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Mewstone, Tasmania Luke Andree

Top Vineyards

Mewstone has appeared comet-like in its success. The wines – hailing from the banks of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Tasmania’s viticultural deep south – have been accorded a rapid series of accolades, but though that ascension may seem quick, it was laboriously built from the ground up. Although the vineyard is just on a decade old, an intensely thoughtful process has underpinned the processes of owners Jonathan and Matthew Hughes, with the site meticulously tended and progressively planted to optimise its potential. Today, viticulturist Luke Andree works with Jonathan Hughes to manage the 3.6-hectare vineyard, farming pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and shiraz vines, with the formal process of organic certification having begun in 2020.

In 2011, the brothers Hughes set up their vineyard south of Hobart in the tiny hamlet of Flowerpot in Tasmania’s D’Entrecasteaux Channel subregion. Jonathan has worked as a winemaker around the world, but he had been moored at Moorilla Estate when Matthew’s suggestion to tip in and buy an old cherry orchard was eagerly taken up, with 2 hectares of vines planted that same year.

Those first plantings included five clones of pinot noir, four of chardonnay, four of riesling and a third of a hectare of shiraz, which was solely planted to the old Tahbilk clone. On north-facing slopes of sandy loam over a clay subsoil, the vineyard was structured in a way to make the most informed future judgements about how clones and varieties performed across different aspects, elevations and variations in soil.

“Being as far south as we are our seasons are naturally very long and late. By the time we get to the back end of ripening, our fruit can be hanging out fairly exposed. However, by this stage the kick of the sun is really starting to die down, so what we’ve noticed especially with our whites is that the skins develop a really nice ripeness of flavour and phenolics without that typical sunburn flavour. We are harvesting yellow grapes, not green ones, which many old school winemakers would reject, but it really works on our site and with Jonny’s winemaking style.”
Above: Preparing for Mewstone's second planting in 2019 – this here, a block of pinot noir and riesling. Opposite: Mewstone's main pinot noir block, planted in 2011.

In 2017–18, additional clones of pinot noir and riesling were planted based on some of the findings, as well as to further investigate suitability. Today, there are about 3.6 hectares under vine, with individual parcels of clones vinified separately to make definitive judgements about what works, and what doesn’t. Pinot noir’s fabled Abel clone was added in ’18, while the new ENTAV-INRA 828 and 943 clones were planted along with the more familiar 667. A further vineyard addition is about to be undertaken.

“We’re about to install and plant our final extension to the vineyard, which will take us to a total of 6 hectares under vine,” says viticulturist Luke Andree. “This is on a slightly different aspect and some different areas of soil types, so we’ve implemented everything we’ve learned so far, but this one will give us even more to learn.”

Andree works with Jonny (as he is known) Hughes to manage the farming, with the pair working to tailor their approach to the specific nuances of the site. “There is no dogma attached to the way we farm,” says Andree. “The quest has always been to figure out what works best on our patch. We can’t really be guided by what works elsewhere due to our climate and soil, which we don’t share with other regions. When we first started the project, the vineyard was a former cherry orchard, fallowed for years with next to no biological life in the soil. After 10 years on the place, the soil is measurably thriving with fungal and bacterial life and our focus on nurturing them continues.”

Opposite: Luke Andree. “We’re about to install and plant our final extension to the vineyard, which will take us to a total of 6 hectares under vine,” says Andree. Above: Jonathan Hughes.

The site has irrigation, but seasonal rains are typically sufficient, with a dam as backup in drier years. Along with embarking on the process of organic certification in 2020, a cellar door and winery were also built onsite, adding a layer of control and economic stability. That economic viability is also built around working closely with neighbouring vineyards, producers and business “to add to the epicurean experience of the region”, with the aim of making it a tourism destination of varied appeal and depth.

“Creating a healthy environment for our vines to grow and our people to work makes the whole enterprise more sustainable,” says Andree. “To do this we are focusing on regenerating soil health and surrounding bush land, as well as providing a safe and happy workplace/venue for the public to visit. Growing better fruit allows us to make premium wine and draw tourism to our cellar door space and draws more people to the region as a whole.”

While 2020 marked the official conversion to organics, Mewstone was already well on the way with their farming practices, working with a neighbouring soil microbiologist for a number of years prior. “We have been working with the ‘soil food web’ principles to improve soil fungal populations with the use of composts, mulches and compost teas,” says Andree. “We have moved to a fully organic pest and disease management program and have invested in new equipment and labour to replace synthetic chemicals. Permanent ground cover improves soil structure, remedies compaction, cycles nutrients and nurtures soil microbiology.”

That process is not simply about farming the vines organically, either, with Andree putting the emphasis on the broader management of the land. “It’s more important to me than growing the vines,” he says. “I firmly believe that if you look after what’s below your feet, the vines will mostly look after themselves. We leave grasses and flowers to attract beneficial insects and create a thriving ecosystem around the farm. My drive is to let the vines do the speaking about the place. I don’t want to overdo anything because I think that that masks terroir. It’s about feeding the biology instead of the vines, so that they can feed the vines, not overwatering, being happy with grass under the vines, not cultivating. The ultimate goal is to fully close this loop on the property and create as much of the vineyard’s nutritional inputs as possible from ingredients sourced on site.”

“My drive is to let the vines do the speaking about the place. I don’t want to overdo anything because I think that that masks terroir. It’s about feeding the biology instead of the vines, so that they can feed the vines, not overwatering, being happy with grass under the vines, not cultivating.”
In this marginal climate, harvest is in autumn.

And while Mewstone is a cool site, Andree sees this closed-loop approach as a critical factor in contributing to the larger global issue of warmer years. “Climate change is huge, probably the biggest problem we’re faced with,” he says. “Everything that is green is a solar panel. Growing more means putting more carbon in the ground. Healthy, living soils sequester more carbon, and minimising both cultivation and areas of bare earth keeps it in.”

And while Mewstone will no doubt reveal more and more of its site character over time, Andree already sees palpable threads in the wines. “Some characteristics in the wines would be the contribution of skin ripeness to the flavour of our whites and the subtle but highly characteristic reduction in our reds due in part to the nutrient-leaching nature of the place in spring and then not over compensating with nitrogen fertilisers,” he says.

“Being as far south as we are our seasons are naturally very long and late. By the time we get to the back end of ripening, our fruit can be hanging out fairly exposed. However, by this stage the kick of the sun is really starting to die down, so what we’ve noticed especially with our whites is that the skins develop a really nice ripeness of flavour and phenolics without that typical sunburn flavour. We are harvesting yellow grapes, not green ones, which many old school winemakers would reject, but it really works on our site and with Jonny’s winemaking style.”

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