Tell us in a few sentences about your experience as a viticulturist, how did you arrive here?
We are a father and son team who are 2nd and 3rd generation viticulturists respectively. Mark’s parents- Sam’s grandparents started growing grapes in Southern Illinois in the 80s and that’s where Mark got the taste for it. After meeting Sandy and moving to Australia it was this connection to the wine industry that motivated Mark and Sandy to find a property in regional NSW, just outside of Bathurst to establish their own vineyard in 1997.
Sam came onboard full time in 2016 and since then the operation has expanded modestly to the point where Renzaglia Wines manages a total of 5 hectares of vineyard over 3 sites, much of which is new plantings.
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 employ a range of practices that align with organic, biodynamic, and regenerative methods such as restraining from the use of herbicides and pesticides as well as producing our own compost, making compost teas, yeomans ploughing and dedication to restoring soil carbon through cover cropping and strategic non vine vegetation management.
Although we restrain from using those terms when discussing our work. What we like to focus on primarily is our dedication to an ecological form of agriculture whereby we encourage as diverse a mix of plant, animal, and fungal species to be a part of our ecological system. We don’t simply aim to achieve this through ploughing the mid row and planting the ’diverse species mix’ that we desire- instead we try to manage the conditions of the ecosystem that might encourage the things we want to thrive.
This can look like little boosts to things that we want to get a leg up- whether simply through spreading the seed of a plant that we don’t already have in the vineyard, managing the competition of remnant improved pastures or simply doing nothing at all and letting certain weeds ameliorate soil physical conditions on our behalf (Chenopodium album breaking down nitrogen or Sinapis alba bio fumigation for example) or keeping grazing stock out of our forest revegetation zone whilst spreading a range of locally foraged acacia seeds and planting callistemon the stocks amongst our remnant eucalypts. Through this value set it is undoubtedly clear that the EcoGrowers program is a happy fit for us.
Has there been a defining moment or catalyst for you to move towards more ecologically driven viticultural practices?
Being a millennial, it hasn’t taken much encouragement to be driven in the direction of ecological viticulture. I am a passionate hiker, ski tourer, canyoner and camper and I love being on the land and the beauty in its balance. It’s probably been this way for many people, but the big light bulb moment must have been after reading Dark Emu and Call of The Read Warbler in quick succession. At the same time, I was brought into the Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture at its conception by close family friend and mentor Johannes Bauer who is an esteemed ecological academic whose career has spanned across numerous institutions around the world. It was the synthesis of all these factors that galvanised these values in me.
Some might consider it a pipe dream, but I do believe there is a way we can manage this system in a way that requires less crisis management whilst at the same time upholding a healthy farm ecosystem by whole farm ecological management. In managing the whole farm and encouraging as diverse a species mix as possible, we should be able to have a buffering capacity and resilience in the system that should outperform a system that’s managed by reductionist principles where the vines are the only focus.
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?
We have already commenced planting native vegetation in and around our vineyard. We have bursaria, correa and dodenia at our vine row ends, leptospermum, acacia, busaria, correa and many other species in zones between vineyard blocks and a range of dedicated reforestation zones designated on the property that we have planted a lot of trees in. We hope to expand the size and diversity of all these plots.
We hope to move this focus on diverse species into the mid row and examine methods to expand the diversity of species growing in the vineyard without detrimentally impacting the existing sward. Ideally this would take the form of introducing new species that aren’t currently established over time and managing the physical and chemical conditions of the soil such that they can self-seed and self-propagate over time and do the job of cover cropping for us. If there are species that we want growing in the vineyard that are growing in isolated pockets part of our ecological action plan should involve designing a plan to encourage their spread and proliferation.
We hope to establish a winery wastewater recycling system that using a built wetland to treat the water to an extent that we can re-use it to water the vineyard. This is a project with numerous benefits; it introduces a new ecosystem to our farm- a wetland which brings its own species mix and associated benefits, it allows us to reuse water that goes through the winery- a crucial consideration on our property with an unreliable bore and it also allows us the opportunity to create a carbon sink on our property reducing net farm carbon emissions.
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?
We are always learning about our farm’s natural system that we are a small part of. We’d like to think we are already moving in the right direction when it comes to enhancing biodiversity. As mentioned earlier; we have had native shrubs planted at our vine row ends for around 3 or 4 years now as well as an insectary zone between our 2 blocks, we also have a designated reforestation zone on the property where we have planted a wide range of trees, shrubs, and forbs as well as a designated koala migration corridor around the property perimeter that was established with the help of Landcare.
In the vineyard, we have been throwing all kinds of seeds around for some years to see what can grow with a particular focus on seeds Sandy (the matriarch of our operation) has pulled out of the garden- we have a dream of one day making a vineyard salad as well as Murnongs. Sandy has gathered thousands of seeds from, after 2 generations of propagation from the initial 3 tubes stocks we acquired locally.
Tell us about your hidden superpowers, something that others don’t know about you or a practice you would like to champion?
We grow grapes and make wine in a region that many people are unaware of the existence of a viticultural industry. As such, we very often walk into a room where people expect nothing of us. The power of surprise is always nice to wield when you subvert people’s expectations and change their understanding of what is possible and what it takes to make good wine!
Where do you see grape growing in the future, do you feel there is an urgency to change current practices? If so, why?
Dry grown, lots of varietals, blends that are an expression of place in the sense of finding what grows best in the Australian climate alongside Australian non vine vegetation, acacia in the vineyard fixing nitrogen (this one is a pipe dream). I envisage complex and powerful blends made from a unique mix of grapes that produces wine that could only be made from the vineyard the fruit comes from. I’m sick of us mimicking Europe- we need to be bold and take risks to try to unearth the true potential of Australian wine.
What else would you like to share with the broader EcoVineyards community, what gets you excited about the future?
It’s exciting to see this revolution taking place in Australian wine. As a passionate outdoorsman, I detest the sterility of many of our agricultural systems. It’s exciting to see nature moving into our vineyard systems in a way that isn’t a threat to our livelihoods- there’s a lot of potential to unlock. I do think people can sometimes oversimplify the ability of nature to do our work for us- there’s plenty of work to do still, but I do believe a future exists where we manage our vineyard systems with an integral mix of indigenous species that provide functional benefits to our wine production, vineyard beauty and general quality of life.