Grape Vine on the Mornington Peninsula

Sustainability

When we purchased our vineyard in 2003, there was already 3 acres of old vines that had been planted out in the very early 1980s. We extended the vineyard by a further 4 acres to make a total planting now of 7 acres.

In that process we had to seriously consider what style of vineyard and the method of viticulture we wished to undertake. The original plantings were very wide rows with wide vine spacing. They were “big wine” pinot vines. Our personal philosophy is that pinot is a very intimate grape variety that requires lots of attention and nurturing. Hence, our new plantings are half the vine row width and half the vine spacing leading to a quadrupling of vine density.

To ensure consistency of flavour profile between the vines we used primarily cuttings from our existing vines from the prunings. This ensures that the vines that have already successfully established themselves on the property produced canes which will be naturally accepting of their new circumstances. The French usually do this and call it massale selection.

This was our first step on the road to sustainable vineyard and viticultural management. We determined that we were not going to irrigate our vines as our philosophy is that once you start watering the vines, you quite disturb the natural cycle of rain pattern that the vines can adapt to and even out the vintage variation which occurs naturally. Part of the fun for us is identifying the vintage variations and dealing with each year as it arises to create the best wine we can that year. Our philosophy also is that by watering the vines you encourage surface roots whereas by refusing to give them a drink, you insist that they become deep-rooted by sending down roots looking for moisture to sustain themselves.

Rich soil of the Staindl Winery

So the first key issue for us was the ability for the vineyard to manage its own water intake rather than pumping water out over the vineyard which changes the mineral uptake of the vines, and of course requires water catchment thus detracting from the natural flow of water into the creeks and gullies around us.

Our next major step was to abolish all synthetic herbicides and pesticides. We have adopted the philosophy of bio dynamics which is to produce grapes as naturally as is possible and in a way which least impacts on the environment in which they grow. Biodiversity is a critical element in this and we encourage grasses in their many varieties to grow underneath the vines and in the mid-rows. We manage these through a mowing regime and sometimes even hand weeding when weeds manage to start to choke the younger vines. Additionally 7 acres on our property is preserved as native forest and we find that the breeding of their natural insect population is a great assistance in controlling influxes of deleterious insects in the vineyard. The most classic example would be the encouragement of the native wasp to attack the light brown apple moth which can do significant harm to the fruit bunches through caterpillar activity. Biodiversity also greatly improves bird life and some of the larger more aggressive birds such as hawks, eagles and magpies even are of great assistance in limiting the flocks of minars and other grape loving birds. This doesn’t prevent us having to place out nets once the colour change on our grapes occurs but it does greatly reduce the number of the fruit eating birds that are caught in the nets.

Vigilant on the Mornington Peninsula Vineyard

The philosophy on our property is to allow nature to best regulate itself with a vigilant and sometimes steady guidance required. If we allow the vines access to some predators and some diseases, our belief is that they will build resistance if they’re healthy and well balanced vines. Thus, the emphasis for us is on soil health and a resultant plant health. That can only be achieved by eternal vigilance in the vineyard to ensure that the plants themselves are able to thrive and the soils are in a condition to allow that to happen. Thus we place a lot of emphasis on such things as mitochondrial levels in the soil and worm activity. We compost all our cane prunings over a 3 year cycle with biodynamic preparations and we feed that compost out to the vines by hand on a 5 year cycle, i.e., each part of the vineyard should have been compost enhanced each 5 years or so. All the grass clippings from the mowing in the mid rows and under vines are thrown back underneath the vines to provide mulch for water retention and for an assistance in temperature control. Research now coming out shows that grassy under vines are quite effective at evening out temperature variations during the ripening period so that the coolness of the nights and the warmth of the days are both moderated by the presence of under vine grass.

This is all part of our efforts to achieve the best possible growing environment for our vines to produce the best possible fruit as it is only with that fruit that you can make the best possible wine.