It’s all about place. And we believe our place is special.
Organics and Sustainability
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. The scheme covers our whole operation, from the choice of “soft sprays” to increased biodiversity in the vineyard, through best practice in the winery, to the composting of grape skins and sprinkling of waste water back to the land. We see organic certification as an extension of this scheme. This is a commitment to reducing inputs, growing healthy, robust vines and leaving the land in a better state than we found it.
We began by trialing “soft” sprays options, meaning a reduction in synthetic chemicals and more focus on natural fungicides. We also started investigating under-vine techniques to increase beneficial plant and soil micro-flora, reduce the need for herbicide and balance vine vigour. These trials moved up a gear in 2008 with the arrival of Richard Flatman, a viticulturist with a wealth of experience in organic viticulture. This led to 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 Home Block and Rosie’s Block Vineyards.
After another few years of refining our production systems we put the Home Block into BioGro Organic Conversion, Rosie’s Block followed suit shortly after that. From March 2016 we have Fully BioGro Certification for Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay, Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir, Neudorf Twenty Five Rows Chardonnay and Neudorf Riesling. All Moutere blocks are now either fully certified or in conversion.
Full BioGro Certification is a three year process involving a stringent vineyard management plan and yearly audits. No synthetic fungicides or herbicides are allowed, instead organic production focuses on pro-active vineyard management that encourages balance and harmony in the vineyard. Soils tests are required to prove any chemical residues in our soils are minimal. There is a huge focus on building healthy soils and encouraging strong vines that thrive in their environment.
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.
Great wines can only come from healthy soils. Healthy soil is our greatest vineyard asset. And it needs constant care.
Our vines are planted in deep clay gravel soils, laid down by ancient, long ago melted glaciers. These kaolinitic clay soils have a naturally low fertility and a sandy loam topsoil with an ever expanding organic matter content. These soils have a great water holding capacity which allows us to store water to help our dry farmed vines through the sunny nelson summer. We compost our grape skins and seeds and return this back to our undervine to return nutrients back to the earth, boost our soil biodiversity and complete the nutrient cycle.
The Moutere Gravels Formation is an extensive Pliocene-early Pleistocene gravel sheet over 1000m deep, filling the 25 km wide Moutere depression. In places this ancient river system is overlain by and combined with successive glacial deposits from the late Quaternary period. A long period of erosion and weathering has resulted in the formation of the herring-bone patterned Moutere Hills.
We have planted our vineyards on selected north facing slopes of these hills, embracing the “warm site in a cool climate” effect. These slopes also act as frost protection, naturally draining cold air out of the vineyard onto the valley floor below.
Worms are the unseen workhorses in our vineyard, scavenging organic matter such as leaves and grass and breaking it down, aerating the soil as they go. Their excrement feeds an army of soil microbes which continue the good work, producing nutrients suitable for the vine to use, building up soil structure and keeping harmful pathogens at bay.
Mycorrhizal fungi on the vine roots hugely increase the vine’s ability to pick up these nutrients (and water), and in return they get to feed on sugars produced by the vine. Don’t you love that symbiosis?
To keep these organisms working we need to maintain good levels of organic matter in the soil. Here at Neudorf, soil organic matter is enhanced by the presence of a permanent inter-row sward, mulched prunings and the compost and return of winery waste. This is returned to the vineyard as needed.
Inter row herbs and grasses provide plant and insect species diversity, reduce plant vigour and contribute organic matter to the soil.
To quote soil ecologist Dr Emmanuel Bourguignon when he visited some years back ..“I have always loved your wines … and now I can see why”.
In earlier days our composting was simply “dumping and waiting” but today it is more sophisticated. It’s now more appropriately compost cuisine! We collect wood chips throughout the year from Tim and Judy’s’ extensive garden and from the local arborist whenever they are in the area. We collect our grape marc (skins and seeds) and then add this to the wood chip and some of the previous year’s compost. Adding this brings the correct mix of fungi and a whole bunch of compost worms to kickstart the composting process.
We get some great tonka toys in to mix all of this and place it in a neat row, then cover with a plastic sheet and walk away. After a few weeks of hot composting and a quick turn to aerate and re-mix, the compost is left to mature, like a fine wine for about a year. After all of this, 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.
As our composting operation grows, our systems have had to evolve as well. We are developing a bigger, purpose built compost pad with the ability to collect leachate and either spread this back onto the vineyard or re-wet our compost heap if it gets too dry. As the father of organic viticulture in New Zealand says, this leachate is the white corpuscles of the vineyard and should not be wasted!
Our other composting operation comes in the four legged form! Over winter our small flock of Suffolk sheep is reinforced by a larger mob of neighbouring Romneys. Together they do a great job of keeping the pasture in check while completing their own composting. The mow and fertilise for free, returning nutrients back to the vineyard. They do all this without the need for multiple tractor passes, thus reducing compaction of the winter soils.
Dry farming means the grapes only get the water that Mother Nature sees fit to give. The vine is then left to struggle for water during dry spells. This aspect of struggle requires the vine’s roots to dig deep in search of water. The deeper a vine’s roots, the more exposure it gets to native terroir.
Christian Moueix, one of the world’s most notable winemakers who is most well-known for his work at Chateau Petrus, considers dry farming essential to flavour in his wines. (Forbes USA March 2015)
Our older vines now have roots spreading through the virgin Moutere Clay-Gravels to a depth of four plus metres. When we occasionally dig down to see what they are up to, we see clear evidence of the biological interaction, via mycorrhizal fungi, between the roots and the soil. There are distinctive colour changes in the soil at the interface, and a build-up of earthworms and organic matter where neither had previously existed.
As years go by we are seeing deeper roots, greater growth stability and drought resistance as well as smaller, more concentrated berries with thicker skins. This all creates a more enhanced, authentic expression in our wine of our little piece of ancient Moutere Clay-Gravel soils.
Viticulturist Mike Saunders arrival as viticulturist in 2015 has brought further skills to our organic focus. He oversees an intensive vineyard management programme which includes manual shoot thinning, leaf removal, bunch thinning, shoot positioning and of course hand harvesting.
With a maritime climate, it is integral to maintain an open canopy to allow the sun and air to penetrate, reducing disease pressure. Our vineyard canopy design includes single and double cane vertically shoot positioned (VSP) vines, creating a thin, upright canopy that intercepts as much sunlight as possible. To balance vigour in some of our blocks, we are trialling spur pruning, a method of retaining a permanent fruiting cordon with two-bud fruiting spurs on it.
Vineyard management is driven by the winemaker’s (Todd Stevens) desire for ripe flavours with balanced acidity and concentrated fruit. Vine density ranges from 1667 vines/ha in our 37 year old Moutere Mendoza to 4545 vines/ha on some close planted Mendoza at Rosie’s Block. Low production; 1.5kg per vine for Pinot Noir, 2kg/vine for aromatics and 2.5kg/vine for Chardonnay, helps achieve the quality of fruit to create long-lived, intense but elegant wines.
Clones and Rootstocks
The Mendoza clone with its firm acid and high extract provides the foundation for the Moutere Chardonnay. New clonal material is consistently being evaluated, clone 548 now joins clones 15 and 8021 in playing minor but important roles in Rosie’s block alongside the backbone of Mendoza.
Pinot Noir is notoriously genetically variable and a number of clones are under evaluation. Clone 5 and 777 form the basis of both our Moutere and Tom’s Block Pinot Noir. These are assisted by clones 667, 113, 114 and 115.
All new plantings are carefully thought out. Organic viticulture revolves around matching all of a vineyard sites features with the right variety, clone and rootstock combination. All vines are grafted as per the New Zealand Grafted Grapevine Standard onto a mixture of rootstocks. The all-rounder of rootstocks 3309 is extremely resilient on our clay soils and the ever popular SO4 is bringing some vigour back into some of our blocks that were affected by the conversion to organics.
Geography and Climate
Nelson’s Moutere Hills are sited in the centre of the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. Mountain ranges to the east, south and west provide a rain shadow effect while Tasman Bay to the north ensures a maritime climate, with the diurnal temperature range increasing away from the coast.
Neudorf Vineyards’ home plantings spill down a gentle north-facing slope overlooking a side branch of the Moutere Valley at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The valley floor is home to hop gardens, orchards, berry farms and new vineyards.
Nelson often has the highest sunshine hours in the country; summer growing months are warm and relatively dry, with the possibility of rain increasing towards Autumn. Night temperatures cool markedly towards vintage, but damaging frosts are rare.
Coordinates: 41°14’S, 173°E
Heat degree days: 1147
Annual sunshine hours: 2430
Annual rainfall: 962mm
Mean January temperature: 17.7°C
Harvest: mid March – late April