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Land of Tomorrow – Grindstone Vineyard, Wrattonbully Susie Harris

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Susie Harris makes her Land of Tomorrow wines from her family’s Wrattonbully property, which they have farmed for four generations. Beginning in the 1970s, the property has been steadily revegetated from bare grazing land to re-establish woodland and wetlands, with vines first planted for the Grindstone Vineyard in 1995. Harris has sped up the process of restoring the land, with as much attention to the vineyard as the surrounding land, building biodiversity from microbes in the soil to native grasses between the rows and fauna in the re-established scrub.

The Grindstone Vineyard was progressively planted between 1995 and 2000, with chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon making up the 46.6 hectares of vines. The land has been used for farming and grazing land until viticulture took precedence. Today, the fruit is made into Susie Harris’s Land of Tomorrow wines, which are wild fermented and matured in well-seasoned oak.

Harris, who is the current custodian of the property, says that her family have lived on the site for over 100 years. “The current generation, the fourth, are carrying on the native revegetation work that was started in the 1970s,” she says. “As vegetation complexity has been reinstated at Land of Tomorrow, macro- and micro-habitat diversity have increased, resulting in increased biodiversity across the three systems – plant, soil and fauna. The resultant landscape changes not only reinstate ecosystem services but provide onsite carbon storage. This is far beyond what grassland provided. We have inherited a legacy from past generations and will leave a legacy for future generations – a land for tomorrow.”

“The Wrattonbully wine region is home to the World Heritage listed Naracoorte caves, which lie in the heart of the region, with caves scattered throughout the vineyards and farms of the region,” says Harris. “This karst landscape of limestone and complementary soils are ideal for winegrowing. The geology of this region is the key to its success and the Land of Tomorrow name reflects the importance of this.”

Harris says that their path to environmental sustainability was begun by the family’s third generation stewards of the land. “They began to reinstate woodland and wetland where our early European farming forefathers/mothers had changed it from predominantly woodland to open grassland,” she says. “They also began the change from open grassland for sheep and cropping to vineland, which, being deep-rooted perennials, has created an agroecosystem, which is a multifunctional landscape, providing a range of natural ecosystem services in addition to production of grapes and wine.”

The Land of Tomorrow wines take their name from the indigenous word “kanawinka”, which is the Buandik people’s name for the area. The Kanawinka Fault is also a volcanic fault line that runs through the region and on into Victoria, providing unique geology. “The Wrattonbully wine region is home to the World Heritage listed Naracoorte caves, which lie in the heart of the region, with caves scattered throughout the vineyards and farms of the region,” says Harris. “This karst landscape of limestone and complementary soils are ideal for winegrowing. The geology of this region is the key to its success and the Land of Tomorrow name reflects the importance of this.”

While working towards a better future for her property, Harris stresses that the resource of information collected by prior generations on elements such as rainfall, water flow and soil types is a critical one. With third-generation family members still residing on the site, she can tap into 75 years of knowledge. “These long years of experience enable us to make decisions such as where to plant habitat of certain types, where not to plant grapevines, where olive trees will grow well… and this in turn has help us grow resilient and appropriate plants, vines and other,” she says.

The property is about 65 per cent “vineland”, with the remainder grassland, woodland and wetlands. “Our philosophy around sustainability relates to the environmental, economic and social elements of what we do,” says Harris. “Environmentally we look at our site as a whole. We believe economic sustainability comes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. By changing the landscape trajectory to one which has enhanced habitat complexity, we are able to build site resilience and therefore build mechanisms to cope with climate change, thus strengthening our economic position. The addition of ecotourism activities on our site adds economic diversity and is an added economic benefit.”

A hut was built in the wetlands/woodlands area, with the aim of visitors being able to immerse themselves in nature, but also to learn about the farming approach. “We will host more people here in the coming years so that we can tell the story of this land that is so important to us, the wines that come from it and what we are doing to protect it.”

That ecotourism venture was born from what Harris describes as “a great hunger for people to visit our land”. A hut was built in the wetlands/woodlands area, with the aim of visitors being able to immerse themselves in nature, but also to learn about the farming approach. “We will host more people here in the coming years so that we can tell the story of this land that is so important to us, the wines that come from it and what we are doing to protect it.”

The ongoing project to restore woodlands, scrub and wetlands on the property is inextricably linked to positive impacts on the vineyard, with a recent focus on plantings dense native shrubs and grasses near to the vines, which have encouraged greater populations of beneficial insects and spiders. A midrow sward has long been a feature, but Harris is looking to enhance the biodiversity further to benefit the soil health, water retention and maintain healthy insect populations.

“Our aim is to build our land’s resilience so that it can absorb change and recover,” says Harris. “In the vineland we have always maintained a permanent sward, but now we are taking that to the next level and through our trial work with native grasses and hydroseeding the under-vine area, we are looking to further enhance the soil organic matter/biota. This planting also works to keep the vineyard cooler in summer, which should add resilience against extreme heat events.”

“In the vineland we have always maintained a permanent sward, but now we are taking that to the next level and through our trial work with native grasses and hydroseeding the under-vine area, we are looking to further enhance the soil organic matter/biota. This planting also works to keep the vineyard cooler in summer, which should add resilience against extreme heat events.”
Above: January 2021, undervine trial of wallaby grass. Opposite: the undervine trial of wallaby grass in August 2021.

That process of hydroseeding – with seeds delivered in a slurry of mulch – is one that Harris doesn’t know of being applied to viticulture before, rather it is often employed to combat erosion or to revegetate large areas after fires or clearing. Native seeds are not typically slippery, so they won’t fall through traditional seeding machinery, but delivering them in a slurry solves that problem and will allow Harris to spread seeds over her whole site, a task that would not be practical broadcasting by hand.

Finding solutions to resolve tricky issues like this without compromising are critical at the Grindstone Vineyard, as Harris sees value right through the spectrum from broader environmental goals to producing better fruit and wine. “Our focus on wildlife habitat and ecosystem services has given our vineyard vitality, which we believe is evident in the glass,” she says. “It is this coupled with sheer time spent in the vineyard – understanding the nuances of every area, being able to pick parcels of fruit to suit a need, adjusting vineyard functions to suit the climatic conditions of the year – that make the Land of Tomorrow wines what they are.

“We believe that the purest way to taste our wines is to taste them on our land because terroir involves not just climate and landscape, but also culture. Bringing wine tourists to our site can help immerse them in our family culture and make a connection to our landscape as our heartland.”

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