We planted the first hectare of vineyard at Saltwater River in December 2013. We had lived at the place for nearly 25 years and witnessed more and more dry seasons. We were looking for alternatives to the poor returns fine wool production offered at the time. We thought the place would be suitable for premium cool climate wine grapes, but had no experience of horticulture, let alone viticulture.
first grade pinot
Fortunately we have good friends with many years of experience managing vineyards and cellar doors to advise us. Adrian’s advice was “Don’t do it!... you could certainly grow first grade pinot here… this is how I would do it…” We rapidly learned a new language of varieties and clones, the finer points of irrigation systems, nutrient requirements, trellising systems and canopy management, fertigation, pests, diseases…
a windy site
We somehow managed to find the time to install trellis and irrigation, and planted our first hectare with lots of help from friends - Pinot Noir (MV6 and some G5V12). The next year we planted a hectare of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay (i10v1, i10v5, 76 and 95 clones). We hadn't fully appreciated just how windy our exposed hill site was, the salt laden north easterly gales roaring across Norfolk Bay, before a cold south westerly change blasted in from the Southern Ocean and beyond shredding grow guards that hadn’t already succumbed to the north easterly.
It wasn’t until 2018 that the vines developed sufficiently for us to pick our first vintage, 6 tonnes of Pinot Noir. In 2019 we picked 13 tonnes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and some Gamay we had planted in 2016. The quality of the fruit exceeded our expectations - we were on our way! We have since planted a third hectare of Pinot Noir (115), Gamay and Shiraz and are adding another hectare of Pinot Noir and Riesling. This second block is in a slightly more protected area, a little cooler in winter, but still benefitting from the western slope that allows the vines to soak up the warmth of the long summer evening sun.
Water for irrigation is the limiting factor to any further vineyard expansion. Run-off is channelled into water storages, but in 2018 we only had one run-off rain event. We haven’t seen 600mm of rainfall or full dams since 2013. 500mm seems to be the new normal here. We use composted chicken manure, locally sourced from free range poultry producers, as fertiliser and mulch to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture. We are learning across all the farming operations to work with and adapt to changing conditions.
the saltwater river advantage
It is not all bad: the dry seasons allow us to control soil moisture to some extent, the wind makes it harder for mildews to establish and the lovely red basalt soils are full of nutrients. The long hours of sunshine and cool summer temperatures moderated by the sea extend the growing season. On calm days the mountains ten miles across the bay are perfectly reflected on the glassy waters until a light breeze ruffles the surface making it sparkle in the sunlight.
Our first wines from the place are very exciting!