Orbis Vineyard, McLaren Vale Macca Mackenzie, Brad Moyes & Lauren Langfield

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The Orbis wine label was founded by Brad Moyes and Kendall Grey in 2018 when they purchased an established vineyard in McLaren Vale. The Orbis name references the idea of a self-sufficient system, and the pair anchor everything they do in sustainability, from farming to bottling. Mowing between the rows is largely performed by a flock of babydoll sheep that have been given permanent residence between the vines, with chickens and ducks to join them once a fox-proof fence trial is completed. The fruit goes to the Orbis wines made by Lauren Langfield at the onsite winery, from a pét-nat and a piquette to trousseau and an old vine shiraz, with a pair of rosés and a few non-traditional blends filling out the roster. Contract grapes are also sold to make premium products for Ministry of Clouds, Hither & Yon and Samson Tall, amongst others. The vineyard is managed by Macca Mackenzie, owner Brad Moyes, and general manager Lauren Langfield.

“We are the most southern vineyard in the area with the Kurrajong soil formation, but we also have fantastic combinations of sand and sand over clay, and very well-draining and healthy soils,” says Langfield. “Our topography, our proximity to the hills and the sea, and our gentle slope means our vineyard has great diurnal temperature range. McLaren Vale is an incredibly diverse wine region, unified by our warm growing conditions and our proximity to the ocean.”

The vineyard was first established in the 1950s with 12 hectares committed to vines. By the end of the ’70s, those plantings had almost doubled. A small addition was made in 2001, with climate-apt varieties being planted from 2019, with constant adjustments being made to tilt away from shiraz and embrace the varieties most suited to the site. Today, the 32-hectare property is planted to shiraz, tempranillo, grenache, nero d’avola, montepulciano, fiano, trousseau, cinsault and albariño.

Langfield began her position at Orbis prior to the 2022 harvest. “We were was quick to introduce fruit thinning into the vineyard, which decreased the workload on our vines,” says Langfield. “We can see this in the quality of the wines made from the 2022 vintage, and we saw it visually with the even ripeness of the grapes as well.”

Langfield is also targeting earlier picking, working with the viticultural team to get the acid and sugar balance right, along with flavour development and ripe tannins. “We are working to ensure that the vines are getting more sunlight, and this goes back to our pruning methods to ensure that we have better spaces and shoot positions, and that we are using shoot-thinning techniques as well as fruit-thinning techniques,” says Langfield.

Re-trellising has seen the cordon wires raised, along with the move to vertical shoot positioning (VSP). “We are expecting this to translate into more even ripening fruit, with greater phenolic ripening at the same time as the sugar is ripening,” says Langfield. “Our vineyard workers will enjoy picking this fruit more as well, with less time bent over!” She also notes that this reduces the impact of reflected heat from the ground.

Hardwood timber used onsite for vineyard end-posts and any building – including a recently completed winery extension – is all sourced sustainably onsite from their own wood lot, while all wood waste is composted with grape marc (stems, seeds and skins left after pressing) and the help of chickens that pick through the piles while contributing their own organic matter.

Orbis farm babydoll sheep, with winter and autumn cell grazing between the rows initially helping with weed management, but the benefits to the soil through their manure and the sustainability advantages became so apparent that they now graze them amongst the vines year-round. That’s another reason for raising the cordon wires, as even though the babydolls are short in stature, young shoots and fruit were still proving to be tempting snacks.

While the Orbis Vineyard is one of the highest and coolest in McLaren Vale, with sea breezes providing further cooling effects, the impacts of climate change are still keenly felt. “We have been moving away from what’s typical of our region,” says Langfield. “We are planting new varieties, planting in different row orientations, widths and plant spacings, using higher trellis, cordon heights and irrigation drippers. We need to address water scarcity, higher daily temperatures, higher peaks of rainfall and longer time between rainfall. We think the Mediterranean varieties are much better suited for the changing McLaren Vale climate.”

Like any best-practice vineyard, the pursuit of soil health is of paramount importance. Mulch and compost are produced onsite and cover crops are grown in the mid-rows, with no herbicides or pesticides employed. “It’s rewarding to see the health of our soils and the water retention from the full pasture under our vines,” says Langfield. “It only takes driving through the Vale to see the drying off in other vineyards, and we can still see green growth in our mid-rows. We aren’t irrigating these, but the diversity of plant life and the reduced mowing passes, the mulching and the grazing of our animals are all working together to protect the soil structure, locking in carbon and keeping the moisture in the ground.”

Solar is used to power the winery and electric vehicles and machinery are used where possible, including an electric forklift and Polaris farm vehicles.

That provides an obvious upside for the growing of wine grapes, but it also underscores the overarching commitment to sustainability, says Langfield. “We are making our vineyard management decisions with this at the forefront. Our philosophy is based on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that go beyond the common economic, social and environmental definition. We are working towards the goal of carbon net zero by reducing our emissions and those related to our purchases and increasing our carbon sequestration on site.”

Hardwood timber used for vineyard end-posts and any building – including a recently completed winery extension – is all sourced sustainably onsite from their own wood lot, while wood waste is composted with grape marc (stems, seeds and skins left after pressing) and the help of chickens that pick through the piles while contributing their own organic matter. Biochar is made onsite from prunings and vines that have been removed. The operation is also now completely off-grid, with solar used to power the winery, and electric vehicles and machinery used where possible, including an electric forklift and Polaris farm vehicles. The farm also produces meat, wool, honey and eggs, further enhancing their independence of inputs.

The sustainability mantra goes all the way to the bottling line, too, with locally produced lightweight recycled bottles used, which are sealed with natural cork that has been individually tested to eliminate cork taint. The production of those corks and the forestry methods involved have been measured to sequester 300 grams of CO2 for every closure, as opposed to the 37 grams emitted per screw cap. Foils are eschewed and the labels are made from sugar cane waste, which is fully biodegradable. They will even collect empty bottles to wash and reuse.

“We have really big goals,” says Langfield, “which include increasing our native revegetation efforts, planting more beneficial insectaries, reintroducing native plant species, including native bush tucker and quandongs, introducing endangered native marsupials, providing habitat for a koala sanctuary in our fabulous red river gums, installing native bat houses… Also, ecotourism and experiences on the property, providing a really unique and diverse experience for wine tasting.”

“Our wines focus on the fresh vitality of flavour which comes off our healthy vines, and the diversity within our vineyard,” adds Langfield. “We provide habitat and protection for the diversity of insect life and native lizard populations, as well as the birds and native ground-dwelling mammals, and we are rewarded for this with our healthy vines. Winemakers want to buy our fruit. And I’m very happy too! Our soils are healthy, which means our fruit is very healthy, and this means our natural ferments are healthy as well – this translates to great wines!”

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