NZ’s star producer guided by the cosmos

NZ’s star producer guided by the cosmos

Name: Gareth King

Suggesting that a visitor take a guided tour of the vineyard's compost heap before they've seen either wines or vines sounds an unorthodox way of welcoming callers to New Zealand's Felton Road. But then former UK creative director and Central Otago vineyard owner Nigel Greening is not your average wine producer. The self-confessed Pinot Noir tragic is a staunch advocate of organic viticulture.

Indeed, as a regular visitor to Burgundy's Côte de Nuits, he's gone one step further than favouring totally organic regimes. He's begun aligning many of his own vineyard operations with those of Leflaive and Leroy, Burgundy's most celebrated domaines of biodynamic viticulture. By 2009, Greening expects Felton Road to be fully certified as both organic and biodynamic.

Biodynamic viticulture has its roots in the principles of farming and agriculture put forward in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner. The Austrian philosopher and educator regarded the farm as a unified single entity. Beyond that, it was also part of a wider system of lunar and cosmic rhythms that influenced the growth and decay of all living things.

'Biodynamics gets some weird press these days because people readily associate it with cow horns and stag bladders full of yarrow flowers,' Greening explains, as he delves into the fermenting brew that sustains his soil's health and nutrition.

'In fact, biodynamics is really only about one or two simple things like this.
The first requires that you view your farm - and this is a farm - as a single living entity, from the lowliest bacteria right up to the people living and working on it.

'Sustainability to us then means that the land itself has to sustain all those living things. That means creating less of a monoculture and more of the biodiversity of life forms that can sustain a farm. Composting is an important part of that process.'

Greening has been navigating Felton Road's path between its earthly and cosmological landscapes since 2003. He turned his first sod in Central Otago's distinctive mix of gravel and glacial loess back in 1998. That was the year he established his Cornish Point Vineyard at the juncture of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers, overlooking the township of Cromwell.

In 2000, he purchased the Elms Vineyard on Felton Road. It was among the first major vineyards to be established in the Cromwell basin. Its founder, Stewart Elms, had identified its north-facing slopes as some of the warmest and most ideal sites in Central Otago for the growing and making of premium Pinot Noir.

Today, the property has 8ha of the variety. Together with its plantings of
Chardonnay and Riesling, the vineyard boasts 14.6ha of vines. With a small state-of-the-art winery and vineyard cellar door also located there, it is effectively Greening's home base.

A neighbouring 10.1ha site just a kilometre to the east - Calvert Vineyard - is independently owned but also managed by the company. Cornish Point, meanwhile, now enjoys the twin roles of being a fully productive 7.6ha vineyard and a fastidiously maintained research centre for growing Pinot Noir.

As carefully targeted responses to their varying soil types and challenging vineyard topography, each Felton Road property is divided into a multitude of blocks with distinct but unified characteristics.

Elms Vineyard, for example, is divided into 13 blocks. Two produce the company's renowned Block 3 and Block 5 wines. Cornish Point is barely half the area of Elms, yet has 18 different combinations of rootstock and clones spanning 24 blocks.

Company viticulturist Gareth King treats each block - and sometimes even each row - in its own unique way. That extends to those highly-prized compost heaps.

'Instead of having just one composting site feeding all three vineyards, we consider that each vineyard should maintain its own special identity,' he explains.

'We keep as much organic matter as we can from each vineyard on its own site.
There are all sorts of little points of difference between them, differences we believe we ultimately see in the different flavour profiles we get from each vineyard. Besides, there's no need to import compost from somewhere else when you can make it yourself right where you need it.'

The full article can be found in the May/June issue of Australian Viticulture.

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