Good friend of Renzaglia wines and prominent ecologist Johannes Bauer, recounts his time spent on our Bella Luna Vineyard picking Chardonnay fruit over the weekend from the unique lens of a passionate conservationist.
A juvenile bearded dragon in the Renzaglia vineyards posing between chardonnay grapes during the harvest Sunday the 5th of March. One suspects the attractions for this beautiful and harmless reptile in the vineyard habitat consists of insect life (for example the big fat hawk moth caterpillars) as well as the grapes with their high content of sugar and the good cover provided by the vine foliage in a vineyard that is minimally sprayed.
One can be sure that the ‘damage’ caused by eating grapes by that territorial and not very abundant species is minor and more than offset by the good it does in devouring insects eating grapes or grape leaves. This species is also big enough especially when adult (up to and more than 600mm) to scare-off even large grape-eating birds, which manage to get under the net. Like the sacrifice of part of the crop to a god, a small ‘sacrifice’ to wildlife is acceptable to most farmers and but a small tribute to a rich and beautiful environment.
Bearded dragons are not very common in our area any longer in cleared out and overgrazed landscapes, especially if dead and down timber is also removed for firewood, are not the only precious wildlife one finds. Even on my property with its plentiful cover and insect food they are special and we suspect that fox predation plays a large role in their scarcity. Apart from the 10 species of Parrots in the area, of which at least four like grapes (Crimson Rosella, King Parrot, Sulphur crested Cockatoo) which make netting a major factor for a good harvest (and a good night’s sleep), we can also see, as we did this afternoon, beautiful, endangered Diamond Firetails whose documented presence in the Renzaglia vineyard, make it an important conservation site.
A vineyard can be an important place for wildlife conservation, especially if its surrounded by a good number of pasture trees and in proximity of extensive forest areas such as the “Wisemans Creek Remnant. Watching the insects, birds, spiders, kangaroos and reptiles in the Renzaglia vineyard it is clear that this small area settled in a cleared yet tree rich and recovering landscape is a quite distinct little vineyard-ecosystem which, throughout the years, provides shelter, a certain stability/protection and a variety of foods to quite a range of species. One of the major determinants for the survival of wildlife & biodiversity in a rural landscape which is dominated by agricultural crops, is the remaining suitability of the crop and the presence of adjoining areas to wildlife (source areas). We know well that in traditional agricultural landscapes, where small areas, diverse crops and great variability through ownership (e.g. a lazy (absent) farmer next to a very busy one) leads to the diversity necessary for an often astonishing number of species to be able to survive in even modern agricultural landscapes. This is of course particularly the case if farmers minimise the application of herbicides and abstain e.g. from using insecticides against this year’s abundant yellow winged grasshoppers, great food for birds and attracting ibises which eat many other things also.
As we approach the 2017 vintage, we come to a time when decisions must be made regarding the types of wines we want to make. Do we try something new or refine tried and tested processes?
The old man in me wants to keep everything the same. After all what’s wrong with tradition and stability, that is “you know what you’re going to get from Renzaglia Wines year after year”?
So, Sandy, the boys and I have been talking about the idea of introducing an early drinking, preservative free wine to the portfolio. Well, I should say Sam, my oldest, is the main culprit. Preservative free, organic, chemical free, orange, pet nat are names for “new” styles of wine that are today becoming more and more sought after. It’s a bit mind boggling to an older wine guy like me…. why would you want to compromise the longevity of a wine for some kind of “ideology”? Or, maybe there is some substance to these new wine trends and at least one is worth pursuing?
In fact, there is no such thing as a “preservative free” wine. All wines contain preserving agents including tannins, alcohol, acidity, carbon dioxide and, yes you guessed it, sulphites. When winemakers call a wine preservative free, they mean no preservatives have been added, sulphur dioxide or SO2 being the most common. SO2 has been around for centuries and seems to take the blame for most people’s bad reactions to wine; including nausea, headaches and rashes.
Conscious consumerism, as something that has come about in the last decade presents it’s pros and cons. In a very similar manner to the “Gluten Free Movement”, there are people with legitimate allergies to certain additives in wine. But are the rest of the crowd just going along for the ride? In fact, most experts think the phenols in wine (like tannins and flavour compounds) are to blame for people’s negative reactions to wines (red wines being more phenolic).
Organic wine making is widely embraced around the world, I think it is important that people feel the products they are consuming are not born from industrial agriculture and the organic brand provides this piece of mind for many. Organic wines very often contain added preservatives like SO2, fair enough right? Who in the wine community doesn’t want to crack open a wine they made 20 years ago and be awe struck that it is still drinking well.
We, at Renzaglia Wines, have made many changes to our grape growing and winemaking practices to minimise unnecessary chemicals and revitalise the soils.
As we move forward in our vineyard management practices, one top priority is holistic management of the land, as we build an ecosystem that supports all types of life (spiders, beetles, kangaroos, etc.) we hope the resilience of our sites will too develop and in turn nullify the need to use chemicals. Whilst we do not brand ourselves as organic, our philosophy and resolve to produce high quality wine in a holistic and sustainable manner is at the core of what we do.
We live on a small country property just outside of the quaint village of O’Connell in the Central Ranges wine country of NSW. It is about half way between Oberon and Bathurst and both Sandy and I consider it our own little piece of paradise, especially when we get to see one of these amazing full moons at dusk.
Looking over our vineyard and to the east.
At present, despite the fact that it is the middle of winter, the countryside is green and vibrant. This is largely due to the huge amounts of rain (almost 250 ml) we have had since June this year.
But, you can only sit around and look at the view for so long…..there’s plenty to get done around here and always grapes to prune, wine to make and meetings to attend. I have recently become part of the Bathurst Tourism Reference Group which has prompted me to write a little about all the great things there are to do and experience in this fabulous region of the Central Ranges of New South Wales.
There’s bushwalking, bicycling, villages to explore and 4-wheel driving for the more action focused travellers. Places like the Blue Mountains, Kanangra Boyd and Newnes National Park are less than an hour away and have a myriad of hikes, canyons and historic locations to explore. While on the way to these great hiking locations, you can also explore some of the historic small villages like Sofala, Hill End, Milthorpe, Rockley and of course O’Connell. The Bridle Track and roads close to the Turon River are great for 4-wheel driving.
Our special local hiking spot. Evans Crown, Tarana
One of our favourite things to do in the Autumn (if vintage allows) is mushrooming in the pine forests around Oberon. If it is a wet season and your timing is right, you may come back with a great sense of satisfaction having foraged for food and enough slippery jacks and saffron milk caps to last you for weeks.
Two Slippery Jacks amongst many beautiful Saffron Milkcaps
We have a great pickled mushroom recipe (found in the Sydney Morning Herald years ago) that we use and we’ll share with you. These are a fantastic addition to any tasting plate with some good cheese and crackers.
2 cups olive oil or (half canola as this doesn’t solidify in the fridge)
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
Bring the vinegar, salt and water to the boil in a tall narrow pot (you can use a bigger pot but you’ll have to double the amounts of pickle solution). In batches cook the whole mushroom for a few minutes until tender when pierced with a skewer. Remove with a slotted spoon to a rack and continue until all the mushrooms are cooked. Be careful not to overcook the mushrooms as they absorb water quickly and can become soggy. Now gently press out excess liquid with a tea towel and cut into thin slices.
Taste to see whether they need extra salt. Place in a sterilised jar with slivers of garlic, the rosemary and enough oil to cover. They keep well in the fridge for a few weeks.
The city of Bathurst really does have a lot to see and do. As Australia’s oldest inland settlement as decreed by Governor Macquarie in 1815, it is fantastic to have many sites and buildings of great historical significance. Several historic buildings are now being used as venues for food, local wine and beer. You should check out the Church Bar on Ribbon Gang Lane for great woodfired pizza, the old Webb Chambers which now house a fine restaurant (Cobblestone Lane) and wine bar (Webb and Co.) and Crago Mill, now home to Two Heads Brewery. Just a few examples of heritage sites where you can sit and soak up a bit of history along with a great meal and some locally produced wine and beer.
A few pictures of some of the wonderful historical architecture you can see in Bathurst
Bathurst Court House
St Stanislaus College
The National Trust Bathurst has produced a number of great brochures called Experience Heritage Bathurst that are perfect to use as walking tours. Check out www.heritagebathurst.com for more information. Yes, walking is a great way to experience Bathurst. Other places well worth a visit are; the Fossil and Mineral Museum, Mayfield Garden near Oberon, LeGall Patisserie for mouth-watering tarts and brulees, great coffee at Al Dente in Keppel St, the Motor Racing Museum and the Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit. We will cover some of our other favourite places in future blogs.