David and Mardi Hall bought their Eden Valley property in 1996, planting vines the following year. It was the site of an older vineyard, but the vines were uprooted in the 1970s. That old vineyard was made up of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and riesling, with the Halls planting both the former and latter again, along with shiraz, cabernet franc, merlot and viognier, with grüner veltliner grafted somewhat more recently. Fruit goes to the Eden Hall wines as well as to makers such as Rieslingfreak, Hentley Farm, Soul Growers, Sorby Adams and Yalumba. Dan Falkenberg tends to the viticulture on the 33-hectares of vines, where he focuses on increasing biodiversity and reducing water use through revegetation and practices like mulching and planting midrow swards of native grasses. Eden Hall is also independent of external inputs of water and electricity, being off grid since 2019.
The approach at the Eden Hall Vineyard has long been one where sustainability goes hand in hand with achieving excellence. In other words, a holistic approach. “Truly sustainable farm practices must be sustainable economically, ecologically and socially,” says viticulturist Dan Falkenberg. But that idea of balance is no environmental lip-service to ensuring economic stability, with the commitment to sustainable land management and broader environmental goals a vital cornerstone of the operation.
In 2015, Dr Chris Penfold conducted an experiment in Block 16 where he planted a mix of grasses under the vines, while retaining the native sward between the rows. Falkenberg has maintained this makeup, with no herbicides used... “We did a blind bench tasting from four separate shiraz blocks off the property in 2021, and the results were unanimous,” says Falkenberg. “There was one standout wine! The wine came from Block 16.”
“Many of the land management issues faced by individual viticulturists are common across the landscape,” says Falkenberg. “For example, while we can only focus on our water resources at the micro-catchment level, the resource will continue to diminish in quantity and quality unless landowners work together across the landscape and catchments with a common goal. We need to promote a unified approach, not only within the viticultural communities, but across all communities to recognise the importance of sustainability and to meaningfully participate and contribute.”
A couple of years ago, over 60 solar panels were installed across the winery buildings, along with a battery bank for power storage, while four 50,000-litre water tanks collect the runoff from the roofs, bolstering the water supply for the vineyard operations. “I am most proud of achieving a reduced carbon footprint,” says Falkenberg.
The old creeks have been fenced and revegetated to limit erosion and restore natural waterways, and they have also committed to ensuring the flow of water to the Marne Saunders catchment rather than feeding the dam, employing a low-flow bypass system to favour maintaining water flow and quality for local habitat. So, although there is an onsite dam, this sacrifice of resources coupled with an increase in dry seasons means that this is a far from reliable resource.
“The biggest challenge is diminishing water resources,” says Falkenberg. “Our dam has been essentially dry for the past four years, and we have no imported water. Nevertheless, we have managed through adaptation and innovation. We apply regenerative land management practices, straw mulching, composting, native grass in the mid-rows, rotational grazing of sheep in winter etc. In turn this promotes soil biodiversity and resilience.”
“The business is now completely off grid and fully self-sufficient, with no imported power or water to the property.”
“Our dam has been essentially dry for the past four years and we have no imported water. Nevertheless, we have managed through adaptation and innovation. We apply regenerative land management practices, straw mulching, composting, native grass in the midrows, rotational grazing of sheep in winter etc. In turn this promotes soil biodiversity and resilience.”
The planting program has seen Falkenberg establish thousands of native plants on non-vineyard land, as well as introduce 20 species of perennial native grasses amongst the vines. “The planting of native perennial grasses in the midrows help to promote biodiversity and improve moisture inflow into the soil profiles. Native grasses are drought resistant and therefore do not compete with the vines for moisture during the prime growing period.”
The process also has had a significant impact on pest insect populations, amongst other benefits. “We are introducing an EcoVineyards approach by planting more native insectary plants in and around the vineyard to enhance biodiversity and provide habitat for predatory insects,” says Falkenberg. “This provides habitat for native birds, particularly seed-eating and insectivorous species. These birds have minimal impact on fruit but significant benefits to maintaining the balance of invertebrates in vineyards. These measures help to reduce the reliance and use of chemicals in the vineyard and reduce soil cultivation practices.”
Falkenberg notes that their vineyard practices are integrally linked to the winemaking process, with their winemaker, Phil Lehmann, “on the same page with our sustainable practices, working in concert with us all year round. Phil lives on his own vineyard in the Eden Valley and makes our wine here in the Eden Valley. Together we can brainstorm vineyard management practices and follow through to the finished product in the bottle.”
Falkenberg believes in a targeted approach, both to establish the best management and nutrition programs for vines on specific blocks based on soil composition, as well as to better set up vines to produce specific wines. “To help us understand our soils better we had soil cores taken to a depth of a metre … and we have been able to identify each of the blocks’ soil horizon, which gives us a greater understanding of the terroir in our vineyards, as well as the reason we often have specific characters exhibited in our wines.
“In addition to the soil cores, we have our soils analysed each year. From this we can carefully manage and target soil deficiencies with practices such as straw mulching under vine, composting, or a combination of both depending on what we identify. The compost that we produce is targeted at the deficiencies that are highlighted in the soil analysis results.”
This focused approach has seen Falkenberg and Lehman work to better express the fruit from individual blocks to make all their wines, but the benefits are perhaps best illustrated by block-specific wines. In 2015, Dr Chris Penfold conducted an experiment in Block 16 where he planted a mix of grasses under the vines, while retaining the native sward between the rows. Falkenberg has maintained this makeup, with no herbicides used. “It might look a bit messy,” he says. “It’s not neat and trim and tidy, but what is going on in the soil is quite incredible. You dig down and you’ve got this big, beautiful mass, like big dreadlocks coming off all those fibrous root systems. That’s all feeding soil biology. When we irrigate that area, the water penetrates twice the depth that it would from a herbicide strip. In addition, we shoot thin, bunch thin and have applied a moveable foliage wire to manipulate the canopy architecture. All these practices combined have had a significant impact on wine quality.”
That block was undoubtedly seeing the vines having to compete more, which reduced yields and helped to bring both the vines and fruit into natural balance. The soil was richer, and the fruit was better, but how that translated into the glass was always going to be key. “We did a blind bench tasting from four separate shiraz blocks off the property in 2021, and the results were unanimous,” says Falkenberg. “There was one standout wine! The wine came from Block 16. In fact, the wine was so good we have further invested in oak treatment and have now put the wine into a 1,500-litre French cask to develop for the next 3 years. This is what winemakers trade on. The expression of flavour from soil terroir and viticultural management practices. Great wines come from great soils.”