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Felton Road Wines, New Zealand – Blair Walter

February 6, 2012

We came to biodynamics from a couple of different pathways. Firstly, we were working as hard as we thought we could in our vineyards to produce the best quality grapes for making balanced, high quality wines that speak of the place where they are grown. Wine is perhaps unique in that the origin of the wine is talked about at considerable length by journalists, people in the trade and ultimately consumers. To better express a particular site, and therefore produce a wine that will be even more unique to us (and not like our neighbors or even a wine from much further away), we thought if we could eliminate the external inputs like synthetic fertilizers we could have vines that were more in harmony with the land on which they are grown. Prior to switching to organic and then the following year (2003) Biodynamic, our vines had never had anything non-organic sprayed on them. We are blessed with a dry and low humidity climate with little threat from fungal diseases and our cold winters mean that we also have little threat from pest insects. We first eliminated the fertilizers and then the herbicide and began plowing under the vines. We also began an extensive program of various cover crops between the vines to introduce greater biodiversity and plants to act as soil conditioners: crops like triticale, peas, buckwheat, phacelia, radish…etc are used. Our soils being of glacial loess origin and also being in a very dry climate are extremely low in organic matter. To get organic cultivation to work successfully, we need to work hard on increasing the organic matter levels to build more humus and to provide a more desirable habitat for soil micro organisms. This is where we see increased benefit of being biodynamic over organic as it works more on increasing soil health rather than just treating vines by organic solutions.

 

Buckwheat and Mustard Cover Crop

Vineyards are inherently terrible monocultures. Biodynamics inspires us to think of our properties as more self sustaining and more complete ecosystems. We now have vegetable gardens for staff meals (and excess vegetables for staff to take home), chickens to supply us with beautiful fresh eggs, goats to graze and control the sweet briar that spreads across our dry rocky hill country, that then end up as harvest meals, and more recently our first cattle.

Goats on the Hill

We are also inspired by the great wines of the world. Many, perhaps even most, of our winemaking heroes are biodynamic. In the Old World they probably see increased benefit of being biodynamic because over the last several decades they have been farming with chemicals and seen massive degradation of soil and vine health and declining wine quality. Not to mention they are growing grapes in soils that have been farmed for centuries, as opposed to our soils which have been farmed for as little as 20 years.

Stirring

Even casual visitors to the winery cellar door can notice the increased health and balance of the vines as opposed to neighboring properties – before even knowing that we are organic and biodynamic. It is most definitely worth the effort and nowadays it doesn’t seem like it’s any extra work – it’s just sensible practical farming. Any increase in costs is more than offset by the increase in quality and also for the potential for the vine to have balanced crop loads.  Under conventional (chemical) regimes you could not achieve the same quantity/quality relationship.

 

Destemming

Felton Road farms 32 ha of vines and has 100 ha of land in total that has recently been fully certified by Demeter. We produce around 12,000 cases of wine a year that is sold to over 35 countries around the world. We could not consider farming any other way.

 Sid and Crystal

website:  www.feltonroad.com

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