“I feel very fortunate to be able to spend my days working on the farm with my family, all together,” says Sam Statham from Rosnay.
Sam is an organic farmer. He grows organic wine grapes, olives, and figs on his family’s property in Canowindra, NSW. He studied Environmental Georgraphy at Sydney University and completed his final year at the University of Montpelier, before graduating and working on farms in New Zealand, which is where his interest for organic farming took root.
“I was always a bit of a ‘greenie’,” says Sam, “I had save ‘Save the Forests’ stickers on my guitar and dressed like a bit of a hippy, I guess.”
Sam’s mother, Florence, was born in Lyon, France. Her grandfather was a small grape grower in Beaujolais in the early 1900’s. His name was Albéric Dulong de Rosnay, which is where the name ‘Rosnay’ comes from. His vines were planted at ‘Cogny’, 30km North West of Lyon.
“My great-grandfather’s vineyard wasn’t exactly commercial, it was mostly for personal use. He mostly traded wine amongst friends in exchange for odd jobs and other things,” explains Sam.
Albéric’s grand daughter, Florence, married Sam’s father, Richard Statham, and migrated to Australia with him in the early 1970’s. Richard studied agricultural science and worked in the industry for a while before he and Florence purchased what was to become the Rosnay farm in the mid 1990’s.
“I’d always wanted to come back to farming, and grape growing at the time seemed like a good thing to get into,” says Richard. “We moved to Cowra because it had great reputation for growing good Australian chardonnay and we thought that Canowindra was one of the most tried and true frontiers for Australian winegrowing.”
After spending time working on organic farms in New Zealand, Sam expressed an interest in returning home to work with his father on the family farm. He’d seen first hand how effective synthetic-chemical free farming had been, so he and Richard went and visited organic and biodynamic farmers like Ron Ward in Cootamundra, and Botobolar in Mudgee, and attended as many organic and biodynamic field days and conferences as they could, in order to gain a deeper understanding about organic farming and viticulture.
“It was great fun and really inspiring being around all these farmers who were very engaged with how they farmed their land,” says Richard. “After we did the trip I was convinced, and I think Sam was even more convinced, that organic farming was the way to go.”
Rosnay farm is located on the outskirts of Canowindra, approximately four hours west of Sydney. It sits along the Belubula river, downstream from Orange. Cool air and water from Mt. Conobolas, near Orange, drains down into the valley at night and drops the night-time temperature right down, which great for ripening wine grapes.
“We’re basically in the foot hills of Orange at 350m elevation,” explains Sam, “and there’s a lot of creeks and valleys that flow down and bring with it cool air and water, so we get cooler nights, which gives us a chance to build flavour in the grapes over a longer period of time.”
Canowindra’s relatively cool climate is well suited to organic viticulture. Over half of the region’s vineyards are managed without the use of synthetic chemicals, including Wallington, Windowrie, and Rosnay’s neighbours on River Run Rd, Gardeners Ground.
“This region is great for farming organically,” says Sam. “We’ve got problems with weeds, and it’s a constant battle trying to stay on top of them, but we’ve now got an under-vine weeder which is making things a lot easier. For the most part, though, it’s really easy to grow organically here. Our soils are healthy and full of life and grow really healthy, quality fruit that we’re able to make into great wine.”
Sam and Richard first planted grapevines on the property in 1997, starting with 10 acres each of chardonnay and shiraz. They planted cabernet sauvignon, semillon, and merlot the following year, but later pulled the merlot out and replaced it with grenache (on it’s own roots). They also planted some mouvèdre on the property as well.
“I won the NSW Organic Pioneers Award in 2012 and went on a trip with my family to the Languedoc in France, which shares a similar climate to us in Canowindra,” says Sam. “It inspired me to grow some southern French varieties and it turns out that both mouvèdre and grenache grow really well here… We’ve also got some cinsault cuttings growing in our nursery that we got from Wayne Ahrens in the Barossa and I’m excited to see how they go.”
At the moment, the majority of Rosnay’s wines are made by Chris Derez at a contract facility in Orange, but, lately Sam has been experimenting with what he calls ‘Garage Wine’ in the shed on the Rosnay property.
“After hanging around winemakers for the last 15 years or so, you get inspired to want to have a go yourself and learn and have some fun,” says Sam.
Vintage 2016 is the third time Sam has made ‘Garage Wine’ and this year’s production is the biggest by far.
“I made a small batch of cabernet in 2014 and played around with a bit of shiraz in 2015,” says Sam, “but this year I’m ramping it up by doing a GSM (grenache/shiraz/mouvedre) co-ferment and a semillon on skins, in the egg…
“Over the last three years we’ve got a lot more confident doing it ourselves, here on the property. Every year we try and expand the production just a little bit more each time,” Sam says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Sam is passionate about organic farming and winegrowing. He’s one of Australia’s sustainability standard bearers, having won multiple awards that recognise his commitment to organic farming in NSW and Australia.
“I’m proud of what Sam’s been able to achieve here with grape growing and other things,” says Richard. “People seem genuinely interested in what we do and how we do it. I’m looking forward to expanding the winemaking we do here on the property and just slowly improving what we do and how we do it each year.”
D// – The Wine Idealist
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