Unique Biologic Method Produces Elegant, Hand-Crafted, “Slow” Wines
ON AVONDALE ORGANIC WINE FARM near Paarl, it’s an extraordinary combination of modern science and the wisdom of ages that creates its unique wines. The success of this holistic method is thanks to the open-minded and creative approach of proprietor Johnathan Grieve, whose thirst for knowledge is unquenchable even by the classic, naturally made “slow” wines his hard work produces.
On this 300-year-old family-owned farm in the Klein Drakenstein mountains, no life form is “bad” and nothing is eradicated; on the contrary, Grieve strives to create conditions that are conducive to more life. “Biodiversity, or the variety of life in an ecosystem, is a tangible measure of the health and balance of a particular habitat,” he explains. “It’s important because each species, from the lowliest microbe to a human being, plays a distinct role in keeping the planet running smoothly.”
Grieve pioneered the organic-biodynamic-scientific approach he calls BioLOGIC®. It works as a dynamic system in which soil and water, plants, animals and people, and energy are part of a complex web of relationships and networks, interconnected and interdependent. Guided by the Avondale ethos of “Terra est vita”, or “Soil is life”, Grieve bases his system on the simple but profound principle that healthy soil produces healthy plants.
“We look at broad-spectrum natural nutrition; in essence, we want to feed not only the plants but all the soil life. We do this through using things like concentrated sea solids, which have a perfectly balanced nutrition with up to 90 elements, and our major source of nitrogen is through incorporating legumes in our cover cropping. If we create the perfect environment for soil life and feeding this life, it will in turn supply all the nutrition that our vines need, in perfect balance and plant-available form.”
In order to enhance the farm’s unique energy and sustain a lively awareness of its special place in the cosmos, Grieve also uses a full spectrum of biodynamic methods and preparations. These include following an astronomic planting calendar, which takes into account the influence of various cosmic forces on our natural environment; and using a “field broadcaster” energy device that works with natural cosmic energies to stimulate healthy growth in the vines and improve the quality of the environment and therefore the grapes.
Avondale is also at the forefront of introducing and testing the Lunar Tasting Calendar to South Africa’s wine industry. This calendar has four types of days that relate to a lunar cycle: Root, Fruit, Leaf and Flower, each of which affects the palate in a different way. The fruit notes in wines tasted on a Fruit day are regarded as more vibrant and even overpowering in some cases; during a Leaf tasting, the wines are experienced to be less sweet, with a dominant, earthy minerality; wines tasted in the Root cycle appear more subdued; while the Flower cycle is generally regarded as the best time to taste wine.
ORGANIC AND RESPONSIBLE
Avondale is certified under the WWF Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI), which acknowledges the responsibility that wine farmers have to preserve fynbos on their land. Grieve has gone a step further, and is restoring and re-establishing indigenous fynbos species in the vineyards themselves. He’s overseen the planting of more than 2 000 indigenous trees on the farm, and includes fynbos species in the cover crop mixes. (Cover crops are sown between vine rows to improve the management of a vineyard.)
No pesticides or herbicides whatsoever are used on the farm. When a pest invades, Grieve relies on nature’s solutions, making use of beneficial natural bacteria to counteract vine disease at micro level, wasp larvae to control vine mealybugs, birds of prey to keep rodent populations down, and a squad of slug-hungry ducks to manage snail infestations.
As a result, the farm is alive with all kinds of creatures: birds including kingfishers, owls and black eagles, frogs and reptiles, mammals such as Cape foxes (which breed on the farm), common duiker, grysbok and steenbok, red caracal, porcupine and spotted genets.
Grieve continuously monitors the health of the Avondale ecosystem, including using leaf sap monitoring instruments. “Through these we can keep our finger on the pulse of the vine and see exactly what’s going on in real time.”
INTO THE CELLAR
The natural processes continue in the cellar, an ultra-modern gravity-flow installation that ensures the highest-quality slow wines with the least negative impact on the wine and the environment. Only natural wild yeasts are used, and there’s minimum added sulphur.
A natural waste-water system made up of three dams interlinked by spiralling channels of cleansing reeds emulate the way water is cleansed in rivers.
“It’s taken us a number of years to refine our winemaking process and to create the extraordinary wines we aimed for when we started farming here in 1996,” says Grieve. “It’s an extraordinary process, complex and slow, but ultimately rewarding. BioLOGIC® allows us to do no harm to our natural environment while producing hand-crafted wines that are truly exceptional.”
Avondale produces seven wines: Camissa, a rosé; Cyclus, a refreshing white blend; Anima, a lively Chenin Blanc; La Luna, a classic red blend; Samsara, a Syrah; Navitas, the flagship red blend; and Armilla, a sparkling wine made in the Methode Cap Classique tradition.
“Camissa” is the Khoisan name for Table Mountain, meaning “place of sweet water”. The 2012 Camissa is made from 60% Muscat de Frontignan and 40% Mourvèdre grapes. The 26-year-old, naturally cultivated, low-yield vines produce flavourful fruits that give the Camissa a nose of rose petals, scented pelargonium and fresh red fruits of the earth, while the hints of Turkish delight and lemon zest attest to its appearing sweet but finishing completely dry.
The dynamic, refreshingly complex white blend is called Cyclus for the elegant way Avondale’s unique life energy swirls through its invigorating layers. The 2011 vintage is made from Viognier, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Semillon grapes, pressed as whole bunches then naturally fermented in 500-litre oak barrels. Its soft, rich nose of violets and peach, and just a hint of frangipani, is beautifully carried through to the palate with intense flavours of pear, pineapple, apricot and fig, rounded off with smooth, subtle oak for a creamy, long-structured finish.
The Chenin Blanc is called Anima, indicative of the lively minerals of Avondale’s soils. The 2012 Anima is made from hand-picked, organically grown grapes, whole-bunch pressed then naturally fermented in 500-litre French oak barrels. This wine has an intriguing nose of winter melon, pineapple, lime and a hint of honey, while the palate is dense with fresh fruit flavours of gooseberry, quince and peach, all harmonising superbly with a soulful minerality.
The soft suppleness of the La Luna Bordeaux blend reflects the graceful ways that Avondale is attuned to cosmic influences and rhythms. The 2007 is made from healthy grapes that enabled a long post-fermentation maceration. The wine, which was lightly filtered, went through a number of gentle rackings before being returned to the barrels to age for 12-16 months.
This classic blend offers scents of red and dark fruits layered with clean cedar and tobacco aromas; it has a full, fruit-driven palate with plum and mulberry flavours seamlessly combining with soft tannins.
Samsara means “to flow on”, and the characterful Shiraz of this name represents the perpetual renewal and revitalisation of Avondale’s living system. The grapes for the 2007 were harvested in the early mornings and underwent a natural fermentation cycle. To finish off, the wine was aged in barrels for 12-16 months and lightly filtered before bottling. It’s a well-balanced wine with an exceptional fruit-driven palate, and with soft wood and white pepper, violets, vibrant red berries and orange peel on the nose.
“Navitas” means energy, and this wine is the embodiment of Avondale’s unique luminescence and character. The 2008 is made from 62% Syrah, 24% Mourvèdre and 14% Grenache grapes from 18-year-old low-yield vines. This has produced an exclusive, limited-release, elegantly wooded wine with an extraordinary colour and a rich nose of dark stewed fruits, cloves and cinnamon.
The Armilla Blanc de Blanc 2009 embodies the celebration of life on the farm. Made from Chardonnay grapes, it is rich and round on the palate, with a fresh effervescent acidity complemented by a full, velvety, layered mouth feel.
• Avondale supports its farming community through skills development, training, education and sports. There’s an on-site community centre, crèche and aftercare facility with fulltime staff.
• Avondale offers eco tours of the farm, during which visitors can share the insight and inspiration of Grieve’s BioLOGIC approach to winemaking.
Avondale is situated on Lustigan Road, Klein Drakenstein, Paarl. For more information, visit www.avondalewine.co.za. The Avondale Tasting Room is open from Monday through to Saturday from 10h00 to 16h00. Learn more from Johnathan Grieve’s blog at www.biologicwine.co.za.