The Big O – Voyager Estate goes organic

By Fergal Gleeson

Five years ago organic and biodynamic winemaking might have seemed leftfield or faddish but jump forward to 2018 and you see an increasing number of converts to sustainable agriculture in Margaret River. We spoke to three of the regions wineries in various stages of their organic winemaking journey!

Aerial views of Voyager Estate. 21 November 2015

Voyager Estate

Voyager Estate is one of the region’s leading wineries, establishing their vineyards in 1978. Well known for their Cape Dutch style tasting room and the extensive rose garden they caused quite a stir when they recently announced their move to become a certified organic winery.

Of Voyagers 120 hectares, 40 are currently in conversion to certified organic. Winemaker Steve James is just about to start on the next 40 hectares with the intention that the whole vineyard will be certified organic by 2023.

Voyager Estate Vintage 2018 Steve- 20 Feb 2018-149-1
Steve James, Manager of Winemaking and Viticulture at Voyager Estate in Margaret River. Voyager Estate vintage 2018. Chardonnay grape picking.

Steve sees it as “going back to how farming was done 80 or 90 years ago before the advent of modern chemicals. A return to a simpler way of farming working with natural products.”

“Voyager have been using organic farm practices for a number of years but the move to become certified organic by Australian Certified Organic was the natural next step to improve what we are doing.”

Steve points out that the climate in Australian wine regions lends itself to organic because there is not much summer rain so there is less disease pressure. He sees that many parts of Margaret River already use sustainable practices.

However if organic was that easy everybody would be doing it…

“Organic is harder to practice in the vineyard than in the winery which is simple. The biggest challenge is weed control for which there is no silver bullet. We use mowing, different cover crops and tillage.”

“In winter we graze sheep who operate like natural lawnmowers but they must be quarantined for a few weeks.” (So that they don’t introduce any inorganic materials to the vineyard).

Voyager Estate Vintage 2018 -working the vineayrd 20 Feb 2018-171-1

Does organic wine taste better? “Many of the best wines of the world are made organically or biodynamically. Great wines are an expression of site and soil. Organic is an important part of that because you are working deep down with the roots.”

“So the characteristics of the wine would be less overt fruit and more textural and savoury. You are dealing with soil that’s alive and healthy.”

Steve concluded by saying “I’ve been farming for 30 years. It’s been really refreshing to think about things differently and not go for the easy option of spraying. If you love farming. It’s a lovely way to farm.”

More at http://www.voyagerestate.com.au

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the winter edition of Your Margaret River Region Magazine

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