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Down In The Cellar | Organic Wine Makers

Specialist Cellars sits down with Organic Winemakers to discuss all things wine & organic in our “Down In The Cellar” series special. 

From the 16th to the 22nd of September, The Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ) will be celebrating New Zealand Organic Wine week in partnership with a number of restaurants, online stores and wine shops in New Zealand & the UK. Four New Zealand organic winemakers recently confided in the New Zealand Cellar to explain where their hearts and minds are with organics, giving us an insight into their wine-growing vision and philosophies.

Introducing Churton wines, Domaine Thomson, Rippon wines, and Quartz Reef. 

JACK WEAVER | CHURTON

What wine variety are you most excited about for its future in NZ?

Pinot noir or Petit manseng.

Did you start off with winemaking and convert to biodynamics later on? if yes, what triggered the change?

I was lucky that when I started out in the wine industry we have already been running our farm Organic using Biodynamic practices, so naturally, I see it as the only way farming should be done.

Do you have any organic/biodynamic farms or wines that you benchmark your work against? 

Like-minded farmers like Felton Road, Milton, Burn cottage and Black estate.

What was your biggest learning curve in organic/biodynamic winegrowing?

There is always more you can do to better your farm and ecosystem, it’s not an overnight job and it’s certainly not one variable. Great vines take time – also make people understand how special your farming is, can be a challenge.

Who’s your favorite farm animal and why?

Either Doris the cow who supplies organic matter to our soils or Wally the worm because he helps to aerate and break down organic matter in our soils.

CLAUDIO HEYES | DOMAINE THOMSON

What wine variety are you most excited about for its future in NZ? 

Most definitely Pinot Noir! And with more vine age it will only get more exciting, complex and expressive.

Did you start off with winemaking and convert to biodynamics later on? if yes, what triggered the change? 

The vineyard was planted conventionally in 2000, changed to organic farming in 2011 and then biodynamic practices were introduced in 2013. 

Do you have any organic/biodynamic farms or wines that you benchmark your work against? 

We got inspired by the great work that Nick and Jo were doing at Rippon. And we realized that biodynamic was the common thread in producers that we actually enjoyed drinking the wines – regardless of what country or region there were from. 

What was your biggest learning curve in organic/biodynamic winegrowing? 

We were very fortunate to have an amazing biodynamic facilitator, Sue Hoskin, who helped us convert the vineyard into the “farm” and set the path forward. Her knowledge and passion for biodynamic is contagious.

NICK MILLS | RIPPON

What wine variety are you most excited about for its future in NZ?

Those that have been planted with intent and in places where the vines find themselves comfy.

Did you start off with winemaking and convert to biodynamics later on? if yes, what triggered the change? 

Rippon has started an organic vineyard and certified BioGro in the early 1990s. We started farming biodynamically in 2003 and have been certified through Demeter since 2017. The principal notion of biodynamics, however, that of the farm being a living individual (with which we maintain a close relationship with) has been with us for a lot longer than that, possibly even since the early 1990s when our ancestors farmed it as a self-sustaining unit. In terms of any triggers, it was more about falling in love with the place and the individual (Rippon) as we grew up, then seeking out the knowledge that would allow us to look after it properly. There were many moments along that path; huddled-up on the hillside watching the wind comes down the lake, talking Nietzsche and Thomas Mann with Rudi Bauer in our vines as a teenager, discovering Biodynamics in Burgundy with Pierre Masson and realising the value of what we had already at home, working and studying in Burgundy for four years and coming home to Rippon, working with my family and falling in love all over again.

Do you have any organic/biodynamic farms or wines that you benchmark your work against?

As any Biodynamic farm is a unique individual it’s difficult to compare. We certainly like to think about how our work and wines look against themselves, over time and between seasons for example, and that sometimes extends to our colleagues, but they are equally unique, and come from all over the place. Our craft is pretty diverse and universal in that sense; like our peers, we cultivate living organic soil, grow grapevines in it and then guide the fruit through a natural process into a product we can taste and feel.

What was your biggest learning curve in organic/biodynamic winegrowing?

The time we spend in the vineyard tending to our soils and vines is probably matched by the time it takes to qualify, certify and communicate the way in which we do it. This may be normal, but it takes some getting used to.

Who’s your favorite farm animal and why?

Humans, sometimes they do alright. 

The microarthropods, because they have the coolest name and look awesome.

Gael, she’s just so calm and has the finest rack. Or (4) Beatrice, or (5) Cecil? They were great characters and both just taste so good.

RUDI BAUER | QUARTZ REEF

What wine variety are you most excited about for its future in NZ? 

Can only be Pinot Noir

Did you start off with winemaking and convert to biodynamics later on? if yes, what triggered the change? 

It took me 9 years to finally convert to BD, I didn’t have the confidence and was also frightened, I would fail. When the decision was made in 2007, we never looked back.

Do you have any organic/biodynamic farms or wines that you benchmark your work against? 

I admire all our BD farmers in Central and James Milton,

What was your biggest learning curve in organic/biodynamic winegrowing?

To learn to switch roles and think like a plant, an animal, soil/soil life and the stars.

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