Newsletter Winter 2006

2006 Vintage Notes
What a strange year it has been! Light winter rains, hardly enough to grow a bulky crop of oats, were followed by a very wet Spring, with the soil fully recharged and house tanks filled by the end of November. We had no frost this year, but hail caused considerable damage in the region. Rosnay was fortunate to just miss the trail of destruction that included stones the size of tennis balls stripping gum trees and settling 30cm deep in some places.

It didn’t take long for the November moisture to dry up though, with a couple of heatwaves in late November and climaxing with over 50 degrees recorded at ground level on New Years Day. Strangely enough, this was the day when the Belubula River began to flow again after being dry all spring – as the November rains must have replenished the aquifers and creeks. For the next 10 weeks we were able to pump from the River, but it is now dry again.

After the new year, the extreme heat conditions began to ease, leading to some ideal cool night harvest conditions for the Semillon (12 February @ 11.1 beaume), Chardonnay (1 March @ 13.2 beaume), Shiraz (6 March @ 14 beaume), and Merlot (21 March @ 13 beaume). At the time of writing, the Cabernet is still only 12.2 beaume and not tasting ripe yet. Yield has been good, except the Semillon which was only 40% of the 2005 harvest, and is proving difficult.

Rosnay Continues to Grow its Wine Production
For the first time in 2006 almost all of the Rosnay fruit is being made into wine under the Rosnay label. Though yield was down slightly on 2005, this makes 2006 the biggest Rosnay wine vintage to date, with over 7,500 cases estimated. Of course, Rosnay is still a tiny player in the overall wine industry.

The Rosnay wines are all being made by Windowrie Wines, who have provided an excellent service since making the first Rosnay Chardonnay Semillon in 2002, and are located just 5km by tractor from the Rosnay. After less than 6 months on the job, the new winemaker, Folkert Jensen, is producing wines with classic fruit character, few additives (eg animal products), and low sulfur.

This growth in production has been fueled by the support of the independent liquor trade, enthusiastic cellar door customers, and export. It is encouraged by continued good feedback on the wines, with the wines improving considerably over recent years, according to our most objective critics. And it proves what we may have doubted in the early days – that it is possible to produce good quality and value for money wines, without toxic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers.

Now, through expanded production, increased economies of scale and the pursuit of export markets, Rosnay wines are among the best priced in the organic category. Rosnay wines are amongst the lower priced wines, but in the best restaurants in Sydney (Café Sydney and Quay Restaurant, Sydney).

Ongoing Development of Organic Farming Methods
Since starting in 1997, the organic methods used at Rosnay have changed, with the 2005-2006 season seeing considerably reduced off-farm inputs, with no reduction in quality or yield, except in the Semillon yield. Using less foliar fertilisers, but still using Sulfur: To see if the use of foliar fertilisers may be linked with fungal disease, we didn’t use any this year, moving to a very simple program of spraying sulfur only at 2kg per hectare on the fresh spring shoots (October-November) to prevent Powdery Mildew. It worked – we found almost no Powdery Mildew this season. We didn’t spray copper though, and for the first time in 5 years we suffered from Downy Mildew due to the wet November. As soon as the first infection was noted, we did then apply copper as well as sulfur, and soon enough the heat of December and January fried the disease away. However, the lack of infection by Powdery Mildew was a great step forward, and showed that it is not necessary, and perhaps beneficial, not to apply foliar nutrients (eg fish fertiliser) to soft growing shoots.

We believe sulfur should remain a restricted organic input, mainly because there is no biological alternative. The rates at which we apply this naturally occurring element to the vines is only a few percent of the amount of sulfur applied when spreading gypsum (calcium sulfate) at moderate rates of 1000kg/ha, or the amount of sulfur needed as plant nutrients. Compared with systemic fungicides, sulfur poses little risk to humans and the environment, though predatory mites do not appreciate it.

Similarly in winemaking, we still use sulfur, as little as possible, with this years wines looking like the lowest in sulfur ever. However, we continue to reseach the problem of human sulfur intolerance, and try to help our customers who have this problem. Most recently, we have discovered that sulfur intolerance could be linked with a deficiency in Molydenum!

Rosnay Organic Grazing and Compost: For the second season, Wooly and Margie ran their controlled grazing system through the vineyards, with some good effect. We encouraged the growth of the grasses by spreading compost later in the spring, when there was plenty of grass to utilise it. This, at one tonne per acre, seems like almost nothing, but it seems to work. The grass greens up, especially where there are “dollops” of compost. Because the compost is made properly, with straw added, turning and biodynamic preparations, it also acts as a soil inoculant. The only other forms of fertiliser are fish emulsion applied through the irrigation system on poorer blocks, and the trace element boron applied in small doses during the season, since it is low in the soil and tissue tests.

Meanwhile, Darren Fahey and Yin Chen from NSW Department of Primary Industries have been conducting a trial of the use of NASAA certified composted urban waste mulch under the merlot vines, in order to see if there is a benefit in water use, yield and/or quality. We cant say much at this stage, but look forward to seeing their results.

Whilst grazing and mulching are certainly the best ways to manage groundcover, in Spring after budburst there is no alternative but to mow. This year we finally made the decision to buy a tool for the job – a zero turn diesel powered mower, which does each row of vines in two passes, leaving only a very narrow strip of grass directly under the vines. It also deposits the clippings under the vines. This investment should pay off in reduction of frost damage and improved vine health.

Biodynamics: New Blood: In the last 12 months Margie Crowther has studed the latest in Biodynamics and applied the preparations to most of Rivers Road Organic Farms, using the Stathams equipment. Getting up at 3am to spray “501”, the silica preparation, takes some dedication, but Margie has plenty of that! For her, the main motivation to balance the soil is to improve the feed and health of her sheep.

Rivers Road Organic Farms
We would like to point out that the organic farming development formerly known as “Rosnay Organic Farms”, is now renamed “Rivers Road Organic Farms”, of which the Statham family and “Rosnay” are minority members. It is a great pleasure to be a part of the Rivers Road Organic Farms community, whose 6 family membership share the common goal of becoming successful intensive organic farmers. From organic vegetables, to wines, olives and lamb, the produce of RROF is all certified organic and produced with great care. Each year the members are concurrently certified by Australian Certified Organic, and cooperation occurs between members through informal partnerships, sharefarming and contracting. The members association is professionally managed by Sue Dowling of Orange, who is a specialist in Community and Strata Title management.

The structure and management of RROF is of interest to planners in areas of high rural development pressure, such as the South Coast, as it combines community, sustainability and productivity, whilst insulating Council from legal action over chemical use, due to the organic covenant.

The management of common land is through a system of “Block One Neighbourhood Credits” (BONCs), or pledged annual work hours by each member for the maintenance of the commonly owned “Block One”, comprising 20 hectares of native tree habitat and laneways. This allows all members to be actively involved through “BONCing” around the farm.

Coming up soon is the planting of 1000 kalamata olive trees by Sue and Steve Brown, the building of a shed by Rob and Marjorie Lamrock, and the lodging of a building application for a strawbale house by Margie Crowther and Andrew Wooldridge. Wolly and Margie have also launched their “Chop Club” which we highly recommend, and you can join and receive their delicious organic lamb.

Local and National Events
Canowindra, as part of the Cowra Wine Region, is set for a boost with the agreement of local vignerons to support the building of “Taste Canowindra”, a local art and wine display and tasting centre, next to the Trading Post in Canowindra. The owners of the business are Bob and Marg Craven, and we look forward to having our wines on taste there 7 days a week, from September this year.

2005 was also a big year for the publicity of organic wine and farming generally, kicking off with the inaugural Organic Expo in Darling Harbour. Sam Statham helped initiate the Australia-New Zealand Organic Wine Show, as part of the Organic Expo, and sponsored by Ultimo Wine Centre and Palm Beach Wine Company. It received almost 100 entries, and was a great showcase of the diversity of the styles of organic wine we produce in ANZ. Pioneer organic vigneron Gil Wahlquist (founder of Botobolar) made a side splitting speech whilst announcing the trophy winning wine, the Hochkirch 2003 Reisling. This year’s expo is 22-23 July, at Darling Harbour.