Organic producer in touch with the earth

Name: Frank Bonic

Organic One Wines was established in 1970 in Jerilderie along the Billabong Creek, some 600km south-west of Sydney in New South Wales, Vines were planted on virgin soil by Croatian immigrants, Jure and Eva Bonic, sought the ideal land to create high quality wine, choosing natural organic farming for higher quality grapes over popular chemical methods. Jure paid a premium for the 341ac site and planted it to Chardonnay and Shiraz vines totalling 280ac in area, and a smaller planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The vines are managed for quality, typically yield 1-3t/ac and are planted in heavy soils that naturally restrict vine vigour and offer fuller flavours.

Today, Jure and Eva's sons, Frank and John, manage the A-grade, dual-certified organic and biodynamic property as vigneron and development engineer, respectively. The biodiversity focus of the Bonic's viticulture practice involves a respect for, and a desire to work in harmony with the environment. They believe the insects, spiders, birds and other small animals are mutually beneficial to the natural balance of the vineyard. Two large environmental lakes were established to foster this biodiversity.

The vineyard was taken to the next level and certified biodynamic in 1998. Organic One is totally related to the earth, says Frank adding, 'The use of 'One' demonstrates one people, one planet.'

'Organic growing requires more knowledge of the vineyard and its function and viticulturists need to be more connected with the plants, soil and environment. Our organically-grown grapes have higher levels of phytonutrients, higher protein levels and increased antioxidants,' Frank said.

Frank runs sheep in his vineyard and says the land needs animals to remain in balance.

'It is part of nature's system to keep the soil alive. The sheep eat the grass, multiplying the microbes in their intestines and pass it back to the soil,' he said.

'Conventional wine industry members moving across to organic growing tend to remain focused on tonnages, but realistically, with quality grape management we only produce a third of the yield.

'The grapes are more flavourful and of higher quality than conventionally-grown grapes,' he said. 'Conventional viticulture has come about through growers seeking the cheapest means of producing the fruit and it is easier to sell higher-yielding grapes at a lower price than lower-yielding grapes at a higher price.'

Frank estimates that 95% of organic growers are not profitable from their businesses due to the higher costs of organic production and the general market is reluctance to pay the premium required to cover real costs.

'If organic wine is not made to the highest winemaking standards it is unlikely to impress wine consumers any more than conventional wines made poorly,' Frank said. 'Consumers are expecting organic wine to be sold at a similar price to conventional wine. Premium quality wine is Organic One's leading selling point.'

Frank believes his biodynamic practices are the reason his vines are stronger and less prone to disease, which allows him to harvest when the flavours are just right. He says the making of organic wines is far more complex than conventional winemaking.

Organic One wines is currently distributed in Victoria, sold by Tesco's in the UK, and will soon be released into the US market. It is also available online at Demand for the Organic One brand is growing rapidly and Frank is on the lookout for suitable distributors and importers to expand its Australian, UK and US markets.

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WID 2017