life, thanks to the viticultural virtuosity of the Baron of Bosworth, Joch Bosworth, and his insistence not to use synthetic chemicals in order to grow and make his wines.
D// – The Wine Idealist
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