Our Hunter Valley Vineyard Ecosystem
Biodiversity in the vineyard is absolutely critical for a sustainable future. The Hunter Valley is undoubtedly a unique place to make wine. It may be Australia’s oldest wine region, but, as recent years have demonstrated with drought, floods and fires, conditions can be challenging. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s the need to evolve and be nimble – not to chase absolute perfection, but produce the best possible wine in each season.
Chardonnay remains at the core of Scarborough, it’s in our DNA. But we recognise that as the climate evolves, we need to be agile and trial new techniques and varieties that future-proof our family-owned business. There are lots of initiatives we are working on in our vineyards to ensure a more sustainable future. Listen as Jerome Scarborough and Liz Riley explain in this short video some of the initiatives they have been working on.
The ecosystem of our vineyards is critical
A thriving vineyard is not just about the vines – the whole ecosystem matters. The plant life on the vineyard floor helps in periods of extreme weather by keeping the soil temperature lower, allowing water to both infiltrate and drain away to reduce erosion if intense rain occurs. In times when we are not in drought, we actively plant specific cover crops and swards, and selectively plant species that add more to the vineyard diversity than the traditional mix. It’s a balance that allows us to mitigate some of the challenges Mother Nature sends our way.
From the microcosm of soil biology and small beneficial insects and arthropods to the health of the vines themselves, the little things count. We’re maintaining a diverse range of vineyard plants with mixed species plantings in the midrow, and a range of specific plants assisting with growth around the vines. These plants also provide food and shelter for the small insects and arthropods that help control insect pests, and they are habitats for the magpies, echidnas, lizards and other wildlife.
We’re seeing an exciting evolution occurring. We are using techniques and technology that work directly with the land we are stewards of, rather than trying to manipulate the land to our needs. Native species of grasses are starting to grow, and alternating rows have been seeded with mixed species cover crops, which is attracting bees and other pollinators, as well as predatory insects that help to control the insects we don’t want in the vineyard. The grasses are also adding organic matter back into the soil, deepening root structures and improving soil health. The multi species cover crops and swards make a bigger environment for the beneficial insects that are crucial to maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
There’s a myriad of species coming to life, particularly in the spring. We’re starting to see some of the legumes and snail medics spreading through the vineyard midrow. These species pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere and put it into the soil, which helps with the balance of nutrients. The rye grasses and fescues add organic bulk to the soil with their root systems and aid with moisture penetration.
Pest, disease and weeds are some of the greatest challenges in the growing season. We have adapted proactive strategies such as canopy management to open up the fruit zone for light and airflow. The vineyard floor is slashed for increased air movement through the vineyard and to dry out any moisture in the canopy and crop. Weed control in the under-vine areas is important to reduce competition for water and nutrition, and to support our disease management program. Herbicide is used judiciously in the under-vine areas in combination with compost on a rotational basis.
Evolving vineyard plantings
We are evolving our vineyard plantings as our vines age with strategic vineyard removal and replanting. The best vines are retained, and where we see opportunities, we trial new varieties, clones and rootstocks.
The use of rootstocks helps us to protect our vines from root pests and pathogens, and provides us with greater water use efficiency. Having diverse chardonnay sites and blocks is vitally important to help spread our harvest period to reduce the pressure on the winery when vintage is in full swing. It allows us to treat each parcel with the love and care it deserves in the winery. Site variation is highly valued as we can further influence the timing of harvest with the scheduling of pruning in winter.
Techniques like the use of sunscreen in summer protects the fruit and helps it ripen by keeping the vines cooler. This innovation also allows ripening and preserves the quality of the fruit while protecting the fruit and canopy in times of intense heat.
In 2022, in conjunction with Hunter Valley Landcare we established biodiversity plots throughout our vineyards. This includes planting Australian natives to help support the insects, arthropods and birds that provide biodiversity in our vineyard ecosystem. Bursaria spinosa and the endangered Pokolbin Mallee are among the species planted.
Our vineyard toolkit continues to evolve in ways we can’t always anticipate. The constant rain throughout August and September in 2022, for example, meant the vineyard was so wet that we were unable to traffic the vineyards to apply much-needed organic fungicides. We had to weigh up all the options in order to protect the ground and cause further soil compaction. So, we took to the skies and have been sporadically using helicopters to spray organic fungicides across various vineyard sites. This helps manage our risks, biosecurity obligations and, importantly, it also helps with workplace health and safety. Vineyards are protected, tractors aren’t bogged and it’s an efficient way to get the job done to ensure a crop from the 2023 harvest.
More important work will evolve in this area to ensure a bright future for the Scarborough Wine Co. These initiatives aren't just important today, but also ongoing as we continue the family legacy of growing and crafting premium Hunter Valley wines.
Read on here to discover some of the other sustainable initiatives we’re incorporating around water, energy and waste.