by Richard Flatman (Viticulturalist)
The journey towards organic production started ten or so years ago, without even knowing it. To me organic viticulture is far more than a growing system, it also includes what we do to our surroundings, the staff, family and visitors to our place.
The Purbrick family started this journey when they first decided to head down the path of carbon neutrality. They were long time farmers that understood the practises used would ultimately affect the climate, which in turn would affect what they could produce. They cared about this beautiful site, which is surrounded by backwaters and the Goulburn River. They planted 160 hectares of revegetation not for profit but because it was the right thing to do for the environment. The family invested heavily on composting equipment for grape skins and stalks, to be re-used in the vineyards.
When I was employed in April 2016, one of the first things I was asked to do was write a proposal to the family on converting our Pogue Vineyard to organic production. This was exciting to me as it is the vineyard that I and my family live on, and I had been managing vineyards organically since 2003. So it was very familiar to me.
The organic process takes three years to achieve with farm management plans and the property being audited annually. I am happy to say the Pogue Vineyard is fully organically certified for grapes that were picked for the 2020 vintage. While, it has not been without some problems, these have not been due to going organic, but rather more environmental. Hot and windy summers, frosts and throw in a bit of hail – and this was only the past season!
So, the next step has been to make one of the Tahbilk Estate vineyards organically certified. The Plains Vineyard was the best choice. It is slightly separated from the rest, it is on the backwater, and has some great varieties to play with. We have our first audit in five weeks, and all things being equal, the Plains vineyard will be fully certified for vintage 2023. As of this moment Tahbilk has 25% of vineyard land either fully certified or going through organic certification.
Whilst we have taken the first steps to certification, there have also been some changes throughout the whole vineyard. When you drive onto the property you may see cover crops growing between the rows, straw under the vines, grass a little longer as we mow less (this helps attract beneficial insects and lessens compaction and fuel use) and a few more plants under vine as we move away from herbicide. These are all real positives for the health of the soils and vineyards.
This journey will continue and will never stop, as we all try to continually improve our practises in an ever changing environment. We all want to grow the best possible grapes in any given season in order to make the greatest wine that we can. That is why growing grapes is the greatest job in the world!
Once we are able to move around again freely, and if that move brings you to our Cellar Door when it is back to full life, if you see me wandering by, do feel free to stop and ask any question you may have of a viticulturist … I am always happy to answer them.
Till then, take care.