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Rees Miller Estate, Australia – Sylke Rees and David Miller

January 30, 2012

The Vineyard

Why do you make biodynamic wine?

We chose biodynamics because we think that some of the best wines in the world are produced under this system. There are great wines produced conventionally, but we wanted to demonstrate to ourselves that it was possible to make great wine without spreading chemicals around. This means no pollution of the soil and the adjacent waterways. We both agree that this must be the goal of agriculture and it needs a little courage by a few to show it is possible. We are now a certified farm, vineyard and winery, and export to four countries.

What disasters have you survived?

We have had a series of challenges over the 12 years we have been at Yea, Victoria, Australia.

Initially we had a plague of grasshoppers which threatened to consume everything green in their path. We have had three bushfires. The first wiped out part of the vineyard and the last started nearby and turned into a fiery tornado that wiped out a whole town some distance from us.

On Black Saturday, Saturday 7 February 2009, a series of bushfires wiped out a number of towns in Victoria. Strong winds blew up to 400 fires into a firestorm which killed 173 people, injuring another 400, and destroying over 2,000 homes. One of the largest fires started south of our property at Murrindindi, and we lived in fear of our lives for some days as winds changed varying the spread and direction of the fires. Although we escaped, the vineyard spent two weeks in thick smoke which severely tainted the fruit, so no grapes were harvested from our vineyard in 2009. Fortunately we were given some fruit from other vineyards, so we managed to have a small vintage.

Over the last few years the effects of climate change have been in evidence on out vines. In two of the last five years, we have not had a vintage because the crop has been devastated by frost. This change has been quite recent, as we have been at Yea for 12 years, and have not experienced this degree cold weather late in spring. This is due to a change in the weather pattern where winters have become dry and cold, and rainfall is falling more in summer. The colder, drier weather in winter and spring means frosts are occurring at lower temperatures later in the year when buds appear on the vines. The buds then get frozen by the frost and no fruit forms for the year.

To help remedy this situation, we have installed a wind machine to mitigate damage from frost. This is a large fan on a 10 meter mast which moves the air around to keep temperatures above freezing. In its first season it was used about six times and seems to be effective.

Are you happy with your work?

Farming is not easy in the 21st century, but there is always a place for products that are made to a high standard, and which have niche appeal. We are happy to be producing our wines biodynamically, certified by an outside Australian authority to demonstrate that we are seriously committed to organic production. We specialize in red wines that are not highly priced, and have developed a worthwhile market for them both in Australia and overseas. It is always satisfying to develop a plan, become committed to it and the development it brings through its implementation, and then to reap the welcome results when it succeeds. There has been one unusual result of our efforts that has surprised us, however. We have a large base of customers who tell us that they get reactions to mainstream wine but when they drink ours they do not experience any of these adverse effects. In an age where many people seem to have allergies of one kind or another; this is wonderful news for us all.




From → Interviews

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