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Greystone Wines holistic approach to winemaking

A Regenerative Approach

Greystone Wines holistic approach to winemaking

A taller-than-usual canopy and sheep grazing under vines year-round are just two signs that things are starting to be done a little differently at Greystone Wines in Waipara.

The 50 ha vineyard is situated within a 180 ha mixed farming operation and started out as a 33 ha conventionally run vineyard first planted in 2004 over Omihi’s limestone slopes. The focus is on Pinot Noir with smaller areas of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2011, the neighbouring, organically certified Muddy Waters vineyard was purchased and by 2014 the Greystone team began converting the whole property to organic.

“That vineyard had some of the oldest organic certified vines in region, planted in 1993, and we’re certainly seeing some of that vine age and complexity coming through in the wines,” explains Viticulture Manager Mike Saunders. 

“Once we achieved organic certification in 2018, we asked ourselves what’s next? We decided to look at our climate impact and emissions, so we worked to get Toitū certified carbon net zero.”

Mike’s own farming background and previous viticultural experience in Hawke’s Bay and Nelson play a significant role in the regenerative approach now being taken. 

“Our next step was to look at other ways to reduce diesel use emissions. I put my hand up and said under regenerative agriculture, the idea is to incorporate livestock as much as possible and increase diversity.”

Just over two years ago, a trial block of 1.5 ha vines were lifted on 1.8 m high poles so sheep can graze underneath all year round. Mike says this halved the number of tractor passes needed for mowing. 

“A key regenerative principle is to minimise cultivation because that releases carbon back into the atmosphere. Now, we are sequestering more carbon in our soils by not mowing and mulching. We’ve halved diesel use and emissions, and halved soil compaction. We add nutrients back into the soil via the sheep and have a new revenue stream with sheep being raised for meat production.”

The main driver was always to reduce diesel use and improve soil health, but there have been other benefits that the Greystone team hadn’t thought of earlier. “With the higher canopy, its average summer temperature is lower and disease pressure decreases. In winter, with the canopy being a metre higher and closer to the inversion layer, there is a reduction in frost risk. We are putting frost temperature loggers out this spring to model this data accurately.”

Other considerations of the higher canopy include pickers having to adapt to using different muscle groups and mechanical harvesting will be trialled for the first time next harvest.

Mike has a longstanding connection to Fruitfed Supplies, having worked with three Technical Horticultural Representatives over the years – Andrew McNeill in Hawke’s Bay, Jonny Richards in Nelson and now Tim Mounsey in Canterbury.

“Tim’s great. During harvest, it’s hugely convenient for us that Tim delivers a range of organically certified winery supplies for our Winemaker Dom Maxwell. He also does regular deliveries for me for our viticultural products.

“This season, Tim has talked with us about the fermentation extract products from Multikraft, most of which are organically certified, to support our nutritional programme which is underpinned by seaweed products, compost and compost teas which we make onsite. It’s the first time we’ve used this kind of product and the results from the Multikraft research we’ve seen look exciting. We have areas of the vineyard that are quite wet and cold early in the season, so it will be interesting to see if their foliar product helps provide a boost for those vines. We’ll also use the Multikraft Soil NRG product which contains a mixture of beneficial microbes, humic acid and micronutrients – the full treatment to see how the vines respond.”

These biological products fit Greystone’s holistic approach which harnesses biodiversity and natural ecological cycles. Their wild yeast fermented wines are an example of their success with this approach.

“We do a lot of wild yeast ferments which Dom started in 2017. Dr Mat Goddard and Sarah Knight from the University of Auckland researched regional yeast strains and found that in a winery, you could start a ferment with wild yeasts but that the commercial yeasts that predominate in the winery will actually take over. So we do our wild yeast ferments outside among the vines that the grapes were picked from. There is some risk not being able to control the temperature and weather but it’s the ultimate distillation of that wine from that vineyard.”

Another aspect of the way the Greystone team likes to operate is their commitment to community involvement. “We enjoy being involved with our regional Young Viticulturist of the Year challenge.

Fruitfed Supplies’ support of this competition is unrivalled, particularly people like Andrew McNeill. I love how it offers viticulturists new opportunities and highlights the importance of young people in our sector. For us, there are a few logistics to consider such as leaving bays of the vineyard unpruned for the competitors’ pruning challenge, but our General Manager and owners all support this kind of community activity.”

Mike says the Greystone vines are going into the new season in good shape. “We’ve had a good cold winter with frosts and rain to top up the soils, and look to be on track for a mid-September bud-burst.”