We lease the Stoke (Cassini) vineyard for one case of wine per variety we produce from a beautiful family, who purchased the 500 acre farm for grazing/cropping land. After investing in all the gear to run the place, we took over management of the 4 hectare vineyard block the same week I lost my job at Wirra Wirra, due to Covid. Flying start.
Losing my job was a blessing in disguise. I was shoved into making it work, committing fully to making my own wine for living. To be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking taking on the vineyard so far from home (Willunga) and having a full-time job.
The vineyard notes were average at best. All hand written by the previous owner Ross Trimboli. He claims he was a winemaker but I swear he was a doctor. He was an amazing bloke and we are forever grateful for the advice and guidance he gave us when we took over.
One thing we did know was that the vineyard was treated conventionally and those vines did not have to work hard for the essentials they need to produce fruit. So we ripped the band-aid off this commercial practice and we paid the price.
I remember while putting the nets on in January 2021, looking at the vines with zero fruit on them and thinking ‘What the fuck am I doing with my life”. So much hard work and then harvest, where we got a very depressing 2.8 tonnes of grapes from the whole block.
My beautiful wife Bec said ‘if you don’t get 15 tonnes next year we’re pulling the pin and I’m going back to Scotland with the kids’. She didn’t say that last bit. But she was right with the first bit, we couldn’t keep it up financially or mentally. 2021 was a tough year.
Enter my old man, Max, stepping up. You should see this guy’s lawn at home, not a single blade of grass out of place. Based on this fact alone, he was appointed vineyard manager in the second half of 2021 and shit got real.
Possum fences were fixed, post caps were replaced, the irrigation was fixed, you could eat off the floor in the filter shed, wires and strainer posts were fixed too, so many one percenters. Mum and dad’s caravan was stolen from the garage at home in Adelaide and has lived at the vineyard ever since. Not to mention the much-needed addition of a gas shower in the shed. A shed kitchen was also assembled, I was forced to service all the gear, nets were stitched up, holes were dug and to get through it all, wine was well and truly drunk.
The biggest change we made was converting 30% of the vineyard to new canes. Dad and Dave (our local vineyard hand and legend) went through with reciprocating saws and cut the old arms off 4000 vines. We put new wires in and arched them all over. The vineyard is 23 years old so this process was a great refresh for the vines. It got rid of a lot of wood disease known as Eutypa.
The vines seriously thanked us for it. This year we picked 23 tonnes. 90% of the wine we made for the Stoke is from our Cassini vineyard. I’ve done 20 vintages across my wine-life, and this was by far the most rewarding. For perspective, we all had lunch in the winery to celebrate and dad said ‘What are we celebrating?’. Classic Max. Business-as-usual, keen to get back out there.
As of today, we’ve converted another 30% to new canes. We've spread fishmeal over the soil to feed those micro-organisms and increase our soil microbiology. The sheep had a good go in there over the last two winters too.
Most of the nitrogen and other sprays that were used in our vineyard before we got there were foliar, so I think the soil is quite healthy but the vines haven’t had to utilise it to the extent they should.
I use to play football on Kangaroo Island and this was my connection to the place. Now the vineyard is. I love winemaking but viticulture has opened my eyes up to the true beauty of this industry. It’s nerve-racking but incredibly rewarding. The learning is endless which is exciting. There is a shitload of hard work still to do until we get the vines to where we want them but we are looking forward to the challenge.
Can’t wait to share the wine we produce with the world.