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The Organic Vigneron

It is this unique location and isolation of Canonbah Bridge vineyard, together with keeping yields at below a third of the industry average that allows for an organic approach to growing the best wine possible.
The vines are not sprayed with chemicals or insecticides, while fertiliser and mulch is produced naturally from the farm. The ultra low yield enables the optimisation of acid and Baume levels which results in a balanced ph level in the wines. The vineyard is drip irrigated and fully computerised to enable careful monitoring of water, fertigation and quality control of the crop.

Vigneron Shane McLaughlin studied Viticulture at Sydney University and did extensive research in Spain, Portugal, California, South Africa and Europe. His varietal selection was one of the most important aspects of the vineyard’s development.

Vigneron Shane Mclaughlin’s Organic approach..

We believe that we are practising an unique form of organics.  A more accurate description would be that we are making “natural wines”.  Although we do espouse the principles of organic and biodynamics, we feel that our unique location and vineyard set up allows us to go one step further and adhere to nature completely.

Our location is unique – in that we have planted the first and only commercial vineyard in the region.  Our 80 acres of vines are naturally protected by being surrounded by our 30,000 acre sheep station. And of course we do not need to worry about what neighbouring vineyards might be spraying or what chemicals they use because we don’t have any near us.

We also have a dry climate that naturally inhibits fungal and mould issues.

The vineyard is planted on what was the bend of a river 2000 years ago.  The coarse sandy soils are well suited for drainage and contain mineral and alluvial deposits.

The major difference between organics and the natural way that we grow our grapes – is the complete lack of intervention with the vines and the soil.  We have simply not interfered with the microclimate of the vineyard.  The insect colonies regulate themselves.  We believe that if you keep the vineyard healthy, the good and so called “bad” insects will maintain a balance between each other.

Likewise we have not interfered with the soils and we protect the precious worm populations, by not tilling the soil. At various times of the year we put sheep in the vineyard to keep the weeds down.  The sheep also provide fertiliser for the vineyard.

We have an 8 foot fence around the vineyard to keep out the kangaroos – but inside the vineyard you can often spot brown snakes, goannas (monitor lizards) no doubt in search of the wild hares you spot moving at pace.

We have been lucky not to suffer from bird problems.  In densely planted wine regions starlings can wipe out a vineyard crop in a day!  Possibly because we are isolated we are off the beaten path for this kind of mass bird attack.  Our philosophy is simply to allow for the fact that the birds we do have will get allocated approximately 1-2  tonnes a year of grapes.  We do have a couple of wedge tailed eagles with 6 foot wing spans that seem to hang around the vineyard too –  a good scare tactic for smaller birds.

Why Natural Wines

The lack of intervention means that we are delivering wines with a distinct flavour and character that truly represent the innate essential qualities of our vineyard.

We have a lot of gum trees surrounding the vineyard which provides a distinctive eucalyptus hint to the reds.  A good chance it is due to wind depositing some of the gum oils onto the berries around harvest time.

In the wine making we try to be non-interventionist.  We use minimal levels of sulphur and filtration.  It is all about trying to preserve the characteristics of the vineyard in the wine.

The benefit for the consumer is a healthier uninhibited wine that displays true varietal definition and an unique expression of our terroir.  Lower sulphur levels are of benefit to those with allergies.  Natural wines taste better and display more aromatics than mass produced wines that have been heavily interfered with and made to a strict formula.

We believe organic farming and natural winemaking are the way to get the best out of a vineyard, whatever it’s potential.

Environmental Impact

Producing wine naturally is better for the environment.

All natural wine is the product of sustainable agriculture. A great natural wine can only be made on land that has been farmed with organic principals. After decades of farming naturally the vineyard will be in better condition than conventional farming.  The soil will experience increased amounts of organic matter and be well-balanced with essential minerals and elements.  There is a significant increase in insects – good and bad which balance the mesoclimate of the vineyard.  The absence of spraying chemicals on the vines is critical to maintaining a healthy balance of insects and natural immunity to diseases such as downy mildew.

Canonbah Bridge natural wines are made:

  • From low yielding vines 1-2 tonnes/acre
  • Small batches and low quantities
  • Handpicked where beneficial
  • Organically grown grapes
  • No chemicals sprayed on the vines
  • No cultivation in the vineyard
  • Without micro-oxygenation
  • Without reverse-osmosis
  • With limited amount of fining
  • With limited amount of filtering
  • With minimal amount of sulphur used in the vinification process.

For the consumer, the advantages of natural wine are obvious.  It tastes better, costs less, is better for your health, and better for the environment.

Where your money goes

Low Yields

Our vineyard boasts very low yields 1-2 tonnes/acre (7-14 hectolitre/acre), essential to attain high quality juice.  Farming at such low yields elevates the cost of production, but gives the vigneron more control in the vineyard, especially in reaching the ultimate acid, sugar and pH levels naturally to produce the perfect wine.

This cost is offset by the savings of not spraying chemicals on the vines.  The cost of chemicals and the cost of the application of chemicals are approximately 60% of the operational costs of the vineyard, a major cost we do not have to endure.

Mulching program

We invest heavily in a mulching program.  All mulch is grown on our farm.

The huge amount of mulch consigned to each vine (25kg/vine of hay mulch) is placed by hand around the vine by the biscuit.  This is 3 times as thick as a normal mulching program.  Most vineyards don’t have a mulching program because of the large investment.

The benefits of a heavy mulching program, is to firstly prevent weeds competing with the vines, due to the heavy ground cover created by the hay.  Secondly, to add essential organic matter that enhances the soil quality and heightens the organic activity in the soil.  The evidence of increased worm population is the truest indicators of a healthy soil.

Thirdly, a heavy mulch program will reduce the vines water requirement by at least 20%, crucial for our vineyard battling the dry Australian outback summer conditions.

Timely release of wines

We release our wines at the perfect time for the wine.  This is usually between 6 months to 2 years later than our conventional competitors.  The reason for this delayed release is firstly, the wine must be given time to naturally completely finish malolactic fermentation.  Secondly, because natural wine is a living thing it needs time to recover from bottling (bottle shock), 6-12 months bottle age for our reds is essential for the wines balance.

Oak barrels

We use a combination of new and 2-3 year old French and American oak with our red wines.  Our substantial investment in oak is offset by our savings on the absence of chemicals and chemical application (labour and machinery).

Sheep in the Vineyard

Sheep play an essential role in the vineyard.  They control the weeds around the vines and create a great source of natural fertiliser in the form of sheep manure.  The virgin soils of the vineyard have had sheep grazing in the area for the past 150 years.

Mid-row cropping

In the autumn we plant a cereal crop and field peas in between the vineyard rows.  Firstly, this practice helps eliminate the weed problem in the mid-row.  Secondly, it encourages a healthy sward for insects good and bad to breed. Thirdly, the cereal crop is cut and mulched onto the vines in the spring.

Developments in viticulture

Viticulture is the cultivation of grapes.  It’s been practised for around seven thousand years, and radically changed in the last fifty.

The recent changes in viticulture and increased yields have come at a cost.  Chemically controlled agriculture damages the fertility of the soil, releases large amounts of toxic chemicals into the ecosystem, and encourages resistance in the pests it seeks to control.

We are trying to remain true to my great grandfather’s natural affinity with the land.   He originally chose the same parcel of land for a wheat crop nearly 150 years ago.  When we used experts and technology 4 generations later to find a suitable site for the vineyard on our our 30,000 acre farm the conclusion again was that this very same site was the best.

We passionately believe in minimal intervention and not being too greedy with what we are trying to get out of the vineyard.  We naturally yield low as a result of our approach.  We are satisfied with this rather than trying to use artificial means to pump more volume at the expense of integrity.

© 2009 Canonbah Bridge Wines