In order to produce wines of intense flavour, our vineyards are unirrigated. The usual Heathcote season has a relatively wet spring to encourage new growth, followed by a dry summer with hot days and cool nights to assist the grapes to ripen. Restricted water supply during the hotter ripening period promotes concentrated berry flavour, which enables wines to be made without chemical additives.
The most important aspect of unirrigated viticulture is care for the soil. Our practices encourage populations of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi that provide nutrients for the plant roots, improve water bearing capacity and assist the plants in resisting disease. A mixture of naturally establishing native and introduced grasses are mown back into the soil, the residues of wine making are composted, and vine prunings are mulched as they are mown. Weeds and grasses growing under the vines in winter are treated with a single dose of herbicide mixed with seaweed fertiliser and thereby are broken down and returned back into the soil. The returning of these elements, rich in carbon, calcium and other minerals provides important food for micro-organisms that process compounds bound in the soil to create soluble nutrients that can be taken up by the vine roots. Common practices of ploughing and chemical fertilisation are avoided as they disturb the water bearing capacity of the soil and destroy microbial diversity.
Use of light weight vineyard equipment on grassy midrows reduces soil compaction, and therefore the need to disturb the soil structure with ploughing. A healthy clay based soil will develop microscopic pockets of air between the particles, enabling water droplets to be held electrostatically in storage for the long dry summer, which in turn encourage the development of bacteria and fungi. Physical disturbance destroys this delicate structure, resulting in loss of water storage ability and depletion of micro-organism colonies.
We encourage a living vineyard with ants, worms, ladybirds and spiders that all play a part in keeping the vineyard fauna in balance and preventing hostile pests and diseases from taking control. Birds are welcome 45 weeks of the year, but we use scaring devices to protect the grapes from attack in the final stages of ripening.
During harvest the grape bunches are painstakingly picked by hand to ensure that only the best quality bunches make their way into the vats.