Organic and Biodynamic Vineyards

June 2009

Tools for viticulturists and winemakers incorporating organic systems

Central Organic Winegrowers (COW) is a 10-month-old programme to provide knowledge and skills to vineyards in the region which want to convert to organic and/or biodynamic. Programme director is John Callaghan, from Burn Cottage Vineyard, in the Cromwell region, which was established in 2002 by its US owners under biodynamic principles. John is organizing seminars and workshops and demonstrating organic vineyard practices such as composting. He works 15 to 20 hours a week on COW business.

The Central Organic Winegrowers (COW) programme began in June 2008 and has 25 vineyards signed up, and seven more are going through the organic mentoring scheme. The COW programme has been funded by Organics Aotearoa and Central Otago Winegrowers Association (COWA). This is a first for New Zealand, initiated by growers in the Central Otago region. It takes place against a drive for sustainable development initiated by New Zealand Winegrowers. Its Sustainable Winegrowing programme already has over 1000 vineyards signed up and NZ Winegrowers wants all NZ vineyards committed to an independently audited programme by vintage 2012.

COW is voluntary and attendees pay for the workshops and seminars.

An average of 35 people are attending Central Organic Winegrowers events, including two soil workshops, a pest and disease seminar and a weed management day, to which 60 attended. Central Otago specialists have been supplemented with organics knowledge from outside the region. Further field days are planned, with information on cover crops and composting of winery waste. John Callaghan plans to demonstrate composting techniques for the Rural Delivery shoot on Burn Cottage Vineyard, prepared from straw, cow manure, seaweed, molasses, wood shavings and other organic wastes. This is spread around the base of the vine and incorporated in the soil with green manures.

John said the COW programme is not just preaching organics, but giving vineyards knowledge that can be integrated into conventional grape growing even if they do not go through the conversion.

Burn Cottage Vineyard was founded in 2002 by the Sauvage family of Nevada, who are distributors of NZ wine in the US. They had already identified the strong demand for wine grown biodynamically. The property is 20ha and the pinot noir and Riesling vines cover 8ha. German philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner found the biodynamic movement in the 1920s, which is often called organics plus for the holistic farming techniques such as herbal soil preparations and composting, plus alignment with the planetary calendar. Grapes are grown without herbicides, insecticides, systemic fungicides or soluble fertilizers. The vineyard uses organic sprays and has companion plantings as habitat for beneficial insects.

Mount Edward Wines is in the Kawarau Gorge at Gibbston, about halfway between Cromwell and Queenstown. It is 27km from Cromwell.

The principals are absentee owner John Buchanan, founder Alan Brady and general manager and winemaker Duncan Forsyth, along with viticulturist Tim Austin Moorhouse, who was awarded Central Otago young viticulturist of the year in 2008. Alan Brady founded Mount Edward in 1997, as a personal project by one of the regions wine pioneers, to grow pinot noir and Riesling, wines that reflect the soils and climate of Central Otago. Initially Alan did all the work himself, and then in 2004 Mount Edward expanded, taking in partners John and Duncan. It now has estate vineyards in the sub-regions of Lowburn (Morrison Vineyard) and Bannockburn (Muirkirk Vineyard), and expansion at Mount Edward itself. Grapes from three growers vineyards are all taken Pisa Terrace Vineyard on Mount Pisa Station, Lowburn, LAttitude Vineyard at Lowburn and Susans Vineyard at Gibbston.

The home vineyard and the Morrison Vineyard have achieved certified organic conversion status under Bio-Gro New Zealand. They are heading for full organic status this year, with the Muirkirk Vineyard on Felton Rd, Bannockburn, to follow.