Prior to 2005 Gladstone Vineyard grew grapes conventionally. Chemicals had long been an accepted part of grape growing and we relied on them heavily. It was not until we attended a seminar challenging the conventional approach that we realised it was no longer suitable for us as a serious wine producer. We were shown the flaws in our current practices and offered alternative methods for producing wine in a more environmentally-responsible manner.
We began to look at treating the causes of disease in our vines rather than simply chemically-treating the symptoms. The first change we implemented was to re-sow the ground beneath our vines with a diverse soil-building seed-mix of chicory, lucerne and clovers. These three deep rooting species created a sponge to carry vineyard traffic and developed homes for soil biology. This combination enhanced long-term nitrate fixing capabilities helping us to produce healthier fruit. We now manage inter-row growth by grazing sheep and mowing at key times during the year. This stimulates mineralisation – something we focus on in our wine production.
We then started applying a range of organic liquid biological cultures. These products deliver essential nutrients directly to the soil and vines ready for immediate uptake. Next we began applying soil drenches along with foliar sprays monthly during the growing season.
The first two years without our usual pest, disease and weed control products were stressful. Removing systemic fungicides from the system had the potential to result in powdery out-breaks and reducing botryticides could lead to fruit being ruined. We could only wait and hope for positive results.
Our first success was eliminating mallow from the undervine strip. For twenty years we had applied herbicides to the strip of ground running underneath the vines at our home block, but still had significant mallow problems. With a big reduction in these herbicides and the introduction of an organic soil drench the mallow disappeared and the strip began growing grasses and clovers.
At this stage the vines came quickly into balance. Today we have even growth and shoot size and have not needed to shoot thin for five years. This balance means fruit is naturally at target yields, which has helped with consistent crop across all varieties of grape regardless of season.
Our cover cropping has brought the vineyard to life both above and below ground. We currently have no need for pesticides - our diverse insect population keeps the pests in check.
We are very happy with the positive effects being seen in both the vineyard and the end product – our wines. In 2002 we became SWNZ accredited, one of the first in the region, something we regard highly. The journey is only just beginning for Gladstone Vineyard.