Raiding land value, naturally

The winelands form a large part of property value in the Western Cape. And when it comes to the large risks involved in wine farming, it would make sense to ensure that you are getting the most out of your land. Jonathan Grieve of Avondale wine estate is not only making sure the land works at its prime for his business, but he’s also adding value to it while innovating in terms of farming techniques.

Q:      Tell me about Avondale’s motto?

A: Terra Est Vita – ‘Soil is Life’.  We know that for the land and the business to thrive, every aspect of our living system must also thrive.  In everything that we do, we uphold the key principle of Life – to constantly create conditions conducive to more Life. In a living eco system all life is based in the soil and what we strive to do is to create living systems naturally.

Q:      You seem to be quite in tune with science for your art background. Is it self-taught?

A: The majority of my knowledge on the farmer is self- taught, when it comes to science its was always something I was fascinated by but I can’t claim to have enjoyed it tremendously at school! I think I get a bit of it form my Grandfather whom I can distinctly remember being an eccentric chemist, he was always doing some or other experiment which unfortunately he never shared with me but rather always chased us away.

Q:      How has the land transformed since your leadership?

A: This is something quite hard to explain, Avondale was a completely conventional farm when we took over in 1996. They were still using all the normal fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, I remember quite clearly that the birdlife was extremely limited. If you visit Avondale today you will witness something completely different, the soil is living there are flowers in the vineyards; the birds and the bees are in abundance and there is an amazing living energy that you can feel when you experience it. I can safely say that Avondale is a work in progress , we have made incredible steps forward and we will carry on doing so with mother Nature at the centre. This is something that you really have to come and see for yourself, experience and enjoy!

Q:      What is the BioLOGIC® approach?

A: BioLOGIC® approach  is about creating Living Systems Naturally. We combine three different pillars in our system namely; certified organics, we practice bio-dynamic agriculture; but the BioLOGIC® approach means that we go beyond both these beneficial systems of natural farming by also using the best 21st Century science, technology and knowledge to enhance sustainability.

At Avondale we have joined forces with Nature to help mitigate the impact of monoculture on the environment.  We are constantly learning from Nature and emulating its ways of sustaining an ecosystem to the advantage of our vines.

Q:  What other approaches do you use on the farm that are a first?

A: There are many different things that we utilize in the living system that has been ground breaking, we are always adding additional ideas and practices as we learn, I guess that is the beauty of working with Nature. The overriding idea is to read nature and learn from her, if its from learning what various “weeds” are telling us about the soil, using broad spectrum soil nutrition form made from sea water through to using natural predators such as ducks and predatory wasps to control issues then that’s what we lean towards. We always ask the simple question before doing something – “Does Mother Nature Approve” ?

Q:    The perception is that a more natural way of farming is more expensive. Is that true?

A:  This is always an interesting question because it really depends on the condition of your farm/soils. If you have a really depleted soil you need to restock the nutrients and get the living system working again, this does cost money however it’s all form natural substances which usually don’t cost the world and more importantly you are moving your system away from a reliance on external inputs and more of a robust system.

To give you actual cost example I think the easy one would be the example of our use of ducks on the farm. Our 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. This amazing example costs us a fraction of what a normal snail control would, in normal years our total snail control would cost us half of what it would cost if we use chemicals. In a bad year it could even drop to 25% of the costs and the ducks are more effective with no damage on our beneficial life.