Spring budburst on an arched-cane

As winemakers we discern the subtle changes of vineyard performance for yield, power, ripeness, structure and flavour spectrum. We exert our first influence over the vintage with our canopy technique.

Our canopy techniques wash vines with sunlight from budburst in October to senescence in May. Sunlight leads the organic fight against disease and insects as well as creating the colour, tannin and aromatics. Mornington Peninsula is a cool region with many hours of cloud cover and so sunshine can be the limiting factor for ultimate quality.

We select north facing slopes that maximise sunshine. Row width can be a conundrum with narrow rows dampening vigour however, we choose a wider row of 2.5 metres that invites the wind and sun.

There is a lot of discussion around vine density and the role of increasing the density to increase competition. The Burgundy model is very dense with 1 metre x 1 metre. Our spacing of 2.5 metres x 1.2 metres accommodates a single arch of 10 to 14 buds and a converse thumb, or spur, with 2 buds.

We have copied arch-cane technique from Alsace. This allows us to select the most fruitful bud positions on a longer cane whilst evening out the vigour along the cane. We keep our vigour in check with hard pruning and follow up with early and earnest shoot selection.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in our cool region can nurture the precious and delicious natural acid. We begin by committing to a small crop in spring with hard pruning and shoot selection. We pull off any shoots that prove unfruitful by November because otherwise they quickly become rampant. We try to tip by flowering (mid Nov – mid Dec) to change the vines intent from vegetation to creating fruit.

We tend not to leaf pluck because we think it reduces acidity and speeds up ripening when slowing it down creates flavour and poise. However, plucking the leaves away from the bunches can let more sunlight in, especially attractive in a cool grey year. It’s a defining canopy technique in winemaking style.

The Italian varietals for Quealy are Friulano, Moscato Giallo and Sangiovese. They require a different approach because they are more fruitful and heavy-fruited than Pinots. We use spur pruning to reduce yield, and keep the shoots upright and with a hand width space between each spur. This prevents their fat, heavy bunches touching or shading each other. These varieties ripen later, so we wait with hope for an Indian Summer to dry the soil and cause the vine canopies to senesce their lower leaves, wholly revealing the grapes to ripen in the sun.

Vineyard Manager Blanck & Sous-Lieutenant Buller

Many years ago we began our journey of eradicating herbicide from our vineyards. It’s been a long haul and we are not sure if it’s the Holy Grail. It’s really part of your soil management and is largely unmeasured. You can see the response of the vines. You can also count the vines you’ve killed with a whipper-snipper or an off-piste blade.

This is what we do. Our under-vine management uses a Fischer Twister bio-brush weeder. No herbicide required. Between rows we mulch or slash say 4 times a year. Our own winery vineyard is never treated with herbicide as we are seeking organic status.

Our leased vineyards are occasionally, say once a year, treated with round-up to fully eradicate weeds.

We fertilise our vineyards every year as we find it contributes to flavour and disease control. We apply horse manure to every other row and fertilise a cover crop to every other row. Cover crops offer an array of benefits; improving soil structure, increasing soil nitrogen, building organic matter, regulating vine growth and capturing winter rainfall. We slash the cover crop at the end of October, providing a moist mulch for the vine over November flowering.

17 Rows at budburst with Pundi

Our vineyard was planted upon an orchard in 1982. The varieties remaining from that era are our 17 Rows of Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay and Riesling that are Pobblebonk. We planted Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Moscato Giallo and, more recently, Malvasia Istriana.

The entire vineyard is located on a gentle north-facing slope. The soils are shallow loams over sticky clay. We focus on organic matter incorporation to assist the soils capacity.

Even so, the soil dries out earlier than Red Hill forcing the vines to mature in the warmer autumn months.

Of interest, the whites are delicate and acid whilst the Pinot Noir is heavy and brooding.

Doctors Campbell & Christine

Doctors Campbell & Christine Penfold established their vineyard in the early 90s with our assistance. It is 7 acres of 3 clones of Pinot Noir; MV6, 114, 115, and 1 acre of Pinot Grigio. These 114 and 115 clones proved to be more reliable with yield than MV6. Their long loose bunch is more resilient to the dreaded botrytis and provides more tannin and structure.

The flavour spectrum is more luscious and cherry rather than the broody ambiguous breathy feel of the MV6 clone. Great to have all three clones in the one vineyard.

It has interesting terroir. Much of the soil is red clay washed down from Red Hill. There’s some sedimentary clay, like our Winery Vineyard, and underneath is the sticky white clay.

The Pinot Noir is again voluptuous, ripe and concentrated whilst the Pinot Grigio is delicate and forms part of our premium Pinot Grigio with the oyster shell on the label.

Musk Creek at Harvest

Musk Creek vineyard is revered for Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Perched atop Main Ridge, the cool climate and rich soils never hurry ripening. 180m Elevation and cool Bass Strait breezes protect the delicate, ethereal aromas of Pinot.

Musk Creek was planted in 1994. There are 2 hectares a piece of Gris & Noir and half a hectare each of Muscat Rouge à Petits Grains and Chardonnay.

The rich, red soils and elevation delay ripening, which can be dangerous. We implement a very strict canopy regime of hard pruning to a single arch and early shoot thinning.

Of interest, although we never protect against botrytis with sprays, we have never suffered an outbreak in this cool site. We attribute our good fortune foremost to the wind-swept, northerly site with some congratulations to our viticultural excellence.

Wired Up at Tussie Mussie

Tussie Mussie Vineyard + Retreat is 3 hectares of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Ideally situated on a Northerly aspect with the rich red loam soil typical of Merricks North. The centre and lower blocks are planted to the 777 clone of Pinot Noir. Below and across from the vineyard are three small dams and natural bush – home to wallabies that occasionally chew the soft tips of vine shoots.

The vineyards are managed with organic fungicides and insecticides. Herbicide use is limited to round-up in winter, the Fischer Twister bio-brush weeder is the main instrument for under-vine care. The late autumn cover crop is sown to enhance fertility and soil structure. Vines are tended by hand, to create a canopy entirely penetrated by sunshine, assisting in the control of caterpillars and disease.

Quealy Tussie Mussie Pinot Noir is distinguished by crimson black colour, bright cherry and plum fruit aromas when young, and a vibrant velvety palate with subtle Pinot undertones of earth and mushroom.

The vineyards’ joyful moniker, suggestive of its former existence as a rose & herb farm, is captured by the hedonistic, floral nature of its Pinot Gris. Indeed, to drink the Noir and Gris over a long lunch is a great memory to take away from your time at the property.

Hester Vineyard with Kev & Dug

Kevin & Kathleen first experienced this vineyard in the late 80s when owned by Chris & Tony Hickson. Tony taught them a lot about draining these low-lying vineyards and he was evangelistic about planting a cover crop every year to build organic matter in these clay soils.

The vineyard has Chardonnay, planted in 1984 that is now cared for by Tom McCarthy & Lucas Blanck for their Kerri Greens Hickson Chardonnay. The Pinot Gris was planted in 1992 making it one of the first vineyards of the region.

The planting distance is 3.5m by 1.8m; these wide rows ripen the fruit to a royal purple.

The miracle is at the press, these deep purple grapes exuding the palest green juice that forms part of our premium Pinot Grigio.

We care for this vineyard with organic sprays and zero herbicide. It’s surrounded by bush and clearly a fertile ground for the biomass. The vineyard is crawling with insects; beetles, snails, moths, earwigs and we don’t want them all but we have learnt to live together. We like to hurry the ripeness so we harvest before the party starts. It’s where the vineyard dictates the style.  The vineyard is leased to us by Tara and Adam Hester.

Secco Splendido

Joe and Amanda Vaughan planted their 70-acre vineyard in 1996. It’s located in Hunts Rd Merricks North, on the edge of the “Moorooduc Plains”. Elevation is 103 metres. The soil is a duplex clay with a thin sedimentary crust.

Joe grows grapes for local wineries as well as his own label 100 Hunts. For Quealy he grows Friulano, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Pinot Grigio. He is the pioneer of Fiano on Mornington Peninsula, which he sells to Phaedrus.

The thin sedimentary crust suited the earlier thinking in viticulture of denying vines root space to prevent vigour. Now vigour is managed with canopy technique, and soil is recognised as the source of life in wine. Soil volume is expanded when vine roots find cracks and fissures to penetrate deep down to new layers.

Joe has built his soil from “the top down” with substantial and regular applications of composted mulch. The vineyards are ripped to create opportunities for the cool depths to lightly feel the energy of the sun and allow the organic matter to tumble down. Vaughan’s fruit is all machine harvested. The money saved in labour is used to develop and protect the soil.