Bowyer Ridge, Adelaide Hills Charles Rosback

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Charles Rosback’s Bowyer Ridge Vineyard is the source of fruit for some of the Adelaide Hills’ most lauded wines, supplying grapes to such iconic makers as Shaw + Smith and Wirra Wirra, as well as cutting-edge stars like Murdoch Hill and Paralian. Chardonnay takes the lead in the 15-hectare vineyard, with premium production the focus. Rosback targets enhancing soil biology to build resilience in the vines to minimise chemical inputs, while innovative inhouse technologies are employed to improve and streamline operations, from everything from imposing hydraulic shears that can cut through a vine trunk to a labour management tracking system.

The Bowyer Ridge Vineyard, at nearly 500 metres elevation in the Lobethal area of the Adelaide Hills, was planted in 2003 and ’07. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and shiraz are spread across 15 hectares of vineyard, but it is chardonnay that is the key driver, says owner and viticulturist Charles Rosback.

“The soil type at Bowyer Ridge is deep red loam with mica schist and ironstone, lending a distinctive mineral nuance to the wines. Our chardonnay, the main variety at Bowyer Ridge, influenced by the high-altitude site, shows a distinctive driven style, power with elegance and finesse, and beautiful natural acidity.”

“The soil type at Bowyer Ridge is deep red loam with mica schist and ironstone, lending a distinctive mineral nuance to the wines. Our chardonnay, the main variety at Bowyer Ridge, influenced by the high-altitude site, shows a distinctive driven style, power with elegance and finesse, and beautiful natural acidity.”

Bowyer Ridge supplies grapes to some of South Australia’s premier names, including Murdoch Hill, Bird in Hand, Shaw + Smith, Lambrook, S.C. Pannell, Wirra Wirra and Paralian. That fruit contributes to many bottlings, including lauded premium chardonnays, such as Murdoch Hill’s ‘Rocket’, Bird in Hand’s ‘Nest Egg’ and Shaw + Smith’s ‘M3’, as well as supplying sauvignon blanc for Shaw + Smith’s iconic varietal wine.

Innovation is at the core of Bowyer Ridge, with Rosback and his team developing or adapting multiple technologies to streamline and improve their operations. Those technologies have another life, too, with several subsequentially launched as commercial ventures. “We have been concentrating on innovative ways to increase efficiency and productivity for many years with our on-site viticultural team,” says Rosback.

“We are currently in the process of converting the vineyard from spur to cane pruning by strategically removing the cordons back to the crowns which was a very significant expense. We looked to save costs and came up with an innovation to efficiently remove the existing cordons by developing specialist hydraulic vine shears, called MaxiCut, which can remove the old cordons and wires in a few seconds per vine, greatly enhancing the ability to convert to cane pruning and control eutypa.”

Above: The team at Bowyer Ridge have developed 'MaxiCut' Vine Shears to control vines infected with eutypa dieback and convert to cane pruning. Whilst incredibly robust, these giant hydraulic secateurs are made virtually weightless to operate due to the suspension system they are held by. Opposite: The MaxiCut system produces a very neat cut of the trunk to remove the cordon (vine arm).

Additionally, the property’s skid steer (aka a Bobcat) can also be fitted with Vine Claw, another bespoke innovation, that is used to remove the debris after the cutting is done.

The 2020 Cudlee Creek bushfire that devastated so many vineyards also raced through sections of Bowyer Ridge, scorching vine trunks and burning many posts. Ever innovative, Rosback adapted the skid steer to also take a new piece of equipment developed over a few days. Dubbed the Bull Ant, it can removes posts in seconds, leaving a discreet hole that a new post can be slipped into. A piece of adaptation to an immediate crisis, but one whose usefulness will outlive those troubles. Additionally, any usable timber is recycled into fencing for other parts of the property.

With the vineyard tended in an exhaustively manual way, Rosback notes that effective labour management is key to their operation, “Hand labour is the biggest expense of the vineyard, especially with picking and pruning for premium production. Cost-effective labour management and quality control is a challenge facing all of us as growers. We have developed a remote labour management system that gives us full transparency and cost management with the use of RFID [radio-frequency identification] and field scanners to record job progress and efficiency, including remote real-time technology.”

A small RFID chip attached to each post is used by the vineyard workers to record their progress with the Taglog app on ruggedised scanners.
The Taglog app on ruggedised RFID scanners is used by the field supervisor to check work quality control.

As a grower, Rosback is keenly aware of economic sustainability, but also that that financial side is underwritten by the need for the long-term protection and enhancement of the site. “Soil health and biodiversity are a major part of our holistic approach to vineyard health and sustainability, with a harmonious balance between the local ecology and best viticultural practices. We particularly concentrate on reduced chemical use, in particular reduced herbicide use and extensive trialing with biological and alternative pest, disease and weed control methods.”

While synthetic controls are still used at times, much of the vineyard work is focused on the elimination of chemicals through “products to improve soil health and microbial activity including humic acid, fulvic acid, pyroligneous acid, kelp products, bio-humates, organic macro and micro-nutrients based on regular soil testing”. No synthetic nutrients are used, and Rosback notes that after six years of trials to improve soil biology with organic inputs, as well planting cover crops and a perennial sward, he has seen “very positive improvement in both vine health and fruit quality”.

With premium production key to the viability of the operation, this enhancement of fruit and therefore wine quality is a priority for Rosback. “90 per cent of successful winemaking is done in the vineyard. In fact, the grape grower has a major part to play in styling the wine from the ground up,” he says, and that quality is something he is justifiably proud of.

“My vineyard is producing highly recognised chardonnay grapes that go into some of the most renowned chardonnay brands from the cool climate regions of South Australia, receiving numerous accolades over many years, locally, nationally and internationally. The wines from Bowyer Ridge display complexity with layers and length of fruit, maintaining freshness and elegance with restraint.”

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