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Small Wonder, Tamar Valley Ryan Collins

Top Vineyards

Small Wonder is a new brand on a mature property in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley, specialising in pinot noir, chardonnay and aromatic whites. In 2020, Goaty Hill was sold by the founders after two decades on the property. The vineyard was bought by a recently formed company called Overstory, which also purchased an established vineyard in Margaret River. The aim for both sites is to build organic and environmentally sensitive businesses and “resilient farm communities that give back to the earth and the people who live upon it”. The viticulture is managed by Ryan Collins and site manager Wayne Nunn, who are currently in the process of working towards organic certification.

Goaty Hill is still trading for now, but with the release of the first batch of Small Wonder wines in 2022, the operation will be officially renamed. The wines are made by the Overstory group winemaker, James Trio, while Ryan Collins runs the viticultural operations. He is currently overseeing the conversion of both vineyards to organics, with a broader focus on sustainability at all levels, though much of his work is being done remotely – due to border restrictions – in collaboration with site manage Wayne Nunn.

“The biggest challenge is managing the program from WA,” says Colins. “We’re managing it with good communication from our manager, Wayne Nunn, lots of team meetings, photo and video sharing. Wayne has worked on the property for over 10 years and has played a pivotal role in the success we are seeing. He has a deep connection with the land, the vines and what we are trying to achieve.”

Collins notes that the company has a central policy of sustainability, which he says covers the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. “This thinking runs throughout the business and not just in the vineyard. I find it hard to separate the vineyard from the entire business. Someone much smarter than me once said that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. If I was to define our culture, it would be one with interdependence and flexibility. Key descriptors, like caring, purpose, learning and results come to mind. Our employees understand we have a purpose to leave this land in a better place than we found it.”

“I believe the site is best suited to the key Burgundy varieties, pinot noir and chardonnay. We’re increasing the diversity of pinot noir clones to buffer the seasonal fluctuations, and we’re also planting on slopes with more east and south aspects to retain freshness in the warmer seasons. Deep ripping in the existing blocks will also be important in driving the roots deeper into the subsoil. This will help a lot in the drier seasons.”
“In 2021, we picked our 115-clone pinot noir and split the pick between the red chromosol soils and grey podisol soils, and the differences between the wines was very apparent. The podosols had much brighter lift on the nose but had less weight and slightly coarser tannins. The chromosols had more mid-palate weight and softer tannins. It was our first insight into how the soils are driving the wine at this site, and we’re excited to learn more about this in other varieties.”

For Collins, the idea of sustainability includes community, customer relationships, employing locally, and safe work practices, from protective equipment to education and training, and naturally extends to their farming decisions. “We believe farming organically provides a much safer workplace for all employees, because softer pesticides are used,” he says. “None of the organic pesticides have warnings like ‘may harm your unborn child’, ‘do not drink alcohol for 24 hours’ or ‘acute toxicity’. None of our spray drift will harm our neighbours’ crops, livestock, wildlife or the people who live there.”

Farming organically and implementing regenerative practices is also part of their legacy, says Collins. “Understanding that agriculture can play a positive role in our climate is encouraging for everyone involved. The yeomans plough has been proven to fix carbon into the soil. Fixing carbon builds topsoil and topsoil holds more water. Combine this with cover cropping, which fixes nitrogen and carbon, and you have a vineyard that can benefit the world.”

The organic treatments employed for pest control are also less harmful to soil microbes and beneficial insects, and the cover crops help to minimise soil erosion and improve water infiltration. That means less water use but greater penetration, which encourages deeper root systems that are less reliant on irrigation and able to channel the geology into the finished wines. Collins also notes that in their short stewardship that the population of earthworms has increased and there are much higher numbers of predatory insects, such as native wasps, lacewings and ladybugs. “And even in this short time, we are noticing the wines we’re making have better freshness, precision and expression of the site,” he says.

Collins is also conscious of minimising the downsides agriculture can have on the broader local landscape. “A large area of our property is native bushland, and the preservation of this is important both for the protection of native flora and fauna and also to promote a more diverse ecosystem on the property,” he says. “The small piece of land that we manage is not only defined by its fence lines. It’s interconnected to the surrounding farms, forest, the Tamar watershed, the ocean and the troposphere. Being conscious of this when deciding how to farm is really important for us.”

The vineyard was first planted in 1998, with subsequent plantings taking it to almost 20 hectares under vine. Pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris make up the varietal mix, which is an ideal makeup for the site, and Collins notes that the former owners planted the best available clones of the day. With new material available, he will commence complexing the clonal mix by planting four new pinot noir clones and one new clone of pinot gris in 2022. “I believe the vineyard has all the hallmarks of a world class vineyard site: aspect, soils, elevation and climate,” he says.

“I believe the site is best suited to the key Burgundy varieties, pinot noir and chardonnay. We’re increasing the diversity of pinot noir clones to buffer the seasonal fluctuations, and we’re also planting on slopes with more east and south aspects to retain freshness in the warmer seasons. Deep ripping in the existing blocks will also be important in driving the roots deeper into the subsoil. This will help a lot in the drier seasons.”

“We’re a small vineyard on a small island in the southern hemisphere,” says Collins, stressing that they’re not going to succeed by selling wine on low margins to big retailers. “Our business will be successful by offering high quality wine at good value, connecting with our customers, giving them great customer service and experiences, and selling to them directly for the long term.”

While much of what Collins says relates to environmental goals and the wellbeing of his workforce, there are deeply resonant quality ambitions that are anchored in expressing their site. “We have a targeted style of wine we want to make that really reflects where it comes from,” he says. “Detailed vineyard management and picking early has really helped express the site and maintain freshness. This has really been a team effort between our CEO, winemaker, site manager, consultant and I.”

And while the survey is young for the team, they are already reaping information about their site through winemaking trials. “In 2021, we picked our 115-clone pinot noir and split the pick between the red chromosol soils and grey podisol soils, and the differences between the wines was very apparent,” says Collins as an example. “The podosols had much brighter lift on the nose but had less weight and slightly coarser tannins. The chromosols had more mid-palate weight and softer tannins. It was our first insight into how the soils are driving the wine at this site, and we’re excited to learn more about this in other varieties.”

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