All farming has to be viewed through a long lens, and viticulture is no exception. When we planted our first vines in the late seventies, we knew that with proper husbandry those vines could still be producing great wine well into the next century. It is only with older vines and their complex interaction with a living subsoil that you can fully express the unique terroir of the vineyard site.
At Neudorf, we see sustainable practices as those which conserve and build up our natural resources rather than running them down. Back in the 80s Tim was instrumental in helping establish the Sustainable Winegrowing NZ scheme, and our winery is accredited under the more recently established Sustainable Winery NZ scheme.
The scheme covers our whole operation, from the choice of “soft sprays” to increased biodiversity in the vineyard, throug best practice in the winery, to the composting of grape skins and sprinkling of waste water back to the land.
For close to three decades our viticulture has revolved around enabling the vines to naturally resist disease. This is accomplished by the use of thin layer upright trellising, with manual crop and leaf removal to allow sunlight and air through the canopy. Inter row herbs and grasses provide plant and insect species diversity, reduce plant vigour and contribute organic matter to the soil.
Over winter our small flock of Suffolk sheep is reinforced by a larger mob of neighbouring Romneys. Together they do a great job of completing the carbon cycle and keeping the pasture in check without the need for tractor mowing, thus reducing compaction of the winter soils.
Re cycling the waste stream
In earlier days our composting was simply “dumping and waiting” but today it is more sophisticated.
It’s now more appropriately compost cuisine, with wood waste and other goodies added on a more functional site with its own bunding and leachate catchment. We add a biological “starter” broth, a combination of useful organisms brewed up
with molasses for a few weeks before adding to the pile. Then cover with a plastic sheet and in a few short months we are presented with rich black compost – and a million worms. This is spread back on the vineyard, particularly in areas low in organic matter and microflora.
We have been irrigating the leachate onto our sheep paddocks, diluted with winery wastewater. But more recently we sprinkle it back into the vineyard over the mulched prunings, to speed up their decomposition and reduce the chance for disease spore development.
Over the past year or two we have also taken steps to measure and reduce our collective “Neudorf Vineyards” carbon footprint. We measure water and power usage, petrol and diesel, and everyone is committed to greater efficiency and the reduction of waste. The sorting of rubbish is endemic – plastics, bottles, screwcaps and cardboard recycled; labelled bins abound, including biodegradables for our small family of fowls.
Moving on to organic production
Our trialling of soft sprays and under-vine techniques to increase beneficial plant and soil micro-flora moved up a gear in 2008 with the arrival of Richard Flatman, a viticulturalist with a wealth of experience in organic viticulture. With Richard on board we have actively moved beyond sustainability towards organic viticulture. This has resulted in an even stronger focus on the inter-relationships between vines and the environment in which they live.
In 2010, following a trial period on two vineyard sites exploring the organic management practices best suited to our soils and climate, we completed the switch to organic management of our producing Rosedale and Home Vineyards. The most dramatic initial response was the reduction in vigour as the vines struggled to compete with actively growing volunteer species in their immediate root zone. As years go by we hope this will result in deeper roots, greater growth stability and drought resistance, and a more enhanced expression in our wine of the ancient Moutere Clay-Gravel soils.
Our motivation in this and in our vineyard practices over three decades has always been to further enhance our vines’ ability to thrive, with greater disease resistance, increased fruit quality, greater site expression and ultimately fewer inputs. We have recently joined one of the recognised organic viticulture certifying schemes.