Field of dreams
August 17, 2022
We’ve been quiet for so long now that when we bump into people we know beyond our immediate circle they politely ask “how are things going on The Wine Farm?” in a way that suggests they assume we’re another in the long line of small family businesses to fall prey to the pandemic and shut up shop.
Far from it, we’re happy to report. It’s just that we’ve been so busy behind the scenes – beyond our usual full-to-the-brim growing season and harvest period – we haven’t had time to sit down and write. But here we are, and there’s so much to fill you in on. It may take a few goes to catch you up on all the happenings of the last two years, but today we want to let you in on the biggest thing in our lives right now. A long-term dream that is slowly becoming a reality. Post by post.
When we first bought our little farm eight years ago it seemed like an enormous mountain to climb. Eight acres of vineyard to be managed without using the chemicals it had relied on to overcome weeds, pests and disease for the 25 years since it was first planted. As we ran our little B&B to scrape together enough cash to buy our first bottles and corks, we already knew, despite feeling overwhelmed by the task in front of us, that this farm wouldn’t be enough to sustain our growing family for long.
We also knew we’d never buy in grapes farmed by others to grow our business.
So, while we leant in to the task at hand (often with a child strapped to our backs), learning which of the eight varieties we’d inherited really belonged in South Gippsland soils and figuring out how to farm them to make the best wines we possibly could, we started eyeing off the neighbours’ land and dreaming about the future.
Our confidence in organic farming grew with every season, then we discovered the Biodynamic path and our knowledge increased exponentially. We started to think that perhaps we had the skills now to regenerate a larger parcel of conventionally farmed land into the healthy, biodiverse, microbial-rich carbon sink we were achieving on our home turf. And of course make some more good wine in the process.
In October 2019, five years into our tenure on The Wine Farm, we got a call from our mate Nathan. Nathan’s parent’s Edwin and Marlene owned a good slice of the beautiful red volcanic soils we’d been coveting just a couple of klicks down the road. Neil had met Nathan over knock-off drinks a couple of year’s prior and quickly learned that, “Nah, my old man’ll never sell to you vineyard blokes!” But several six packs and many a yarn later and the message had changed.
“Hey Neil, Dad might want to split up the farm and sell off a chunk. You guys interested?”
This land – its red fertile soils in a high rainfall region making it some of the best agricultural land in the country, and just a tractor ride from our front gate – hadn’t been sold in over a century. Were we interested? You bet. Did we have the money to buy it? Nup.
“Give us a few weeks, Nath. And don’t tell anyone!”
Not wanting to gamble our house on a brand new venture, we made a couple of important phone calls to people who have been in our lives for a long time and weren’t surprised to hear from us. The first call was to Anna’s Dad, a businessman at heart who knows a good thing when he sees it and even better if it’s family. After a few scribbles on the back of an envelope he confirmed he was able to loan us the money to secure our half of the 77 acres up for grabs.
For a long time we’ve been looking for the right project to collaborate on with our friends and fellow wine tragics, the Rushton family. A few different ideas had bubbled up between us over the years but when we relayed Nathan’s message, we all knew it was time to team up.
We went round to Edwin and Marlene’s for tea.
It was nearly three years ago that Neil and I, Chris and Peter Rushton, signed our names on the title deeds of these well-trodden cattle pastures. Soon after, when the time was right, we opened up the soil for the first time in probably 100 years to start the critical first stages of rejuvenation.
Since then we’ve been busy cultivating the soil to relieve some of the compaction, planting successions of green manure, mulching it in and applying Biodynamic microbial sprays to convert the organic matter into humus, bringing much needed nutrients and minerals into the earth.
A year ago we surveyed the property with a drone, mapping out the vineyard site so that every single post has its own GPS location. Neil has always worked with vines that someone else has planted so this time there’s no-one to blame but himself if there’s a vine encroaching on the tractor’s path as he passes down each row.
This winter we’ve been knocking posts in the ground and are nearing the end of the exacting and back-breaking task of installing perfectly straight rows of end assemblies, posts and wires across our first 14-acre block.
Come spring we will finally start putting sticks in the ground, and then nurture them as they begin sinking their delicate roots into the newly rejuvenated soils designed to give them the very best start in life.
We feel incredibly lucky to have access to this beautiful land and we have the motivation (and hopefully the skills) to do the very best we can with it. We’ll keep you posted as we go, planting trees in the less viable areas and regenerating more of the soil to sequester as much carbon as we can, returning this grazing land to the biodiverse, healthy environment it once was.
And of course, making the most beautiful wines we can as we go – another expression of South Gippsland’s soils. Because we believe these two things go hand in hand. You can’t make great wine from conventional farming methods. It takes conscious, gentle farming to create beautiful wine. The kind of wine that cultivates valuable friendships and meaningful collaborations. The kind that fuels dreams.
Neil and Anna
Photo credit: Cam, our ace fencing guy, who appreciates a straight line as much as we do