Updated: Aug 2, 2019
To help our growing membership keep track of each other, we are enjoying running a Q& A with certified organic OWNZ members via our blog as well as our Organic Matters magazine. Here is our interview with Michael Glover of Mammoth wines.
Hailed by Andrew Jefford as one of Australia's best winemakers, Michael Glover returned home to Nelson in 2015 with his wife and two children to forge their own path with Mammoth wines. Michael's father Dave is a legend in the NZ wine industry, he was respected for his intuitive and hands off approach to winemaking when our industry was still in its infancy. Michael has a similar style and is renowned for his low intervention winemaking and his drive for quality and expression above all else.
Where is Mammoth located?
Mammoth is essentially my wife and I so ultimately it is located at our house which is located in the Free Republic of Motupiko about 50km South of Nelson. Our wines are made from dry grown, organic fruit sourced from the Moutere Valley.
What’s your role in the business?
Artistic Director, Courier, Author, Brand Champion, Receptionist, Marketer, what have I missed? Oh…sometimes I make wine.
What varieties do you grow and how much of each?
Currently we produce three different Pinot Noir’s, two different Sauvignon Blanc’s, a Pinot Gris and a Chardonnay. Volumes have never exceeded 150 dozen so I am tiny in the scheme of things BUT my small size allows me to make wines that push boundaries. These efforts have been supported by a small but engaged following, people who are interested in wine with integrity, expression and dynamism as opposed to SKU’s on supermarket shelves. No bar code for me thanks!
How long has your operation been certified organic?
The first vintage of Mammoth was actually in 2013 while I was still making wine in Australia. From the start it has been organic in both the fruit grown and the wine made. The ability to obtain dry grown organic fruit that arrived at the winery without requiring additions of acid was one of the main reasons for my return to NZ from Australia.
What inspired you personally to get involved in organic production?
Back in 2005 I was offered the winemaking job at the iconic Bannockburn Vineyards in Geelong, Victoria. Many thought that following the previous winemaker, Gary Farr, was taking up a poisoned chalice but I took the job because I would be handling fruit from the legendary ‘Serré’ vineyard. Serré was planted with Pinot Noir in 1982 at 9000 vines /Ha and was regarded as the best Pinot Noir vineyard in the country. When I arrived I was dismayed to find that the entire 1.2 Ha was herbicided and had been since its inception 23 years before. The dirt (it could hardly be called soil) was lifeless. This was a wine that commanded AUD$120/ bottle! It seemed like such a betrayal to the site AND the consumer. We set about mulching between rows and below vine, putting down crops that we could plough back in. The soil improved immediately and the vines responded… there was vitality, energy, and life. The vines were healthy enough to turn off the irrigation (even though the annual Bannockburn rainfall was 550 mm and drought years like 2007 and 2009 were about 350mm!). The result of our efforts was the production of a wine that was worth every cent of $120 and was a true and genuine reflection of site and season. More than this, however, was a philosophical change from viewing the wine, fruit and Serré vineyard as a commodity to something that was treasured, nurtured and loved by all involved. A bottle of Serré became so much more than just 750 ml of fermented grape beverage…it was a bottle of toil, endeavour, values, philosophy and love!
What are the biggest challenges for your company around growing organically?
The perception that organic viticulture is somehow a quirky ‘tree hugging’ environmental alternative. Incorrect. It is absolutely about QUALITY and RESPECT. It is about making the very best from your resource and looking after that resource. If you are truly on the path of quality then it goes without saying that you are organic. We need the accurate message to be heard and understood: Organics is about quality and knowing where that quality comes from!
What’s an interesting experiment or innovation you’ve tried in producing organically, either in the vineyard or winery?
It’s hard to select just one… but this year I have 10 rows of dry grown Pinot Noir on Moutere clay that have received absolutely no spray application whatsoever. The pruning and shoot management was done to open the canopy and maximise air flow and now at veraison things are still clean. I appreciate that it has been a very dry season here in Nelson and I am not saying that this is in anyway a commercially viable or appropriate action BUT what I am saying is that it encourages one to think outside the square. No irrigation = less growth = less vigour = less shade = less disease. Yes, perhaps less fruit but this in turn equals earlier ripening = desirable fruit flavours at lower brix….and on and on.
What reflections do you see in your vineyards and wines that you believe are related to your organic status? Why do you think organic production causes those results?
Nelson has experienced consecutive difficult seasons…certainly some of the worst I have ever experienced working anywhere. These are seasons that all of the organic ‘nay-sayers’ said would wipe organic growers out but essentially the opposite occurred! I believe this is due to the vine building up a natural resistance and hardiness. Survival in a difficult season is essentially trial by fire and organic viticulture outperformed systemic chemical reliant viticulture. (I refuse to use the term ‘conventional’ because it’s inaccurate.) If this isn’t battle hardened proof of the merits of organic viticulture then I don’t know what is?
Do you have any particular aspirations for the future of Mammoth?
This is an interesting question. Mammoth reflects my core belief in making exciting, dynamic wine that reflects place using genuine dry grown and organic material. I am doing what I want to do and as long as I can access exciting fruit that fits my requirements I am happy. My future aspirations centre more on New Zealand as a wine producing country and industry looking higher up the ladder and aspiring to make truly great wine that can walk onto any battle ground and foot it with the best. New Zealand has the potential to make the very best of many varieties but it has an awfully long way to get there. Grow harder! Make harder! Sell harder! We can’t just keep relying on a nice view.
Final question, Michael. Why the name Mammoth?
I get asked this a lot and the answer is that I have always loved Mammoths. I love the creatures, I love the word and I kind of think the Mammoth conjures up something ancient and gone but not too far gone. I guess I feel in a way that it has some kind of synergy with me...trying to make something intimate and special first and worrying about the money side of it second is like being a Mammoth...glorious, fantastic, surreal...but hunted by climate and man so probably doomed to extinction!
Interested in Mammoth wines or speaking more with Michael & Cath?