Stefano Lubiana Wines, Tasmania – Steve and Monique Lubiana
I guess making wine must be in my blood.
I grew up in a family with a strong Italian heritage, where there was always wine on the table at mealtime. My earliest memories are of my grandfather’s winery in South Australia’s Riverland. His barrel store was a great place for playing hide-and-seek.
As I got older, I came to appreciate the natural synergy that exists between wine and food. My parents, Mario and Delores, taught me that wine was never something you put up on a pedestal or made a great fuss about. It was just something you shared with your family and friends.
Our conversations at mealtime were often about the aromas, flavors and textures of the wine and the food that were put together at the table. We grew up with a genuine respect for quality food and wine, and for all of the passion and energy that went into growing and making them.
I love Granton Vineyard, with its four distinct seasons and its beautiful riverbank location. It provides us with some great natural advantages: north-facing slopes and low vigor soils in a winegrowing region that is genuinely cool because of its latitude (43°South) and close proximity to the moderating climatic influences of the Southern Ocean. We have strong prevailing winds and a late afternoon sea breeze that work to ventilate our vines and keep frost and disease at bay. Our vineyard has crisp winter chills and reliably wet springs; warm, dry summers, and early autumn harvests that are generally uninterrupted by rain.
Few people realize that even though Hobart is practically on the way to Antarctica, it is Australia’s second driest capital city. Having a vineyard site with naturally low rainfall and readily available water for irrigating when and where we need it is ideal for producing top quality, European-inspired wines. It helps a great deal in the management of our vines, and it’s one of the key reasons we set up our business in Tasmania.
We actually use precious little supplementary irrigation during the year, but every small-scale, quality-driven wine producer will tell you how important it is to have water on tap when you need it. After all, the real winemaking is done out there in the vineyard, just like it is on all of the world’s great sites.
When you are blessed with living in one of the best places on Earth, it’s only natural that you would want to respect its integrity by ensuring that you work your vineyard in a sustainable manner. That explains how and why we came to adopt biodynamic management practices on our site back in 2008. We’ve really just learned to work in partnership with nature rather than in opposition to it.
As it has turned out, our vines have never looked healthier, and the quality of the wine grapes we produce is getting better and better very year. That’s reason enough to make us want to continue to do what we are doing.
How do you do it? At this stage, we are still finding our way in terms of our biodynamic vineyard management. We haven’t reached the point where we’re making our own preps – we currently buy in what we need from accredited sources – but our long-term goals include being able to look after that for ourselves. We already have a significant biodynamic composting program, and we’re also doing some cover-cropping on the site in order to improve our soil structure and nutrition. We believe that biodynamic composting and the application of selected biodynamic preparations both make significant contributions to vineyard biodiversity and to the natural defense mechanisms of each vine. These work in harmony to enable each vine to maintain its proper health status as well enhancing its capacity to fight off the adverse effects of pests and diseases.
What obstacles have you overcome? There is no halfway house when you take on biodynamic management. You’re either biodynamic or you’re not. Initially, we had some concerns that we might not be successful in developing and sustaining a range of new management practices. There were moments early on when we were very much aware of the risks we were taking in turning our backs on conventional viticulture, that we might suffer significant crops losses or losses in fruit quality. To date, that hasn’t happened. In fact, the converse has been true. There have been some measurable improvements in our fruit quality, and they have had noticeable flow-on effects in elevating the quality of the wines we have been making in recent vintages. Our regular customers and well-respected critics like James Halliday have really picked up on that in recent years.
What disasters have you survived? Vintage 2011 across much of south-eastern Australia was compromised by the presence of diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis due to the wet spring and summer, and the generally high humidity that was present across the growing season. However, we produced some of the best fruit we’ve ever harvested that year. We know of many other biodynamic producers that achieved similar results in our part of the world. We were pretty nervous about our prospects, but in the end, we couldn’t have been happier with the outcomes. They’ve given us some real confidence to continue what we’re doing.
Are you happy with your work? This is the best job in the world.
Is it worth the effort? Absolutely, and the feedback we regularly receive from the wine trade and our cellar door customers confirms that. People are genuinely happy with the quality and distinctiveness our wines. As a result, our brand awareness is now significantly larger in Australia than our scale of production (12,000 cases per year) would warrant. That’s something we never really considered when we first thought about being genuinely Earth-friendly.