Our Eco Vineyard

Eco Vineyards – Dishing the Dirt

Read time: 5 minutes

With thanks to Dr Mary Retallack for her continued support and use of images.

Mary with Sophie from Gardening Australia

Dishing the Dirt – Why We Went Organic

The other night, we happened to catch Gardening Australia, and lo and behold, Dr Mary Retallack, our favourite eco-wine woman, was featured! She was championing Eco Vineyards, biodiversity and native flora for natural pest control—the very thing we’ve been banging on about for eons here at Koonara.

Mary is no stranger to Koonara Wines; we’ve worked closely with her in the past, and our passion for pioneering eco-vineyards runs deep. It was great to see these vineyard practices up in lights, and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to share with you all what we do here at Koonara and how it aligns with Mary’s work.

For those of you who were out and about and not curled up on the couch with a well-deserved glass of Shiraz—you can catch the replay here.

Yellow flowers in our Vineyard

Our Journey to Organic Certification

Our path to becoming an organically certified vineyard was guided by a desire to create a harmonious ecosystem within our vineyards, with the goal to reduce chemical use and increase vine health. The transformation began with the adoption of our ‘Chemical-free Ecosystems’ approach, focusing on leveraging nature’s own mechanisms to care for our vines.

One of the keystones of our eco vineyards program is recruiting nature’s tiny helpers, such as parasitic wasps, to manage pest populations. By planting a variety of yellow and white stamen flowers, we’ve created a habitat that attracts these hunter insects that prey on the bad guys throughout the grape-growing season. This massively reduces our need for chemicals.

Planting the Eco Vineyard wattles

ECO Vineyards 101

So here at Koonara we see “weeds” as beneficial buddies in our vineyards. Their presence plays a critical role in managing frost, retaining water, and improving soil health. Not having cover on soil is like not having skin on your arm; It helps protect everything underneath.

We now have about 40 different varieties, and by managing those plants, they inturn support biodiversity and soil health. “Oh, but Dru, they rob your vines of moisture!”. Bullshit. We have built another 0.5% carbon in the last few years alone, equating to holding 67,500 litres of extra water per Hectare, on top of the 1% carbon we put there in the 5 years prior (that’s another 135,000 litres per Ha).

While these groundcovers can rob vines of minerals, we go hard to put them all back. We run a host of minerals (mostly in the form of Kelp, which is a bit of a multi-vitamin) back through the drippers. In fact, by having functional plant cover, the plants feed the microbes exudates (carbon-rich materials) via photosynthesis and in return, the microbes convert nutrients into plant-available forms. A win for both the plants and microbes!

Mary’s influence

Mary Retallack’s a legend. Her work with EcoVineyards resonates deeply with our philosophy, and while our focus is on flowers, her focus is on using a broad range of native plants to attract and sustain beneficial insects. With her, we have planted wattles. We chose wattles with white and yellow flowers that bloom at different times of the year so that the larger wasps have a food source all year round. It’s quite clever when you think about it.

Mary holding a container of seeds

How our organic practices raise the bar

Healthier soil and vines, free from chemical residues, produce grapes that have more nutrients in them, which help prevent stuck ferments. These are the bane of all winemakers, as the yeasts run out of nutrients, and die before they convert all the sugars to alcohol. We can proudly say we have never had a stuck ferment from grapes off our vineyards. We also believe it allows the wine to be more expressive of our terroir.

As a part of our want to do better attitude, we continuously ask ourselves: What more can we do? Well, I’m so glad you asked. We actively maintain our sulphur levels in our wines below organic standards.  Not only does this make our wine kinder on your body, but it also lets the true flavours of the grapes shine through.

We also wanted to ensure our wine was suitable for everyone which means ensuring our practices for filtering were vegan friendly. Often winemakers use egg white or fish bone to filter out the proteins in the wine; proteins can mute the flavours in a wine and can cause issues with the proteins giving a food source to bad bacteria. We use a pad-filter or a crossflow machine to filter our wines, so they are 100% vegan-friendly.

On occasion, this can sometimes create wines that can be a little more tannic, which is why we age all our red wines in 100% 300-litre Hogshead barrels (95% French Oak, 5% US oak). The micro-oxygenation that comes from the oak binds the tannin molecules together, and the larger molecules taste softer and more chocolatey (the same thing happens when you let your wine “breathe” in a decanter or glass).

It also means our wines have been “inoculated” with a small amount of oxygen, allowing them not to be affected as badly by oxygen once you open the bottle. I recommend putting your red wine in the fridge instead of leaving it out on the bench, as it will last 16 times longer. I just let the wine warm up as your cooking dinner.

It’s all worth it

Transitioning to organic and implementing our eco vineyards wasn’t exactly a walk in the vineyard; it was a full-on marathon complete with hurdles. We had to relearn our entire farming approach, re-educate our team, and face our sceptics head-on. The improved soil health and reduced pest problems were good, and we worked out that our vineyard uses less than 2 tonnes of CO2 output, but we have put back more than 3 270t of CO2. It means we have 1,635 years before we break even on our carbon usage. How’s that for some serious feel-good vibes.

We are committed to leading by example and actively encourage other vineyards to adopt regenerative/organic practices. I mean we even we even shared our spray program on our website for anyone to access and use. Thus sharing an easy way for all vineyards in Australia to reduce costs, decrease carbon footprint, increase carbon, and increase nutrient density. We don’t want to be the only ones organic in Coonawarra; we want other growers to see the benefits of regenerative practices like the ones Mary and her Eco Vineyards program encourage and the ones we have pursued.   

Our journey into eco vineyards reflects a commitment to paying it forward that we share with people like Mary Retallack. Embarking on this organic journey isn’t just about making great wine – I mean, it’s pretty damn important – but it’s also about making a difference.

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