The Great Organic Grape

Zero pollution production, fewer chemicals, and less aggressive hangovers. These are just some of the countless benefits of organic viticulture – a sustainable and respectful homage to both grape and terroir and the incredible benefits of letting nature do the work. 

The rise of consumer preference for organic produce has been one of the most noticeable trends to develop in the last decade. What was once considered a speciality item, is now becoming a staple on shelves across the country, and the more accessible it becomes, the more it rises in popularity. Viticulture is no exception. The rise of organic wine farms across the globe has grown considerably. Made from grapes that are grown without the use of chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, organic wine comes from vineyards that have gone back to their roots, so to speak. Organic farmers are recreating vineyards that are self-regulating natural ecosystems that combat problems without the need for artificial, potentially toxic, chemicals. This environmentally friendly approach to the age-old tradition of winemaking is motivated by a number of factors. Not only is it healthier and better for the planet, the taste of organic wine showcases the fruit and terroir as the stars of the show.

Terra Est Vita or ‘Soil is Life’, is the ethos that encapsulates the vision of Avondale Estate – a leading biodynamic wine estate in Paarl, situated on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains. Avondale is renowned for using a holistic, eco-friendly approach to wine-making that celebrates the environment, flora and fauna, and our human link to the land. Their unique, award-winning wines are brought to life through an extraordinary combination of modern science, and the wisdom of ages. Proprietor, Johnathan Grieve’s love for a healthy, balanced approach to life was garnered through his family’s business, Vital Health Foods, from a young age. When his family bought Avondale in 1999, Grieve began working as an apprentice viticulturist on the farm and soon began experimenting with different farming methods following organic and biodynamic principles. This led to the development of his unique BioLOGIC®farming approach, which today forms the blueprint for crafting all Avondale’s world-class wines.

BioLOGIC® is an organic-biodynamic-scientific approach to farming that works as a system in which the soil, water, plants, animals, people and energy are all part of a complex web of interconnected and interdependent networks. Guided by Avondale’s ethos, Grieve bases his principle on one simple principle: healthy soil produces happy plants. “We look at broad-spectrum natural nutrition; in essence, we want to feed not only the plants but all the soil life,” he explains. “We do this through using things like concentrated sea solids, which have a perfectly balanced nutrition with up to 90 elements, and our major source of nitrogen is through incorporating legumes in our cover cropping. If we create the perfect environment for soil life and feeding this life, it will in turn supply all the nutrition that our vines need, in perfect balance and plant-available form.”

Organically certified by Control Union Certifications according to USDA NOP and EU Organic standards, there are no herbicides or pesticides used anywhere on the farm, which means no nasty chemicals in the wine. To keep pesky pests at bay, Grieve uses natural bacteria to prevent vine disease, wasp larvae to control plant-sucking mealybugs, birds of prey to catch rodents, and a mob of hungry ducks to control snail infestations. Grieve is constantly monitoring the health of the farm’s ecosystem, including utilising leaf sap monitoring instruments. “Through these we can keep our finger on the pulse of the vine and see exactly what’s going on in real time.”

In the cellar, not only have Avondale become the first winery in the country to introduce hand-crafted clay qvevri, the natural processes also include a gravity-flow installation with the least impact on the wine and environment. No added sulphur is put into the wine and only wild natural yeasts are used in the process. There is also a natural waste-water system in place that interlinks three dams by channels of cleansing reeds that emulate the natural way water is cleansed in rivers. “It’s taken us a number of years to refine our winemaking process and to create the extraordinary wines we aimed for when we started farming here in 1996,” says Grieve. “It’s an extraordinary process, complex and slow, but ultimately rewarding. BioLOGIC® allows us to do no harm to our natural environment while producing hand-crafted wines that are truly exceptional,” concludes Grieve.

As a result of Avondale’s commitment to going organic, the farm is alive with all kinds of fauna: birds including kingfishers, owls and black eagles, frogs and reptiles, mammals such as Cape foxes (which breed on the farm), common duiker, grysbok and steenbok, red caracal, porcupine and spotted genets. These natural processes also ensure happy grapes, bursting with flavour that result in the highest quality, slow wines, that are individually-styled and full of life and character. Mother Nature would certainly approve.

This is the Future of Viticulture


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Text © Julie Graham  |  Images © AVONDALE 

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