An Accidental Journey
For years we have been saying we are accidentally organic... OK, but given the enormous amount of work and dedication, it is not strictly true. Our journey was all about quality and the destination was in fact a little bit accidental. Founder of Mount Avoca, John Barry (1933-2023) started the clean and green journey back in the 1980s. Before that, he even made his own trickle irrigation as this cutting-edge Israeli technology wasn’t available commercially back in the early ’70s – but I digress. 🤦
The Love Bugs
Joint venturing with the Victorian department of Ag in the 1980s and 90s, as part of the AUSVIT program (Dept of Ag minimal spray program) it became obvious that the Pyrenees was blessed with natural advantages – low humidity, so a minimal spray program was possible to implement and great conditions for “beneficials”. Research in the 1980’s showed that native Australian insects could control pests – Vicky and Doreen (Euseius victoriensis, Typhlodromus doreenae) love eating vine mites and Trichogramma carverae enjoys caterpillar larvae for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Ladybirds, lacewings, shield bugs and spiders can do great work. Pesticides kill these beneficial insects, creating a death spiral as more chemicals are required as the pests get out of control. Reducing chemicals in the vineyards and not using any chemical insecticides at all was a brave decision by John Barry at a time when farmers used chemicals as standard practice. It made going organic pretty easy as a decade later we had a long history of IPM (integrated pest management) and minimal chemical use, so our chemical residues were super low even before we committed to organic.
As we looked to increase the quality of our fruit to capture that magic intensity of flavour in the mid 2000s, we decided to employ a zero fungicide and insecticide regime, increase compost and generally run the 24 Ha (60 acre) vineyard like we would in our own back garden. Twenty years later we have seen the benefits with our best and most consistent wines ever in our 54 year history.
At this stage, we weren’t certified organic as our goal was quality – and to be brutally honest there were some pretty ordinary “organic” wines produced in the early 2000s, so having an organic sticker on our bottle wasn’t as much of a priority.
As the organic world evolved – procedures become stricter, and we also wanted the rigour and discipline of maintaining our processes and random audits and certification meant we had to lift our game even further.
The Next Step
Vegan was the obvious next step as we had a really strict audit of all our processes. Traditional winemaking has used egg whites since at least the 18th century, gelatin, casein (milk protein) and isinglass (refined sturgeon bladder) more recently. When used, there should be none remaining in the wine – even so, these wines are not vegan as animal products are used in production.
We stopped using all these animal products when we became organic for a number of reasons; administrative, scientific and ethical. Fortunately as we work more in the vineyard to create a garden of healthy vines, the grape quality rewards us with traditional Mount Avoca style wines that are full - flavoured with smooth velvety tannins, no bitterness or sharp corners.
Enjoy the journey with us!
It is a journey that continues every vintage as we cope with the vagaries of nature and every day as we overcome the challenges that occur. Learning from last year, applying those lessons and adapting to the differences in each season gives us enormous confidence. As our winemaker David says, “we never have any problems, just challenges that we enjoy learning from!”
Cheers to a fantastic 2024!