Wines & Vines
When we created Staindl Wines in 2004 by extending the existing St. Neot's site, our mission was to make the vineyard as sustainable as possible.
In our minds, this meant working with nature rather than opposed to it and since 2017 we've been bio-dynamically certified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia. This isn't easy. Only a handful of vineyards commit to this.
We took the decision not to spray herbicides or pesticide to give the flora and fauna in the vineyard the best chance at breathing as easily as possible. We mulch around our vine base and use milk as a spray to control powdery mildew, or copper and sulphur - this might sound strange but it as an alternative to harmful chemicals, it works!
The Mornington Peninsula
The chosen Staindl Wines site needed to be cool climate. It needed to be maritime influenced. It needed to be easterly and/or northerly facing. It needed to be a special spot.
The Mornington Peninsula is a special spot.
It is a small finger of land surrounded on three sides by water, with elevated areas down its spine providing the right slope and cooler climate to produce fine, elegant pinot noir. We were fortunate enough to find a vineyard that had been established in the very early 1980s and after acquiring the site, set about expanding its size to 7 acres (3 hectares).
Staindl Wines sits near the top of the Red Hill ridge with its east – north east aspect, provides an ideal growing site for the vines. They have the benefit of waking up with the eastern sun warming their leaves and then the opportunity of enjoying the day view out to Phillip Island across Western Port Bay.
Being on the easterly side of the ridge, they avoid the worst excesses of the hot western sun as it fades for the day during the long warm days of summer. The soils are composed of classic Red Hill deep, chocolate-brown earth with iron buckshot through it.
This composition provides the bones to the wines with a little iron in the skeleton. The altitude provides the long cool, evenings to lengthen the ripening. Slow ripening allows the fruit to build flavours which provides the fine perfume, delicate red fruit, and the length on the palate which we look for.
The oldest Staindl Wines vines are 35 years old, representing some of the oldest vines on the peninsula. The depth of flavour in the fruit they provide has been even further enhanced by the natural approach to the viticulture.
Our philosophy is to crop at very low levels (usually between ½ tonne and 1½ tonnes per acre). We will not irrigate. Our belief is that if you do so, by definition you are altering the very specific attributes of the site which ought to reflect in the wine. The challenge then is to keep the vines in sufficient good health to ensure that they can survive even the driest, longest periods without water.
The wines are made with minimal intervention. We seek to have them truly represent what the vintage seasonal conditions provide us and thus, there will be variation from year to year. Running through all that ought to be a consistent gossamer thread of the site as the vines seek to deepen their expression as they grow older and also reflect the seasonal fluctuations.
Room to Grow
When setting out a vineyard, there were many different options available as to the trellis system for the vines to climb on. In 2002 we looked to Burgundy for an example of how to trellis the vines.
In Australia, vine trunks are generally set 2 - 3 metres apart and they can grow above 2 metres. Whereas the cordon wire, which the canes off the main trunk wrap around, is approximately 200ml above the ground in Burgundy, with the whole trellis not more than 1 metre high.
The vine spacing is only 1 metre and the row widths are usually only 1 metre. The density of planting in the burgundian vineyards is 4 - 5 times denser than in Australia.
Working on metre-high vines is a back-breaking job. Bending down towards the crown, half a metre off the ground when picking makes even the fittest break a sweat.
However, the French insist that this is the best way to create viticulture that allows the vines to give their most intense flavours. They lay down 1 cane only and they only take 2 or 3 bunches from that cane. Each vine vigorously competes with its neighbours and thus, has smaller, more intense berries with more intense flavours.
It's a labour of love.
About Our Soil
Situated in Red Hill, Victoria our soil derives from a flow of tertiary basalt rock which originated from the Arthur’s Seat volcano.
Weathering down, it produced rich agricultural soil. In our vineyard a friable, sandy loam-layer reaches down to 50 cm depth, which contains the main feeder roots. Below is a sandy clay loam with less than 40% clay allowing the tap roots to easily find water at depth. The water-holding capacity (Readily Available Water) of the root zone down to 1 metre is 66 mm/m of soil, which is above average due to the low clay and stone content.
In our vineyard, we quite appreciate exactly what our soils are capable of and how they need nurturing. We assiduously collect all our cane prunings every year to create the base for our compost so we can feed the soil over a 4 year cycle.
We are a member of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association. That association has engaged a scientist Dr Erica Winter to conduct field tests and programs to assist in our understanding and knowledge of what happens in the vineyard.
We regularly test for trace elements in our petioles (the stalk between the leaf and the stem of the vine) as well as soil tests and salinity and temperature tests. We use two temperature monitors placed at different spots in the vineyard to monitor the “bunch zone” temperature. Precisely where the fruit bunches are hanging, the temperature is measured every 20 minutes throughout every day of the growing season (December to April).
All this data is collected to understand the effects of varying temperatures and the diurnal range of the temperature in the bunch zone.
Much like our vineyard, we believe our house should be as sustainable as possible. On our roof we installed solar panels to produce electricity. We are not connected to town water or sewerage and rather collect our own rainwater and use septic tanks systems for recycling of waste material.
Even our vegetable scraps get fed to the chickens and ducks to turn them into eggs. We have a quarter-acre vegetable patch which supplies vegetables to us all year round.
We have an orchard comprising citrus trees, fruit trees and nut trees. We have tanks to collect our rainwater from our roofs and we have two dams to irrigate our veggie patch and orchard (and not our vines - but you already know that).