Blog from a Swan Valley Organic winery.

Organic Blog

Doing wine in the west 2014

NEW

Doing wine in the west 2014 

By Louise FitzRoy “We’ve created a niche and people come to us for that niche.” Harris Organic Wines in Western Australia is the only certified organic distiller in Australia making brandy and vodka for the national and Asian markets. Owner Duncan Harris says, “We sell a lot of wine and spirits online and have just started exporting our certified organic brandy and Organic Vodka that was released in 2010 to Hong Kong and Singapore.” “It is proving extremely popular with Asian countries and here in Australia. Our spirit is used in making the only Australian fortified organic wines, which are winning gold medals at the Swan Valley Wine Show. We were producing spirit for our fortified organic wines, so thought we’d make the most of it. Vodka has the same spirit base used to fortify our ports. “All our sales into Asia are done with online sales. No intermediary; no wholesalers. We ship direct, door-to-door, with no import duty for Hong Kong.”
In 1998 Duncan and Deborah Harris bought a property in the Swan Valley – the oldest wine region in Western Australia and about 30 kilometres from Perth – and started establishing an organic vineyard. Their first vintage was in 1999 using Swan Valley grapes from a neighbouring dry grown vineyard. Duncan says, “Most of our handmade produce is sold at the cellar door, which opened in 2000, besides one bottle shop in Perth. We prefer to sell “cellar door” as we are able to give tastings, build a relationship with our customers and develop our brand. We don’t need to worry about competing against other organic wineries in established wine states in Australia.” “We have no desire to sell interstate because the wholesalers want 30 per cent markup. This means we would have to make twice as much wine for the same income.
“We are looking for more markets in Western Australia however. Some years ago we sent out a survey asking our customers where they would prefer to buy our wine. People asked us to supply bottle shops in the city. We asked a few stores about their range of customers and whether they would like to stock our organic product and most were not interested. This has been disappointing considering how close we are to Perth.

More...

“I’d also like to target more overseas markets, but you have to consider whether the effort of doing so is worth it. I would like to sell my wine to an organic, all-natural wine bar in New York or Paris, but with the continual trips required – not to mention the import and export permits that are necessary – you’d spend a whole year doing it and may not even end up selling any wine. You would need to be there several times a year to service the customers, the wholesalers and the importer. Personally, I’d prefer to be at home driving the tractor.” According to Duncan, there are only about 10 organic wineries in Western Australia. “We are the only certified organic winery in the Perth area. We became certified with Australian Certified Organic in 2006. There’s a big enough market for more than one of us, however, not many wineries want to venture into the organic industry. It starts with the vineyard. There are only a few viticulturists that have the energy and passion to get out and dig weeds and walk vineyards day after day.” The environment, social aspects, customs and economics are four important elements of Duncan’s sustainability plan. “I built an underground cellar for naturally cooler storage temperatures and we bottle our wine in recyclable glass and cork. We use very small amounts of electricity in producing a litre of wine compared with the average usage for most other wineries in Australia. We also use low amounts of preservatives and additives.” Being an organic producer of wine in a state well known for producing high quality wines has not influenced Duncan’s price point. “Like anybody else, I add up the production costs plus margin, but being organic doesn’t mean that I need to raise the price point. My wine is competitive with other high quality wine in the country.” He says the business’s online presence, including on Facebook and Twitter, continues to be very important to its growth and viability. “This is where people look for answers and this is how many of our customers have found us. You’ve got to be on there, otherwise you’ll miss out. People in general are not aware of the herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertiliser residues found in wines. More marketing of the differences and health benefits will increase the awareness and the demand for organic wine.” It’s not unusual for Duncan to host the occasional ‘Brandy evening’ at the winery, which gives him the opportunity to educate people about his products, as well as enables guests to taste and ask questions about organic viticulture. “To make a supply chain work, it’s like building a brick wall. Do it one brick at a time.”

HARRIS ORGANIC is the only certified organic winery and vineyard in Perth’s Swan Valley.

“We believe that the organics movement is a world-wide trend because smart consumers are demanding to know exactly what is going into their foods. It represents a social backlash against corporate monopolies who are fundamentally only interested in extending shelf life and profits rather than human life and ecological sustainability. We say: think biological welfare – not warfare… it is the way of the future.

End of Swan Valley Vintage 2014

NEW

End of Swan Valley Vintage 

It is the end of another vintage at Harris Organic Wines. Duncan Harris and his WWOOFing assistant Isabelle Vogler picked the last of the late-picked Pedro Ximenez (Pedro or P.X. to its friends). This fruit will be crushed to make our famous liqueur wine… this vintage will be available in about 10 years. Of course we always have bottled organic Pedro Ximenez available....

More...

Our autumnal Pedro has been left on the vine to ‘raisinise’ or semi-dry in order to attain the rich sweetness necessary for its optimal making into wine. You could say that the Raison d’etre of our Pedro Ximenez is to mature sufficiently to make the rich liqueur style wine that Swan Valley Wineries are famous for.

HARRIS ORGANIC is the only certified organic winery and vineyard in Perth’s Swan Valley.

“We believe that the organics movement is a world-wide trend because smart consumers are demanding to know exactly what is going into their foods. It represents a social backlash against corporate monopolies who are fundamentally only interested in extending shelf life and profits rather than human life and ecological sustainability. We say: think biological welfare – not warfare… it is the way of the future.

What is WWOOFing?

NEW

What’s a WWOOFer? 

WWOOF is an acronym for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It is a volunteer exchange program whereby travellers from around the world are welcomed to become a guest of a host in Australia in exchange for work. This marvellous program began in Australia over 30 years ago and is a great opportunity for cultural exchange as well for students and backpackers from Australia or international travellers to get to know the ‘real’ Australia – usually staying with a family and taking part in organic production of a wide variety...

More...

There are over 2,000 hosts registered with the WWOOF Australia program – and Harris Organic Vineyard and Winery have been hosts since 2007. That year we met Benjamin and Jasper – two surfers from Germany who arrived very tired from not getting enough sleep in their Northbridge backpacker accommodation. These lovely young men are memorialised by the fine grape arbour that they built at the winery.

We have had young visitors from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Scotland, England, Japan, China, Korea, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden.

All of the young people that we have met since the outset; 52 at last count are each remembered with fondness and gratitude – not only for sharing with us themselves but for the great work that they have carried out. While every vintage comes and goes in the winemaking year; the soil is turned, the grapes are picked and crushed, the wine is fermented and the bottles are labelled – we remember our friends.

While we have been of use for many to practice their English skills, we have learned an enormous amount from our young visitors as well – we were influenced by our Danish friends Mikkel and Rasmus who were worried about the use of standby on electrical appliances, and who visited my daughter’s year one class to talk about Denmark, the lovely Sandra from Germany who helped us at festivals and was so funny, the elegant and beautiful Natalie from Beijing who reassured us that China was not necessarily so closed to the West as one might fear, the amazing Elin from Sweden who spent Christmas with us and helped me paint an old drying shed in 36 degree heat!

We have Fabian’s Gate that keeps the dogs in, Sebastian’s shower recess (which bears the sign ‘Fontaine de Sebastian) and has showered many beautiful young ladies, Michael and Jeremy’s footpath and attendance at a climate action rally in the city, Alexander, Michael, Jessika and Melina’s brickpaving, Phillipe’s chook pen – each of our visitors has left a mark on the property and in our hearts.

The Grape Swan Valley Mystery Part 2

The Grape Swan Valley Mystery Part 2 

…Trousseau comes to the Valley of the Black Swan...
As you may recall, I was investigating the origins of a wine grape varietal found here in the Swan Valley. I discovered a mysterious cache of a grape referred to locally as Black Reisling. Having identified the variety as being one known as Bastardo, I decided to make some Rose with it, which sold out quite quickly. I gave the mystery little thought thereafter, being preoccupied with establishing my organic vineyard and winery.…

More...

Bastardo, by the way, is not only Spanish for bastard, it is also an Italian Town in the Perugia province, a baseball player (Antonio Bastardo) for the Philadelphia Phillies, an Ibiza hip-hop artist, and the name of a single by Charlotte Hatherley.

Then, in 2012 a young French winemaker named Kevin Mazier came to stay with us and to complete an Australian winemaking internship. Kevin wanted to include Bio or Organic winemaking in this experience. Kevin’s family are viticulturalists and winemakers in Jura, in the north east of France. Kevin brought with him two bottles of wine. One of these bottles was a Cote du Jura, Domaine des Ronces, 2010 Trousseau, a lovely red wine similar to a light dry Shiraz!

Jura, by the way borders France and Switzerland – Jura gave its name to the Jurassic period of prehistory. Upon tasting, I was transported – like Proust – to the making of the red wine Bastardo/Black Reisling/Petit Verdot vintage. I had a very strong feeling that I had tasted this wine variety before!

Fortunately, there were two bottles of the red 2005 Petit Verdot wine still left in my cellar and upon tasting, young Kevin agreed that despite the age difference, it was doubtless that the French Trousseau and the Swan Valley Bastardo were indeed the same variety. This was confirmed upon further research when I discovered that indeed, Trousseau Noir (Trousseau or Bastardo) is an old variety grown in small amounts in many parts of Western Europe; including the winemaking region of Jura. A small amount of Trousseau is grown in Australia under the name Gros Cabernet…so the must thickens. This variety is also famously used to make Portuguese Port red wine.

So, how did the French Trousseau come to be in Bill Vinicombe’s little vineyard in the antipodean Valley of the Black Swans?

According to friend and neighbour John Kosovich – another Valley vigneron – but who had been born and grew up in the Swan Valley; in the early to mid 20th Century there was a French Canadian man who owned a vineyard in the Swan Valley. His name was Joseph Millars and he apparently resided at Margaret Street, Midland Junction. This vineyard was of about 40 rows and possibly just 5 acres, containing nonetheless over 20 grape varieties. I myself have 5 acres under vine and grow 6 varieties in my organic vineyard, so it is not especially unusual. The story of Mr Joseph Millars is not known however, and it may never be known from where this gentleman procured the cuttings for the Trousseau/Pinot Meunier /Black Reisling/Bastardo/Gros Cabernet. If this vine could speak, what stories it could tell!

Vodka = Water of Life

Vodka = Water of Life 

Vodka translated means Water of Life; a charming term that refers to the essential nature of this distilled spirit – most usually containing 40% alcohol. Vodka is a clear, colourless fruit brandy that has been multi-distilled. It can be made from any fruit wine – such as grapes, apples, pears, plums, and cherries – from which is produced the French version called *Eau de Vie, but in my instance, it is distilled from wine made from my own Swan Valley organic grapes...

More...

Many of my Swan Valley cellar door visitors want to know the why’s and wherefore’s of Vodka, as made here at Harris Organic Winery and distillery.

Vodka come from Water of Life; a charming term that refers to the essential nature of this distilled spirit – most usually containing 40% alcohol. Vodka is a clear, colourless fruit spirit that has been multi-distilled. It can be made from any fermented wine – such as apples, pears, plums, and cherries – from which is produced the French version called *Eau de Vie, but in my instance, it is distilled from wine made from my own Swan Valley organic grapes.

My method is as follows and is typical of from all over the world: Sun-ripened fruit is hand-picked, de-stemmed and softly crushed using a basket press. The must is then fermented into high quality wine, then double distilled over a wood fire and collected one drop at a time. The resultant spirit is then redistilled to produce a clear and colourless spirit...

Duncan Harris and his Vodka, made from his organic grapes.

I retain about 10% of this distilled spirit for bottling as Vodka; but the greater part of the yield I reserve for Brandy making. To do this, I further age the reserved Eau de Vie in oak barriques in my underground cellar for a minimum of three years until it becomes a fine cognac-style VSOP brandy.

• It is very interesting, that this spirit regarding essentialised spirits from all over the world; for example Schnapps is the german version of this spirit, Palenka is popular in the Czech Republic and Vodka – which is the Russian derivative for water.

• Serving size: A Vodka is usually served as a digestif. The typical serving size is 1–2 ounces, owing to the high alcohol content of the spirit and because it is typically drunk after a meal during which wine, or some other alcoholic beverage, has already been served.

Vote for Pedro. It’s not all about Politics

Vote for Pedro Ximenez 

While one might expect all wine to be more or less ‘natural’…it is a product simply made from fermented grape juice after all, and how unnatural could that be? However, we live in an age in which business interests and the corporatisation of everything we eat and drink means that there have been interventions in the processing of food and beverages that make the product something very different to its beginnings in the paddock, the garden or indeed the vineyard...

More...

This month I have been urged to tell you about the making of our most admired range of wines: natural wines. The most popular of these being our delightfully luscious Swan Valley Pedro Ximenez.

While one might expect all wine to be more or less ‘natural’…it is a product simply made from fermented grape juice after all, and how unnatural could that be? However, we live in an age in which business interests and the corporatisation of everything we eat and drink means that there have been interventions in the processing of food and beverages that make the product something very different to its beginnings in the paddock, the garden or indeed the vineyard. Like the advertised image of happy cows munching fresh grass in fields dotted with dandelions; the reality in fact is that some dairy cows rarely see fresh grass, let alone walk upon it… the chemical and machine-managed vineyard also tends to belie the romantic label on a bottle of wine that has been altered in some way from its natural state.

The philosophy of natural winemaking is intended to avoid unnecessary interventions to achieve four main considerations in the wine; they are Taste, Health, Cost – and most importantly from this winemaker’s point of view – Environmental Impact.

TASTE: Natural wine tastes better than conventional wine. Of course this is s subjective claim. Not all natural wine will appeal to every palate, and most grape varieties do not have enough natural stabilizing elements to produce a stable wine. However, there are a few grape varieties that stand out, either due to their ability to ripen to high sugar levels, have good tannin structure and ferment to higher levels of alcohol. I have found that several varieties that I grow here in the Swan Valley are perfect for natural winemaking: Muscat a Petit Grains, Pedro Ximenez and Shiraz. There are no doubt many other varieties.

Apart from considerations of variety, it can be said without hesitation that natural wine will taste better in the sense that it is essentially of what the French call its terroir (which could be termed otherwise as what, when, and where). What grape variety was used in its making, when the fruit was harvested, and of course where it was grown. A wine is not great simply because it is natural. Not every vineyard is capable of producing a great wine. But organic farming and natural winemaking are the way to get the best out of a vineyard, whatever its’ potential. I also believe that natural wine should be sourced only from un-irrigated vineyards as irrigation is an artificial input and so alters the fruit by plumping up the berries.

HEALTH – Natural wine is good for you. Conventional winemakers will of course claim that the many chemicals used in the production of their wines are present in the bottle in only harmlessly small quantities. In natural wine, nothing is present that has not come from the rain, the sun, the soil and ultimately the grape. Natural wine should have no sulphur added during the winemaking process. They should be neither filtered nor fined. A natural wine contains no more than 10 mg/l total sulphur if a red wine, and 25 mg/l total sulphur if white. This amount of sulphur is a natural result of yeast activity.

COST – Natural wine is better value for money. Natural wines offer better value for money because they represent wine that is of greater interest to the consumer because it reflects the true essence of its vintage. Natural wine is often made in smaller quantities by the winemaker but it has also benefited by no addition of ‘packet’ yeasts or added grape sugars, nor is it fined or filtered. The wine is not pasteurised nor the ferment ceased by cold chilling. My natural wines range in price from $22 – $29 for a 375ml bottle.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT – Natural wine is better for the environment.

All natural wine is the product of sustainable agriculture. This means no herbicides nor pesticides are used in the vineyard, so it is important that the vineyard be certified organic in order that this basic assurance is guaranteed. The fruit for natural wine should be hand-picked – rather than harvested with machinery that thrashes the vines and causes bruising and damage to the fruit. The wine should be sealed with cork, as aluminium seals are manufactured by unsustainable and carbon greedy means.

So to conclude; natural wine is indeed a delightful product. It is true wine that has cost the earth nothing more than the nutrients present in the soil and the rain that has fallen upon it. It has of course cost the viniculturalist some passion of his heart – but surely no love is lost in the production of such a lovely thing.

Warning: This Blog Contains Sulphites

Warning – This Blog Contains Sulphites… 

I seem to always be explaining to my treasured visitors the facts about sulphites in wine. Here I will attempt to cover the whole issue – from organic vineyard to bottle and the evidence (or, in some cases, the lack of evidence) that is the sulphites in wine that are making you ill...

More...

What is Sulphur Dioxide?

Sulphur Dioxide has been used in winemaking since Roman times when it reportedly was discovered accidentally – when fermenting grape juice was stored near a sulphurous source such as the gas emitted from volcanoes. ..I know, it will perhaps make you think it was the reason the city of Pompeii was not evacuated as quickly as it should have been when Vesuvius began getting serious… Anyway, sulphur dioxide assists in preventing oxidisation (as an anti-oxidant) and anti-microbial. It kills bacteria and kills wild yeasts which are introduced in one form or another to begin fermentation to turning sugars into alcohol therefore grape juice into wine.

Sulphur dioxide is a naturally occurring element in wine. It is a residue of the natural process of organic matter breaking down, as in fermentation. So, there is no such thing as a wine that does not contain ANY sulphites – even 100% natural wines or No Added Preservative wines like our Pedro Ximenez contain a trace.

How Much SO2 is in your Wine?

The wine industry limit for sulphur dioxide in Australia is 250 parts per million (ppm) for dry wines. Our certifying body – Australian Certified Organic – allows half of that amount (125 ppm). In our white wines there is in fact much less than that and the older the wine the less there is as it degrades with age. In our natural dessert wines for instance (Pedro Ximenez and Muscat a petit grains for instance) in which no sulphites whatsoever are added – there is still about 6-8 ppm sulphur present. The very low sulphur content does not mean that our wines do not ‘keep’ as long as those containing more sulphur, on the contrary, these wines are very stable – even the natural dessert wines, the long stability of which is due to the high sugar content – as they are late picked varieties grown in a hot mediterannean climate for which the Swan Valley is famous.

When and Why Sulphur is Used in Winemaking?

The initial use of sulphur is that which is used in vineyard spray to kill grape vine mildew. In the Swan Valley there are two main enemies of this kind – powdery mildew and downy mildew. Both strike terror into the heart of any viticulturalist because if they get hold, they quickly infect and destroy the fruit. Spraying with the elemental form, (the powder that comes out of the volcano you could say), should be completed a minimum of a month before harvest, so that any remnant left on the skins is negligible.

The secondary use of sulphur is that which is added to freshly crushed grapes to prevent oxygen spoiling the fresh juice before the natural protection of CO2 occurs in the ferment.

Lastly, Sulphur dioxide is added to barrels to keep the wine from spoiling before being sealed in bottles.

Sulphur and Organic Wines

While our certified organic vineyard and wine products are audited to ensure that they do not contain excessive sulphur, we are happy to tell you that in fact, most small good quality wineries, even those that are not certified organic are not likely to use more than the minimum amount of sulphur. This does not mean that high quality wineries do not use other chemicals banned from use in organic wines – pesticides and herbicides also end up in wines – which not only damage the environment, but are a risk to human health.

How does Sulphur Affect the Consumer?

This depends on the individual consumer. Some people are like human litmus paper and light up with red blotches and feel wheezy or unwell at the first contact…while others suffer comparatively minor affects like headaches from irritated sinuses. Asthmatics are at particular risk to sulphur additions. But it is important to note that things like sulphured (non sun-dried) fruits like raisins, sultanas or apricots can contain extremely high levels of sulphur – about 6 times in fact of the upper limit of that used in conventional winemaking. So, if you do not get ill from those foods, then sulphur is probably not what is giving you the headache in wine. Things in wine that may cause headaches include: Histamine – my wife Deborah cannot drink red wine because of the histamine in the skins (not that she minds too much, as white wines are fine for her). Tannins (which is the dry character that you will find in many wines) may also cause headaches. It must be pointed out of course that the most common cause of headaches after drinking wine is OVERINDULGENCE of alcohol! Watch your alcohol intake as you will get a headache if you over-imbibe when you are out with the tribe. It is easy enough to do, so keep count of how many glasses you drink. Each bottle contains 6-8 standard glasses of wine. If you are drinking this amount in an evening, it is too much and you are not only going to get DRUNK – but you will end up with a headache. See my next blog for how to know when you are drunk. Meanwhile have a look at an article by Creina Stockley at the AWRI for some trustworthy facts about Sulphur Dioxide in wine.

The Bastardo: The Grape Swan Valley Mystery Part 1

The Bastardo – a Grape Swan Valley Mystery 

In 1999 I was in the midst of establishing my organic vineyard and winery at Baskerville in Western Australia’s Swan Valley when I met a grower named Bill Vinicombe. Bill had some old vineyards in the Swan Valley which grew a few varieties, one of which he was quite fond of and which he called Black Reisling. It was a light-skinned grape that produced a Rose...

More...

It seems that over the years, several knowledgeable persons had looked at this variety in an attempt to positively identify it with certainty. Most suspected that it was Petit Verdot or perhaps the Pinot Meunier (Black Reisling). Petit Verdot Pinot Meunier was often used in the making of Champagne, although the inclusion was not usually acknowledged as winemakers preferred to highlight the more noble varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I was very interested in this mysterious varietal and did a lot of research, finally identifying the variety as one called ‘Bastardo‘ (Kerridge and Antecliff 2007). Obviously, the name translates as ‘bastard’ in English and I was intrigued as to its Swan Valley origins.

In 2005 Bill gave me have a half tonne of this mysterious Bastardo to process into wine. I indeed made a rose with it; using French methods – ie: minimal intervention, natural yeasts, fermented warm on solids and matured in old oak barrique for 6 months prior to bottling. Most was sold in 2006 at my cellar door under our old label LEDASWAN 2005 Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot being an alternative varietal name and preferable to ‘Bastardo’ (for obvious reasons) …

The wine was described thus: “A rich sweet nose with spicy, floral and sweet flavours and long on the palate” The wine was very popular and it sold out quite quickly while I was getting on with the business of growing my organic vineyard. Meanwhile I grafted a cutting of the Bastardo onto Schwartzman stock, in my vineyard, mainly for it’s curiosity value. But then, in 2012 I met a young French winemaker who was visiting the Swan Valley from Jura… (to be continued…)

Organic Vintage Report for the Swan Valley 2012

Organic Vintage Report for the Swan Valley 2012 

Following a very dry 2011 vintage the 2012 vintage is fast approaching in the Swan Valley. Early Madeleine grapes are past veraison and will be picked next week for the table and some for the flor fino (Fleur de Madeleine) sherry...

More...

Following a very dry 2011 vintage the 2012 vintage is fast approaching in the Swan Valley. Early Madeleine grapes are past veraison and will be picked next week for the table and some for the flor fino (Fleur de Madeleine) sherry.

During November and December we had some hot days, ie 35+C but mostly cooler days of 24C with an unusual amount of rain being 69mm. This has pushed on the growth of our organic dry grown vineyard and hedging is necessary to just get down the rows. Some downey mildew events too, requiring some Bordeaux Mixture sprays.

In the Verdelho vines, mildew pressures are low at this time of year and the crop is clean and fruit levels are quite substantially more than last year.

Next week crop thinning (1/2 the fruit on the ground) of the Pedro Ximenez will allow the vines to naturally feed their grapes to mature to 20+ Baume by late March.

The Chenin Blanc is also laden, where some will go for a sparkling wine and the “2012 Chenin Blanc” and the rest will make an excellent full flavoured brandy in years to come.

At this time of year we do not know what the weather will bring, but the start is looking most promising.

Have a great 2012.

Duncan Harris

Swan Valley Winemaker.