Kym Kalleske is the current custodian of the vines on his family’s near 170-year-old Barossa property. With the oldest vines some 147 years old, the vineyard has been biodynamically certified for over two decades, with the celebrated eponymous wine label – from classic Moppa Shiraz and Clarry’s GSM to the vibrantly fresh Parallax and Zeitgeist wines and up to the flagship Johann Georg Shiraz – just on 20 years old this year. Kym works with his parents and two brothers to ensure a rich family legacy will stretch long into the future through a focus on sustainability and regenerative agriculture.
The Kalleske Farm Vineyard story is one of both significant history and the tireless pursuit of improvement. The property in Moppa, a subdistrict of Greenock, was first established by Johann Georg and Johanne Dorothea Kalleske in 1853. The farm has had many mixed uses, from grazing, cropping and milling to tending orchards and vineyards. The oldest vines on the property were planted in 1875, with the current operation extending over 50 hectares and 36 blocks of vines of varying ages and consisting of shiraz, grenache, chenin blanc, durif, petit verdot, tempranillo, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, mataro and semillon.
“Farming without the use of harmful chemicals is not something we started recently, having been certified organic for over 20 years and certified biodynamic not long after that. There is no greater responsibility than nurturing our soil and everything which comes from it.”
The estate is very much a family affair, with John and Lorraine (four-time national grape-picking champion) Kalleske joined by their three sons, Troy, Tony and Kym, in the operation. Troy is the winemaker, Tony mainly looks after sales and business, while Kym Kalleske takes the reins in the vineyard along with the other mixed farming operations – including broadacre crops and running livestock – having almost 30 years’ experience on the land.
“As a seventh-generation farmer, to me it is all about longevity,” says Kalleske. “Sustainability and a long-term approach to viticulture are at the forefront of what we do. We have one of the oldest certified organic and biodynamic properties in the region, and I am firmly rooted in the belief that I am creating a future home and lifestyle for our children, grandchildren, and the next seven generations and beyond.”
That certification came in 1998, four years before the first wine bearing the family name was made at their then recently built winery. Both the shift away from conventional farming methodology and the production of estate wines are fundamental to the success of the estate today, with the viticulture and winemaking praised in equal measure. Both celebrate the old vines in as natural a way as possible, with the winemaking minimal intervention and unadorned, and the viticulture on an endless quest to improve best practice.
“Farming without the use of harmful chemicals is not something we started recently, having been certified organic for over 20 years and certified biodynamic not long after that. There is no greater responsibility than nurturing our soil and everything which comes from it,” Kalleske says, noting that they are particular about not being “passively” organic, but rather forever tweaking their regenerative processes to best fit their site, as well as employing solar power, harvesting rainwater and composting organic winery waste, among other sustainable measures.
“Since I started working alongside my parents some 30 years ago, we have seen improved microbial activity in the soil, increased vine health, a higher population of earthworms and subsequent sponginess in the soil,” Kalleske says. “This has been the result of creating our own unique blend of composted fertiliser, changing up our midrow cover crops, and developing machinery specific to our needs for mulching, mowing and tilling.”
That machinery is modified to be more efficient and to reduce tractor passes, with the mechanical work done onsite by Kalleske and his father, who both embrace the challenges and the improvisation. Indeed, there’s a palpable sense of pride and genuine enjoyment to what to many would see as backbreaking work. “Dad and I have both lived on the farm our whole lives, and as such it is an integral part of who we are, and it of us,” says Kalleske.
“Since I started working alongside my parents some 30 years ago, we have seen improved microbial activity in the soil, increased vine health, a higher population of earthworms and subsequent sponginess in the soil. This has been the result of creating our own unique blend of composted fertiliser, changing up our midrow cover crops, and developing machinery specific to our needs for mulching, mowing and tilling.”
“We plant native areas to minimise erosion, take out contour banks which are no longer needed because the soil is in better condition to absorb rather than repel water during downfalls, keep waterways running effectively, and preserve the history of our family in the old stone buildings built by my grandfather and his predecessors.”
That process of replanting sees the family constantly establishing native vegetation on the land surrounding the vineyard, as well as along natural watercourses. In the vineyard, the differences in soil and aspect in each of the blocks has been carefully aligned with grape varieties and block-specific viticultural methods to maximise the fruit expression and quality.
Water for irrigation that comes from a local scheme – supplementing harvested rainwater – is pumped with a low-pressure, small-footprint pump to the irrigation dam. From there, the water is gravity fed through the irrigation system, with no pumping required due to the elevated location of the dam. Watering is also nuanced in old blocks, with targeted irrigation only for new vines (propagated from old material) that have been planted to replace ones that have had to be removed. This ensures the dry-grown philosophy of the ancient vines is maintained but the young vines are properly supported, too.
Although the Barossa is one of Australia’s hardest hit wine regions from climate change, Kalleske doesn’t see any greater local mitigation than the process they implemented over two decades ago. “Through organics, biodynamics and hard work, I am doing my utmost to future-proof our vineyards by nurturing the soil and listening to what it is telling me,” he says. “I am unwavering in my belief that if more primary producers – ideally all of them – were to do the same, we would all benefit immensely. Nature is all about equilibrium, balance, nurturing and flourishing. There is no better solution.”
Consideration has been given to developing an eco-tourism arm to the family business, both as a sustainable economic string to their bow and a means of spreading the word about best-practice farming, but those plans will likely remain on hold until after Kalleske’s parents retire. “For now, raising our three children, growing veggies and fruit, producing meat and grain, and with Amie’s certified organic sourdough micro-bakery, we are already living the life we dreamed of on my family’s beautiful slice of heaven on Earth. There’s not much more a man could ask for really,” he says.
Kalleske has even planted wheat specifically to supply his wife’s bakery, reconnecting with the milling past of his ancestors. Everything the family do is rooted in the soil, reaping its bounty and feeding nutrients back in. “It’s a beautiful thing to dig a hole almost anywhere on the property and see earthworms,” he says. “We are constantly adding more nutrients and minerals in the form of green manure, our own unique blend of composted fertilisers and biodynamics into our soil. By focusing on what the roots have to feed on, we know the quality of the resultant grapes will be spectacular.”
That connection between his farming and the grapes is naturally a critical one, and he and his winemaker brother are one with the holistic effort required. “We were raised with the same philosophy and work ethic, Kalleske says. “We both believe good wine cannot be made from bad grapes, and that excellent grapes start in the soil of the vineyard. The soil and vines are perfectly in balance with their environment, so they can truly express their site and season. This is what wine should be all about. It is the essence of terroir… there are literally no obstructions to the grapes expressing their environment. Not using chemical fertilisers or force-feeding vines, they naturally explore the soil looking for what they need, and therefore are true expressions of that soil.”
Kalleske says that it is “incredibly rewarding” to play a part in the award-winning Kalleske wines, knowing that the end result begins with his daily routines. “Troy relies solely on indigenous yeast for fermentations, and they are unique to our vineyard,” he says. “He has no need to use other adjuncts in the wine such as tannins or enzymes. Fining agents are not required either, as the grapes are innately balanced and characterful, so there is no clarifying necessary. The age-old fundamental principles of winemaking, along with a passion for capturing all the unique characteristics of each variety and subsequent location allows the grapes to shine in an undeniable representation of our life’s work.”