Our vineyard team is led by Rick Milliand. With a viticulture career spanning more than 25 years, including time in the Mornington Peninsula and the South West slopes of New South Wales, Rick is a viticultural encyclopedia and has grown fruit for many award-winning wines - including our own! Rick believes that the unique mesoclimate and granitic soils of the Strathbogie Ranges creates one of the best grape-growing regions in Victoria.
We are not a certified organic winery. However, we understand that our ‘terroir’ or land is inextricably linked to the quality of our wine so its sustainable management lies at the core of our vineyard management practices.
All the water for our vineyards comes from winter run off and is collected in two large dams on our Upton Run vineyard and one medium sized dam on Billi's vineyard. We also have one 'turkey nest' dam on Billi's vineyard into which we transfer water that has come from our other dams, giving us a little more capacity.
Our soils are granitic, nutrient poor and quick draining meaning vines work hard and as a result produce low yielding, small, flavour packed fruit.
This type of soil also means we have quite a high degree of control over the availability of water to the vines. We therefore use a technique called Regulated Deficit Irrigation. This system, which is fully computerised, allows our vineyard team to regulate the provision of water and monitor its uptake by the vine during different growth stages allowing us to reduce water waste and ensure vine efficiency.
We use a combination of natural and traditional fertilizers to help nourish our vines - this is a decision driven by the levels of phosphrous, nitrogen, potassium and trace elements (essential for vine nutrition) in the soils.
After harvest, we spray our vines with a blend of organic products called FKF (fish, kelp and fulvic acid) which is full of trace elements and other essential nutrients. This stimulates good organisms in the soil and helps the vine store carbohydrate in the wood during dormancy (winter). Both these natural, sustainable biostimulants play significant roles in ensuring good soil health and that our vines receive the nutrients they need to produce high quality fruit.
We are also trialling a new under vine mower and double row canopy sprayer to help reduce soil compaction (which can reduce vine growth) and our fuel use.
The beauty of the new mower is that it cuts both the weeds directly under the vine and those in-between the rows and the new row canopy sprayer can cover double the area which reduces the number of passes we have to make in the vineyards. This in turn reduces soil compaction around the vine roots and cuts fuel consumption by 50 per cent.
We use straw that has been cut on our Upton Run and Killeen properties underneath vine rows to help reduce soil temperature and retain soil moisture (by reducing evaporation). This straw eventually rots down and adds organic matter to the soil. This helps attract earth worms, increases soil nutrient and water capacity and actually helps suppress weeds.
As a result of our sensitive soil management we continue to see improvements in our soil health.
Managing disease is a real and constant challenge in every vineyard. To limit the disease pressure we manage the vine canopies with regular shoot and bunch thinning and good quality pruning - this keeps the developing bunches separate and helps allow good airflow to reduce the development of fungus or mildew.
While good canopy management plays a crucial role, we do still use a fungicide program to prevent some diseases but we ensure selected fungicides are softer on the vineyards and the beneficial insects that live in them.
For instance, for powdery mildew we use a product called Ecocarb which is Australia’s first registered organic fungicide.
However, during Vintage 2013 we trialled a vineyard isolated fungi rather than synthetic chemicals to control another fungal disease - Botrytis (Bunch Rot). The results were spectacular and as a result we will continue to use this fungi on an ongoing basis.
Weeds and pests:
We have a light touch approach and enlightened view of managing pressures to the point where they’re not causing deficiencies in the vine rather than obliterating their presence (in most cases).
We use sheep, not chemicals, to manage weeds by letting them nibble weeds down over winter.
When it comes to pest control we do occasionally use sprays (three times in eight years!). However, we prefer and frequently use ecological pest controls instead of chemical ones because we want to maintain the balance of beneficial insects. For example, we control the light brown apple moth (a little in the terror the vineyard) using bacteria, as well as letting beneficial bugs such as earwigs and other insect predators target them rather than using a broad spectrum insecticides.
In our Billi's vineyard we are detecting a build up of natural insect predators in the vine canopy as a result of stopping pesticide use this year (2013). Beneficial bugs such as lacewings, earwigs and spiders are returning and helping to reduce the amount of caterpillars and mite damage in the vineyard.
This year (2013) we are implementing a trial to compare the effects of mechanical weeding (which we've practiced for a number of years) and mowing on weed vigour and soil health. In light of emerging research, our Vineyard Manager Rick Milland believes that mowing weeds will yield better outcomes for vines as a result of simply controlling naturally occurring flora (weeds) to manageable levels and leaving the soil intact to accumulate soil organic matter.
To take a closer look at our vineyards and where they are located in Victoria click here to access our Google map.