Q: What does it mean to be certified organic?
A: I have written quite a lot on our natural, Bio-LOGIC methods of farming. While we follow this approach as part of the whole philosophy of Avondale, some markets expect us to have our processes verified through external agencies such as Control Union EU and USDA organic standards. The whole of Avondale farm is certified organic and we are regularly inspected by the certification agencies to ensure compliance with the standards of organic viticulture.
Q: While Avondale is certified organic, how do neighbouring farms who use artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides affect your vineyards?
A: Officially you have to have a 20-30m buffer zone with wind breaks to prevent chemical drift etc. This said, we are very fortunate to have none of our vineyards bordering our neighbours. We have huge natural strips and, of course, the backdrop to Avondale is the beautiful Cape Nature Reserve.
Q: How long did it take for you to convert from conventional farming methods and to get organic certification for Avondale?
A: We started slowly in 2000, doing the basics first. Everything starts in the soil so we started by cutting out all the chemical inputs and getting the life back by growing cover crops and specific inoculations. Our system really started to pick up speed in 2003 and we have not looked back since then.
Q: How do you get away with not using harmful sprays while other farmers complain about the high cost of these insecticides, pesticides and herbicides? Surely it would make financial sense to use as little of these sprays as possible?
A: We search nature for answers, and there is always a natural answer, whether it be ducks to control snails or organic nutrition to boost the natural health of the vineyards. It’s a bit like your own health where if you eat a full nutrient dense diet the chance that you will get sick is reduced. This is the same for plants. That said, it does cost a lot of money to correct the wrongs of the last half century.
Q: Are the yields lower when you follow organic principles in the vineyards?
A: Not necessarily. If you have the full nutrition and healthy vineyards there is no reason why your crop should decrease. That said, at Avondale we regulate the amount of crop to produce the absolute best quality grapes, full of concentration and flavour. The trick is to get the perfect balance of crop and growth, and this is integral to producing extraordinary wines.
Q: Is it more expensive to produce wine using organic principles?
A: It can be, especially in the short term. It all really depends on what condition your soil is in and for how long it was previously farmed chemically. You have to build the soil up to a living, thriving system and this takes time and money. Once you have the balance your costs start to decrease substantially. If you are making wine like we do, exceptional care is taken throughout the growing and vinification process that is focused on making honest handmade wines. Of course, with anything done with this attention to detail there are expenses involved.
Q: Are wines certified as organic free of sulphites?
A: Ah, the sulphur debate comes up again! The fact of the matter is that all wines have sulphites in them because sulphur occurs naturally in wine, even “No added Sulphur” wines have sulphur in them. Organic wines have a maximum level of sulphur that is allowed which, generally speaking, is at least half that of the norm. At Avondale we strive to get even lower sulphur levels but at the same time making sure that a quality wine that can age well gets to our customers. Half of my family are asthmatics and they all love the wines and have no adverse effects because of the low level of sulphates.
Q: What is the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) accreditation that you have all about?
A: LEAF is an organisation based in the UK that sets out to promote environmentally responsible farming. This embraces a more holistic approach to knowing where your food comes from, how it was produced and also that it was done in a socially responsible way. It is not organic but really is about how you integrate farming with the environment and wildlife.
Q: The million dollar question. Are wines made from organic grapes necessarily better?
A: For me, wines made using organic grapes can have incredible freshness and harmony that I ascribe to the soil, vine and environment being in balance. It is, however, not only about the wine, but the whole approach to sustainable living that we believe in at Avondale. Making and drinking organic wine is a lifestyle choice and, without a doubt, the right thing to do. At Avondale you will find wines with character, that have a life of their own and develop in the glass and they are, what I call, luminescent!