Clare Valley plays host to sustainability forum and biological farming workshops

Workshop participants with Dr Mary Cole and the compost ring.

The Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association recently hosted an inaugural Sustainability Forum in Watervale, elevating the regional conversation on environmental, economic and social sustainability for the region’s wine industry.

The forum featured a keynote address by Dr. Mary Cole, a well-known academic and plant pathologist from Victoria, who specialises in biological farming and land stewardship.

A range of sustainability focused projects and initiatives were presented across the day by a diverse line-up of speakers providing insights to local winegrowers.

Wine Australia and the Australian Wine Research Institute set the scene on sustainability on a national and global scale while viticultural experts from around South Australia shared their experiences in regenerative agriculture and wine industry innovations.

Leading up to the forum, the Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association conducted a series of workshops facilitated by Dr. Cole. These workshops specifically focused on biological farming, composting techniques and identification of microorganisms using a microscope. Dr. Cole, with her extensive experience of over 40 years in improving soil and plant health, shared her knowledge with local grapegrowers and winemakers who are committed to preserving the land and improving the quality of their fruit.

James Meyer and Rob Jaeschke, from Hill River Clare Estate, and Kerry Thompson from Wines by KT.


One of the workshops, centred around composting, was hosted by the Sandow family at Blenheim vineyards and involved participants creating a compost ring. Dr. Cole emphasised the importance of maximising photosynthesis in vines by managing vine health from the ground up. Growers were encouraged to aim for 100% soil cover at all times and avoid tillage. If weed species posed a problem, techniques such as crimping or mowing were recommended to prevent their flowering and reproduction.

Dr. Cole also discussed the application of compost tea for overall vine health and resilience. She outlined specific stages of vine growth for application of compost tea at saturation levels for disease prevention as well as general nutrition: post pruning, budswell, 10cm shoot length and flowering, and 80-90% cap fall.

Measuring the sugar content of vine plant material was highlighted as a useful tool for assessing vine health. Brix levels above 12 indicated a healthy and balanced vine with natural resistance to pests and diseases, while levels below 10 indicated a vine that could benefit from compost tea application.

Dr. Cole emphasised five fundamental principles for soil health:

  • soil cover: maintain 100% soil cover at all times
  • plant diversity: promote a diverse range of plant species to enhance microbial activity in the soil
  • increase microbial populations: encourage the growth of beneficial soil microbes
  • reduce agricultural chemical use: minimise the reliance on synthetic chemicals
  • avoid tillage: minimise soil disturbance through tillage practices.

Nigel Blieschke, from Torbreck Wines, and Troy van Dulken, from Kilikanoon Wines.


Dr. Cole said that in a sustainable system, with abundant mycorrhizal fungi populations, vines become more resilient to the impacts of climate change and are better equipped to retain soil carbon, moisture and nutrients.

The workshops were made possible through the funding and support of Agpath, the EcoVineyards Project, Wine Australia and Jim Barry Accommodation.


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