This past weekend, we paid a visit to Neil Hawkins at his vineyard in Gipplsand, Victoria where he grows the fruit and produces wine under the label, The Wine Farm.
Neil, born in South Africa, moved to Leongatha South with his wife Anna four years ago. They live beside the vineyard with their 3 children.
We arrived in the morning and were greeted by Neil who took us directly to the action. Shortly after beginning to walk through the vineyard, the rain started to fall so we headed for the winery to sample a few wines that were still in tank and barrel. Neil, who is a firm believer in picking his wines with high acid, pays close attention to his tanks and checks them weekly to ensure they’re drinking where he wants them and to see how much intervention the lees have had by way of adding savouriness and texture to the wine. He also does this to monitor balance between the acid and residual sugar.
Neil also stressed the importance of cleanliness in the winery and he regulates this with the use of a mixture of a small amount of sulphur diluted in water which protects the wine from bacteria. More on Neil’s use of sulphur later on.
The rain had now subsided, so we made our way out into the vineyard again to inspect the soil. The Wine Farm is one year away from being fully Demeter certified. Demeter is the governing Biodynamic body in Australia and are who determines whether a vineyard can be listed as certified Biodynamic. Neil tells us that one of the first things Demeter will do when they visit your vineyard is to dig a hole and inspect the soil health. They want to find Humus present in the soil. Humus is organic matter that forms in soil when organic plant and animal matter decays and breaks down into its most basic chemical elements. These chemicals are important nutrients for the soil. Earthworms can often be found in the soil which indicates they are mixing nutrients with the soil. In Neil’s case, there were MANY earthworms present; which is a very good indication of soil health. The creation of Humus is achieved by letting the grass grow between the vines, cutting it short, allowing it to grow long again, and so on. The ground between the vines also had a thick covering of clovers, which is another great sign as these bring Nitrogen into the soil; another key nutrient for plant health, including, you guessed it, grape vines!
Neil grows several grape varieties in his vineyard; Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. He aims to pick all of these wines with high acid and low pH as he states, and I tend to agree with, the alcohol content should be an afterthought when making wine. The most important thing a winemaker should be aiming for is producing a wine that speaks of place, highlighting the fruit and the land it is grown on.
After spending quite some time inspecting the vineyard, we were invited into Neil’s family home to enjoy some food with his family. We enjoyed some of The Wine Farm’s back vintage wines and a menu of food that was almost entirely sourced from their property. Living in such a remote location and having 3 children, visiting the supermarket is not always an option so it makes sense to grow their own food. The food was bloody delicious, can I mention.
Over lunch we touched on many topics in the wine industry. One of these topics was The Wine Farm’s use of sulphur in their wines. Neil explains his logic behind the use of small amounts of sulphur, a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation, at bottling to his wines. You can read more about it here.
He, and his wife Anna, explain that they use sulphur as it is neutral in flavour and it is also extremely effective at killing off undesirable microorganisms and reversing the effects of oxygen. It is also features heavily in most wines found on retail shelves these days.
They do, however, recognise the pay off for this being that, “too much S02 will rob your wine of flavour and texture but it can also cause headaches and breathing difficulties in the imbiber.”
Under organic and biodynamic certification, the total allowed sulphur dioxide level is below 120ppm. The Wine Farm’s wines do not contain more than 30 parts per million litres or 250mg/L. And in the case of their sparkling wines, they do not add any. They find that these amounts are able to tighten up the palate and enhance the drive in the wine while still “allowing the message of place to be delivered.”
The key to using such negligible amounts ties back to The Wine Farm’s management of the vineyard to keep it in good condition, picking fruit with high acidity, processing the fruit whole and cold, and keeping high cleanliness standards in the winery.
The cool climate of Gippsland allows the grapes to reach the desired flavour while the natural acids are still high, which is of huge benefit as acid is a far better preservative for wine than sulphur. This is helped as well by the fact that The Wine Farm’s vines are free from chemicals which allows them to feed freely from the nutrients growing in the soil.
Neil works hard and clean in the vineyard and the winery to ensure as little sulphur is needed in his wines. The cool climate, acid driven wines have the potential to age very well for many years to come.
After many, many bottles of incredible, flavoursome, expressive wine, we bid the Hawkins family farewell and hit the road for Melbourne; happy in our hearts that we’re working with producers who care. If you’re looking for acid driven, clean, direct wines with a strong indication of place; look no further than The Wine Farm.
Available now at actofwine.com.au