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Doubling down on our Organic Vineyards

by Babich Wines July 28, 2021

We’ve set the audacious goal of increasing the size of our organic vineyard estates by 50% in the next three to five years. Converting conventional vineyards to organic is a long process, with each vineyard needing to operate on fully organic principles for at least three years before being certified as organic.

But after more than 100 years of Babich winemaking, what’s a few years? We take a long view, operating our vineyards in a way that will be sustainable for generations to come. Which you can do if you see to it that you never take more from nature than what you give back.

All of our vineyards are certified sustainable, with the proportion certified organic by BioGro growing year by year. Our oldest organic vineyard, Headwaters, has been certified organic for more than a decade already.

Our drive to expand our investment in organic vineyards is based both on sound environmental practices and a thirst for innovation. Winemaking is a time-honoured and traditional art, but has thrived in New Zealand not only because of the excellent terroir, but also due to a bold, enterprising spirit that brought our wines to the top of the wine world.

Most of the viticulture practices we use are similar across all our vineyards, whether they are organic or not. Using smart canopy management to maximise airflow and reduce the instance of powdery mildew and botrytis is a technique we use everywhere. We also use irrigation sparingly, giving the vines just enough to thrive.

The main requirement that sets organic vineyards apart is that no synthetic agrichemicals may be used on them. In practical terms, this means that pests and diseases need to be controlled only using natural products and great care in vineyard management.

Fortunately, living in clean, green New Zealand makes this easier than in some parts of the world. There are simply fewer pests to contend with, mainly mealy bugs and leaf roller caterpillars.

Weed control can also be a challenge, as you don’t want the weeds to take up the water and nutrients in the soil, depriving the vines. We have devised ways to address this challenge without resorting to synthetic chemicals.

The first step is the choice of vineyard. If the land is fertile enough, it doesn’t matter if the weeds take some of the nutrients, there is enough left for the vines. In fact, on some vineyards, weeds may help control excessive fertility to actually benefit the vines.

We can also deliver water to the vines in a way that the weeds struggle to get to, by installing underground irrigation. Babich is one of only a few wineries in New Zealand that uses underground irrigation. The weed roots tend to be very shallow, so the deeper vine roots will have first dibs on the water.

To get rid of unwanted weeds, we are investing in a new piece of equipment that uses flail brushes to chop weeds down closer to the trunk of the vine, reducing the competition between the weeds and vines for nutrients and water.

“Using organic methods, it takes more inputs to harvest fewer grapes than on other vineyards,” says our Marlborough viticulture manager, David Bullivant. “But we see the benefits not only in environment sustainability, but also in great fruit quality. When you unpack it all, expanding our organic vineyards is a no-brainer.” 

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