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making pinot noir in gisborne with james millton of millton vineyards | #3

During seasons with a lot of disease pressure, what organic and/or biodynamic methods do you use to combat these?

It is a balance between Earth, Water, Air and Light, then roots, leaves fruits and seeds, and between Winter and Summer and for most the polarities of calcium and silica. We apply preparation 500, the cow horn manure, in spring to bring vitality to the soil life and stimulate the roots and to feed the leaves with substance (Matter) Later in the early summer, after the vine has

flowered, we apply the preparation 501, the finely ground quartz crystal solution (silica) to bring Form into this matter, and to enhance the cell walls of the fruits, and the leaves. This means nothing is “overflowing” nor is it not “shrinking” according to the changes of night and day. This process is repeated as required depending on the climate of the season. When doing this correctly the disease pressure is brought into a better harmony. We make tisanes (teas) from flowers and plants growing around the properties. For example stinging nettle, willow and oak bark. Willow, for one, contains the juice of salicylic acid (think aspirin) in the leaves and when this tea is applied to the vines in the early morning it helps the flow of sap and sugars from the roots, making the plants vibrant.  During the growing season, at every full moon and new moon interval (approx 14 days) we apply sulphur mixed with clay (+ve / -ve charges) which sticks to the leaves and in the heat of the day atomises to aid in the defence against powdery mildew. The clay also keeps the leaf surface soft and smooth much like a facial... (These days conventional growers are now spraying every 7 days, such is the new, and stronger species of powdery mildew which are starting to appear. ) We also add silica to this spray to harden off the leaves and prevent any “wet” diseases such a mildew and botrytis. We do not apply copper sulphate, as is commonly accused of organic growers. We go to the beach and collect seaweed and make a tonic from this precious resource. So... this process may not be perfect, but parts of it are excellent as it makes the plants produce poly-phenols in their sap as a defence mechanism and these phenols come into the fruit and into the wine. As we do not use animal products to fine the wine, and take off the rough edges, we like to build these phenols in the wine as they form a natural occurring biological anti-oxidant thus leaving lesser reliance for the use of the chemical antioxidant sulphur dioxide (SO2) sneeze, sneeze

How has the 2019/2020 growing season compared with other seasons in Gisborne?

2019 - 2020 was brilliant, maybe the best since 1983, 1986 and 1998. Why? Spring was good with a little chill. Flowering was warm although some cool nights did interrupt the flowering of, in this instance, Chardonnay... Summer was quite hot yet with cooling sea breezes off the South Pacific Ocean in the afternoons. January was quite wet which caused a little stress, but kept the vines flushing. Harvest started 5 days early with good acid balance yet lower sugars giving approximately 12.5 - 13.0% ABVs in the dry wines. The ferments were good, albeit a little slow to finish, so we look forward to spring when they will start up again and finish consuming the last of the grape sugars. And then Covid 19 arrived in the 3rd week of harvest and that was most probably the most difficult disease to cope with ever, from a sociological view point. But we got through. Over vine rows are 2m wide so the social distancing was easily applied. And I most probably saved quite a lot from the need to supply after work drinks and food, as we were not allowed to socialise. That was the hardest bit. 

Have the vineyards adapted fully to organic and biodynamic viticulture - if they started as a 'conventional' vineyard?

Apart from the Opou Vineyard (planted originally in 1969) all our vineyards were established as biodynamic vineyards, in 1983. I think we are some of the oldest biodynamic winegrowers in the Southern Hemisphere and within the oldest 10 in the world. Yes, the vineyards have adapted fully but like any living entity they always need mindful nurturing and respect. And these are the profound pleasures with this type of farming. Of course we are replanting little by little with selections of other plants, either within our own collections or those of colleagues or overseas and these new plants extra need special care, as all our vines are dry farmed (not irrigated) . And then of course a few new varieties (Mtsvane, Roussanne, Muscat Vermentino)  are planted as the younger consumer  demands some skin fermented white wines with tannin, texture and a degree of opaque clarity. 

How do you think organic and/or biodynamic processes affect the flavour profile of the wine, do you see this during winemaking process?

As mentioned above, it is all about harnessing the phenolics to give the wines a protection to age. As well, in managing the inter-row sward, we need to be mindful about when to cut the grass and flowers. During the vines’ flowering these flowers breathe in the surrounding ethers (“sharing the astrality” we call it - it also why one plants roses at the ends of each vine row)

and at this precious time we must try and do nothing in the vineyard as these aromas come later into the resulting wines, purified by the yeasts and preserved by the alcohol. So there can be a little whiff of yellow or blue flowers In our wines. In each vineyard we have insectories of other species such as orange trees, gravellias, Manuka, fennel and clovers. And while these give shelter to the beneficial s they also give aromas in the air, and food on our tables. And then the wines we grow are for each individual flavour profile - Riesling/sweet, Chenin Blanc / sour [acid], Viognier / salt [umami] and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir / astringency [tannin]. And our work is not to interfere with these processes by not using flavour forming yeasts from foreign lands, bacteria’s nor enzymes. We don’t need to chaptalise and because the phenols are robust we seldom acidify, nor fine with an animal product. So the wines have a pucker factor which promotes the saliva, and aids digestion. 

What is the most commonly asked question about organic Pinot Noir from Gisborne?

To make wine like this how much Chambolle do you drink? 

We are the only winegrowers making classic Pinot Noir in this region so, as a region, we are not often recognised as a contributor to the New Zealand Pinot Noir category (watch this space in Pinot2021!)

But then, in speaking to mates further south the move is to wines with softer palates, maybe lower density in the colour and a softness from higher pH levels. And, with organic production, these wines are ageing just as well, if not better, as those wines which have been “made” In the end it is more about luminosity and vinosity. Oh! And standing on the rooftops of another kingdom. 


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