Introducing… Avondale

Johnathan Grieve, Proprietor, Avondale Wines

Avondale is a family owned and family run South African wine farm located near Paarl in the spectacular Western Cape. The farm has been under cultivation for more than 300 years and prides itself in producing fine wines with care for the environment, using holistic farming methods.  Avondale have won numerous awards in recognition of their commitment to environmentally sensitive farming and were the first wine producers in South Africa to become LEAF Marque certified.  Here, we chat to Jonathan Grieve, Proprietor about wine, weather, water and ducks!

How did it all begin and what inspires you?
My family bought the estate in 1996 and at that stage it was very run down and farmed conventionally. I started working on Avondale in 1999 fresh out of studying fine art, I soon become aware that the conventional methods where not working as they preached. So I started to look at alternatives which lead me back to the natural way. As they say the rest is history and that was the start of our system that we call BioLOGIC®.

Avondale were one of the first South African wine producers to be awarded the ‘Biodiversity in Wine’ certification – what’s the secret of your success?
Well our approach to production is quite simple, we always ask the question; “Does Mother Nature approve?”, if the answer is yes then we are happy if no, we need to go back to the drawing board. We want a living natural self-sustaining system which only comes from a holistic approach.

Why LEAF Marque?
One of the main reasons is that we sell our wines and fruit in the UK market and naturally with all the initiatives that Avondale has in place LEAF made sense from an external audited standard. This way we can talk about what we do and it’s also externally validated.

You pride yourselves in taking a more environmentally-friendly, holistic approach to wine production.  What role does LEAF and Integrated Farm Management play at Avondale?
Well we believe our BioLOGIC® system goes a lot further than any conventional standard requires, we do every thing from nurturing the smallest bacteria in the soil, through to the largest animal we have on Avondale. It’s a true holistic approach; of course LEAF and IFM have certain structures that bring different aspects into focus from a managerial perspective which is very positive.

You have developed your own unique approach to viticulture called ‘BioLOGIC®’ – what’s it all about?
Well it’s all about creating living systems naturally, it has three basic pillars namely organise, biodynamics and modern science all combined to form a living system. For more in-depth information you can visit my blog on www.biologicwine.co.za

You practice slow wine making – what is it and why?
Well it’s all about firstly producing the best possible grapes full of flavour and expression of place and then the wine making needs to take this raw material and get it into the bottle and to the customer. We believe the only way to do this is in the natural slow wine making principles. So we make use of only natural fermentations with almost no additives (No acid, sugar, enzymes yeast etc.) We do much more warmer fermentations and because of the natural fermentations some of the wines can take up to six months to ferment. But this is really where all the flavour and mouth feel comes from.

At the end we want to produce wines that are very expressive from where they come from, not “Factory made”! Wines that express the soils, the climate and the place they are made, so when one of our customers open a bottle of Avondale it’s unlike anything else. That’s why we do it!

We produce extraordinary wines approved by Mother Nature!

Your ethos is Terra Est Vita, which means ‘Soil is Life’ – what does this mean in practice at Avondale?
Well it’s the base of everything, if you don’t have a living soil you will not have a living farm. So we start with a very integrated soil balancing system to “restock the pantry” from a natural broad spectrum nutrient perspective. This is because through broad spectrum nutrition you get plant heath less decease, less weed competition and ultimately a living as nature intended. Of course we use no chemicals at all on Avondale.

We also have a very integrated cover cropping system that we grow diverse mixes of crops throughout the year in the vines and orchards which chief goal is to feed the natural soil food web. Of course it also does a lot of other beneficial things such as nitrogen binding through legumes, natural tillage, erosion control and provides an environment for all the natural predators etc. to be in the soil and vineyard.

You control pests and diseases using natural methods. Can you tell us more about your approach and your famous duck posse?!
At Avondale we mimic the ways that Nature supports natural predators in the system so as to curb disease and regulate infestations.

  • At the micro-level we make use of two strains of beneficial bacteria to combat downy mildew and harmful worms.
  • When necessary, we release the predatory wasp known as the mealy bug destroyer to combat attacks by mealy bugs.
  • On the larger scale, Spotted Eagle Owls, Rock Kestrels, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites occur naturally on the farm and we have encouraged these birds of prey to do their work of rodent control where we need it most by erecting tall poles for convenient perching and owl houses in the vineyards.

Perhaps the most picturesque of our natural pest management methods is the employment of a posse of glossy white Pekin ducks who range through green vineyards on snail patrol. These ducks are entrained from young to voluntarily gather in the custom-made ‘duck-mobile’ and go out each weekday to do their work. Happily, they waddle between the vines and forage in the cover crops for snails. They are a highly effective and cost-efficient team who protect us from the damage that snails can do without having to resort to poisonous bait or the organically approved substitutes for snail control.

Have a look at the video to see the ducks at work

We have learnt from Nature that there are always better alternatives and we are constantly seeking new ways to strengthen the ecosystem as a whole, such as our current investigations into being an attractive environment for bats which do great work at moth control.

Photographs courtesy of Avondale via flickr

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