Organic and biodynamic wines are now more accessible, says Louise Radman.
Long before organics were cool, Coonawarra vigneron, Dennis Vice was blazing a trail across the terra rossa.
Arriving here from California in 1985, he conducted organic field certifications for NASAA(National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia), wrote the viticulture curriculum for TAFE SA and worked with government and the University of Ballarat to train growers to an industry standard.
Today, his organic-inspired Highbank Vineyard has been run according to holistic principles for more than 22 years. “In an organic system you use strategies to complement what occurs in the natural cycle of the vine, to enrich the soil and maintain sustainability for the long term,” he explains.
Right… But how does it work? Organic growers encourage native species to inhibit pests and diseases, and they grow grasses between their vines to prevent weeds, control vigour, and give better quality wines with less intervention. It ensures there is no need for artificial chemicals and pesticides. Dennis uses “organically certified fertilizer made from King Island seaweed to provide trace elements and minerals.
This method of viticulture does have an effect on the vineyard’s production. But it’s a case of quality not quantity: yields are low because dense planting means the number of bunches on each vine is severely limited to intensify flavour and ensure full ripening.
Which of Dennis’ wines is our favourite? Try the 2002 Highbank Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc (priced at $40). With less than 2000 hand-crafted cases produced each year, it has earned an international reputation as the finest of the Coonawarra Cabernets.
This drop has exceptional purity. Think the vital, complex aromas of dense blackcurrant fruit, spice, and tobacco leaf complexity. Stylish, elegant and structural, it’s abundantly fruitful, with fine cedary oak and just a hint of mint and hazelnut.
Also look out for Dennis’ new labe The Vice, which includes organic fruit from Gumeracha in the Hills.
Louise Radman is an award-winning wine writer, lecturer.