Agriculture, Connectivity & Joy: Why We Do What We Do

The 2014 vintage has come and gone: quite frankly it was quite a terrible season. A frost in October (our first one ever) destroyed perhaps 50% of our crop. We had four days of smoke – which thankfully didn’t taint the grapes but oh! the waiting. In late February we had 3 minutes of vicious hail which tore the skins off the Western side of the canopy – destroying another 15%. Botrytis turned five tonnes of incredible Pinot Gris into a slip-skin mess in one weekend. It’s normally not like this…or is it?

‘Normally’ is the questionable word here. Crazy weather is the new normal weather. I doubt in my lifetime I’ll ever see another season where there are no freak storms, hail, frost or other perilous weather events rolling over our vineyard. There is no doubt in my mind we are indeed destroying our planet. This insane weather feels a lot like the earth’s rage.

On a brighter note, the remaining grapes though are handsome! And great flavour too. The parcel of Pinot Noir we picked looks great.

I was taught as a marketing student to shun negativity and never admit publicly that things are difficult – it’s very bad for brand building. Most people I know in the industry pull this off elegantly, even though I see over their fences the same problems we have here. I’m a bad liar though – telling my customers it’s been a great vintage when it hasn’t seems absurd. Personally I stand by this transparency because you know if I ever tell you that something is great, it will be great.

So you know I’m not exaggerating when I say that our vineyard has been in the ground since 1998, and I have been involved since 2008 (when I was 24). In 2007 we lost our crop to smoke taint from the Mt. Buffalo fires; in 2008 we did well; in 2009 we lost about 60% to smoke taint again from the Black Saturday fires; in 2010 we lost about 50% to botrytis; 2011 we lost 100% to 33 inches of rain pre harvest (more botrytis mostly); 2012 we lost about 40% to botrytis and in 2013 we lost about 30% to a cancelled fruit contract and now we are here counting the damage done in 2014. Of course this focuses on the losses but we have made some impressive wines over this time with the available fruit. It’s not all bad, but I believe we have been unlucky.

However you would be quite clever to ask yourself, ‘oh – why would you stay there? Why not just buy fruit? Pull the vines out!’

I have come very close to pulling the pin. Very close. I always come back though and lately I’ve been wondering why.

My first answer is dry, un-romantic. It’s about momentum, business stability. Wine is a long game, it’s needs a long term perspective.

My second answer is that this is our family property and I have an astonishing,  involuntary connection to it. I grew up here, my dad grew up here, my grandfather settled the area. The dirt, the landscape, the weeds, the weather, the smells, noises, the cycles – they are all unique. This is my home.  And understanding that grapes show their origin is a fundamental motivation for fermenting them into wine.

What better way to feel connected to a place than to grow something from it?

This brings to the idea that agriculture / working on the land brings to our lives a unequivocal sense of meaning. It is easy to make comparisons to urban life and it’s supposed lack of meaning but this seems lazy – I know plenty of people in the city who live meaningful lives. I too, spend half my life in Melbourne. But when those people visit us, when we walk our into the vineyard, scratch around in the dirt, get covered in yeast fuzz and grape juice I see a lot of joy. There is joy because we feel connected to something natural, a place totally authentic, simple, real, transcendent, alive and vast. And by growing something in an old paddock, a garden, a swamp bed – those qualities extend to ourselves and our lives. It’s universal.

I know nature will probably slap us over the ears, I know the industry will change quicker than I can adapt to it, I know that sometimes we will make bad decisions, crappy wine. But I’m in pursuit of joy, seriously. And so far the joy I get from the good things about growing grapes by far outshines the bad things.

I’m in it for life, baby!

Until next time,