New Project to Show the Path to Growing Organic Grapes

Press Release, August 2011

Organic Winegrowers New Zealand proudly announces the national launch of its Organic Focus Vineyard project. The project, funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund and New Zealand Winegrowers, will follow three vineyards, in three major wine regions, as they are converted to organic production. Growers nationwide will have the opportunity to learn about the organic transition process as it unfolds in real time throughout the season, through field days and online reports from the vineyard managers.

“More and more growers across the country are shifting to organic production, or wondering if it could be right for their vineyard,” says project manager Rebecca Reider, coordinator of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand. “The industry is realising it’s entirely possible and cost-effective to grow good quality grapes using only naturally derived products. But there’s a learning curve involved in going organic. We hope through this project that we can make organic practices more accessible to all growers. And we’re delighted that the government and New Zealand Winegrowers, by supporting this project, are recognising the economic and environmental opportunities that organic production offers to the wine industry.”

The focus vineyard project has a comparative element as well, which is already piquing the interest of many in the winegrowing community. At each focus vineyard site, the organic block will be compared, side by side, to a conventional vineyard block growing the same grape varieties. Vine health, soil health, harvest quantity and quality, and vineyard operating costs will be independently monitored throughout the three year project to provide a direct comparison between conventional and organic growing regimes.

The three focus vineyards are all sited at well-renowned New Zealand wineries: Mission Estate in Hawkes Bay; Wither Hills in Marlborough; and Gibbston Valley Wines in Central Otago.

“Gibbston Valley is very excited to have its School House Vineyard as an Organic Focus Vineyard,” says winemaker Christopher Keys. “Our philosophy is for our wines to express where they are from, so an organic conversion will allow us to clarify how much of that is supported by the respective growing regimes. Our responsibility as custodians of our land in Bendigo, to the soil of our vineyards, and the biodiversity in the vineyard as a whole makes this a thoroughly worthy endeavour. Our practices are certified sustainable – but this process will show us over the years how we can develop from there from all points of view, ecologically, from a management perspective, and of course, from a wine quality perspective. It is a beautiful vineyard that simply warrants excellence, and we intend to find out how best we can apply ourselves to that.”

“I am really looking forward to being part of the project and working with and learning from the OWNZ Committee and other wineries already involved such as Mission Estate Vineyard in Hawkes Bay,” says Jacqueline Maclaurin, who will manage the focus vineyard blocks at Wither Hills. “The entire team at Wither Hills are excited to be a part of the Organic Focus Vineyard project, as it builds our commitment and experience with organics in addition to the 40 hectares of vineyards we already have in conversion to BioGro organic certification. We are also proud to represent the Marlborough region and, in time, keen to share our learnings on how organics can be applied on a commercial scale.”

The project has already been piloted at Mission Estate over the past year, with funding from New Zealand Winegrowers. In a Hawkes Bay growing season characterised by challenging weather events, the organic block stacked up impressively against its conventional counterpart vineyard. “In a season with significant powdery, downy and botrytis infection periods we were really pleased with the performance of the organic blocks in year one of the program,” says Mission Estate viticulturist Caine Thompson. “Growing organically has been very fascinating and satisfying. All aspects of the organic blocks performed well, from pest and disease to yield, fruit quality and costs per hectare, which were all comparable to our conventional growing regime. We’re looking forward to the season ahead and continuing growing and learning into year two of the project and beyond.”

Final results from the first year of the Mission pilot trial will be released later this month and presented at Bragato, the national wine industry conference. Field days at all focus vineyards will be underway by spring.

For more information: Rebecca Reider, project manager, organicrebecca@xtra.co.nz, 027 359 4522