Tell us in a few sentences about your experience as a viticulturist, how did you arrive here?

We’re a small family farm of 37 hectares of vines, 239 hectares of grazing and 143 hectares of cropping land in Watervale in the Clare Valley. I’ve been involved in grape growing since my folks planted our first vines in 1997.

My wife Jess and I came back to the farm at the end of 2019 and now run the vineyard, looking at ways that we can increase the natural resilience of the vines and vineyard ecosystem, particularly in light of the changing climate and threats from pests and disease.

Why did you decide to apply to be an EcoGrower, was there something specific that influenced your decision and/or had you attended a previous EcoVineyards session?

We were part of the first intake of EcoGrowers of the South Australian program from 2019 to 2021. Participation in this program has paved the way for our long-term biodiversity plans, and participation in the national program will help to fine tune and improve these plans.

Has there been a defining moment or catalyst for you to move towards more ecologically driven viticultural practices?

Realising that baring out mid row and under vine areas creates the perfect environment for weeds to grow (such as wireweed), which then requires more spraying, creating the ideal environment once again, and more weeds to grow and the cycle continuing.

Can you provide a brief overview of your project ideas, and what you wish to achieve over the 3 years and why is this important to you?

Project Area 1

This project area will trial a method of converting under vine areas to permanent native plantings in a way that is both time and cost-effective.

We have previously trialled under vine native plantings in bare under vine areas, and the weed pressure is significant and laborious to manage. This requires hand weeding, which is impractical.

Under vine straw mulching provides good weed suppression and may be a good complement to under vine native plantings.

In Year 1 of this project, we will trial a dense planting of tube stock plants in a straw mulched under vine area, giving the plants time to successfully establish without weed pressure.

In Year 3, when existing straw mulch has mostly decomposed, we will trial spreading additional straw mulch over the top of the established plantings. We will use straw mulch that is baled straight out of the back of the header. This straw mulch is much more of a finer chaff than other mulches, with the aim being that it will settle between the mature under vine native plantings (or the plants will survive and grow through the straw) and continue to suppress weeds.

Our aim for this part of the project is to provide a model for both small and commercial-scale vineyards to convert their under-vine areas to native permanent sward without significant ongoing labour and cost commitments.

Project Area 2

One of the biggest barriers to establishing permanent native mid row swards is competition. However, competition has mostly been framed in respect to direct competition from weeds in the mid row, rather than competition from the vines themselves. Established vines may heavily compete for nutrients and moisture, reducing the ability of native plants to establish successfully.

In Year 1 of this project, we will plant a native mid row sward (seeding in July/August 2023) in a newly planted (October 2022) Grenache vineyard. New grapevines have significantly smaller root systems than established vines, and as a result, will provide less competition with establishing wallaby grasses. New vineyards also have less annual tractor/vehicle passes (i.e., no barrel pruning, no harvesting, no trimming, reduced fungicide, and herbicide passes) which will reduce tyre damage to establishing mid row swards.

To examine potential changes in soil health, we will also examine soil microbiology:

  • prior to planting native swards (Year 1, baseline)
  • following establishment (Year 3)

The aim of this project is to determine whether it is practical and more successful to establish native mid row swards at the same time as planting new vineyards, and to examine the effect on soil health.

Are you just starting to learn, or have you been enhancing biodiversity on your property and is this an extension of what you are currently doing? If so, please tell us more.

We are always learning and have been enhancing our biodiversity through participation in the first EcoVineyards program which ran from 2019-2021. These project ideas are an extension of the work that we have previously done in the vineyard.

Tell us about your hidden superpowers, something that others don’t know about you or a practice you would like to champion?

We would like to champion the idea that both smaller and commercial-scale vineyards can convert to more sustainable practices in a time and cost-effective way. Commercial scale vineyards make up a large proportion of the area of vineyards planted in Australia. If we can present a strong business case for increasing biodiversity in the vineyard, then we can appeal to these businesses and improve biodiversity at scale.

Where do you see grape growing in the future, do you feel there is an urgency to change current practices? If so, why?

Climate change is one of the largest threats to grape growing. Current practices need to improve to combat this change. As well as reducing emissions, we need to improve the resilience of vineyards to extreme weather events, which are predicted to become more frequent and severe. Improving vineyard resilience will ensure more effective use of increasingly limited resources such as water (e.g., improved water use efficiency through increases in soil carbon) and reduce our reliance on one mode of disease control, such as over reliance on chemical pesticides.

What else would you like to share with the broader EcoVineyards community, what gets you excited about the future?

We are excited to trial these projects as part of the national EcoVineyards program. If they are successful, we hope that they will help other vineyards to convert to more sustainable practices going forward.