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Stefano Lubiana, Derwent Valley Steve Lubiana

Top Vineyards

It is over 30 years since Steve Lubiana set up shop in the Derwent Valley, only a short drive from Hobart, with the Stefano Lubiana Vineyard now occupying 25 hectares. Certified biodynamic for nearly a decade, it was Tasmania’s first to achieve accreditation, and was the island state’s only one until very recently. Pinot noir and chardonnay take centre stage, but there are also aromatic whites, syrah and small plots of malvasia and blaufränkisch planted. The wines veer from those classically styled to ones of a natural bent raised in amphora.

Steve Lubiana is a fifth-generation winemaker, growing up in South Australia’s Riverland where his father was a winemaker, and where Lubiana cut his teeth. A move to Tasmania in 1990 saw him and his wife, Monique, plant vines in 1991 in Granton, Derwent Valley. A strong focus on the Apple Isle’s key grapes – pinot noir and chardonnay – for both still and sparkling wines was the prime motivation, but over the years there has been considerable diversification.

The site had new plantings added in 2010 and ’19, with some vines also grafted over the years. The current composition is pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, syrah, merlot, malbec, malvasia and blaufränkisch across 25 hectares of vines. Most of the vineyard is planted at a density of 4,500 vines per hectare, which is still dense by Australian standards, but there is also a close-planted 1.3-hectare block at 11,000 vines per hectare that was established in 2019.

Opposite: The position of the vineyard, overlooking the Derwent river, has a stunning view. Above: Steve Lubiana with his son, Marco.
“In our wines, we see obvious varietal characters, transparency between layers of fruit flavour, balanced natural acid and superior elegance on the finish. No quick, harsh stop. A soft gentle ending to each mouthful! In other words. Our wine makes itself. Rarely is an adjustment required and because we slow wine-make, filtering is more or less done by gravity.”

When Lubiana moved to Tasmania, he was already interested in biodynamics, having studied Rudolph Steiner’s seminal work, Agriculture, and employing some practices along the way. It was in in 2008, though, that he went fully immersive, beginning the process of becoming officially certified. That was no easy task to begin with, but full certification came in 2013 – becoming Tasmania’s first official biodynamic vineyard – and he has never looked back.

“We have been alone in the world of certified biodynamics for many years now,” says Lubiana. “Though recently a northern vineyard, Marion’s, has gained certification. Not many vineyards have the passion or drive to execute or strive for full certification. The reason being it’s time consuming, expensive and mostly unrecognised.”

Above and opposite: terra rossa soils found at the vineyard. The site contains various soils types including terra rossa, gravels and loams. In some sections of the vineyard, Lubiana has noticed over time that the soils are getting darker due to the proven increase in organic matter.

In accordance with biodynamic principles, no synthetic chemicals are used in the vineyard or winery. The classic preparations for nurturing soil and vines are used, and planting, pruning, harvesting etc. are conducted in tune with the lunar calendar. “Our philosophy is a choice,” says Lubiana. “We’ve decided to be certified biodynamic because it protects the soil, creatures, vines, employees, customers and us, the owners, from harmful chemicals. A win all the way around.”

The benefits of biodynamics extend well beyond that, too, says Lubiana. “The soils are deeper and more fertile with increased biodiversity. And they also trap more carbon. The vines are tougher, more resilient, and are better able to resist negative climatic conditions. The grapes have thicker skins, which make them more disease resistant and creates more flavour, and there is better balance and increased age-ability of the wines.”

Opposite: creating a reed bed to recycle winery water waste. Above: planting a new block of the vineyard. There are a number of varying aspects and slopes across the property, which now has 25 hectares planted to vines.

Like with many organic and biodynamic vineyards, weeds present the biggest ongoing challenge for Lubiana, and the strategy is manual and mechanical. “We use machinery to blade the soil as well as other machinery to interrupt weed growth,” he says. “In the last couple of years, we’ve been planting clovers under the vines to outcompete weeds. This trial seems to be working. We have also increased our flock of sheep to eat down more grass over winter, and we still do hand weeding in problematic areas. We try to weed when we can in the barren phase of the moon; the idea is to prevent seed germination. We can’t wait for weed robots to come onto the market!”

The midrow cover crops are made up of a diverse range of species to encourage beneficial insects, while four beehives are placed strategically on the property. “We encourage soil fungi with the use of biochar and compost with zero synthetic fungicides,” says Lubiana. “We rotate sheep on the property to eat grass rather than mowing. The winery is solar powered which provides solar energy to the vineyard during the day. We are also starting to notice the vines require less irrigation. Although it is a very dry growing area, this is due to improved water holding capacity from our practices.”

Mid row cover crops are made up of a diverse range of species, including beans and legumes.

Treated pine posts have not been used since 2010, with new plantings and any replacements now made of steel. Winery wastewater is treated and reused, while all grape waste and marc (the matter left over after fermentation) is composted and spread across the vineyard. The estate’s restaurant, Osteria Vista, is supplied by their own vegetable gardens, along with other produce grown or reared onsite, with food waste composted or fed to the chickens. Most packaging waste is recycled, including plastic pallet wrap, while inhouse packaging is all recycled/recyclable and/or biodegradable, with Biogone pallet wrap, tape and pallet toppers used. The supplementary grid power is mitigated by 100 hectares of native vegetation on the property.

And while climate change has not largely had the negative effects in the cool of Tasmania, rather hitting warmer mainland sites more heavily, Lubiana believes that biodynamics plays a crucial role in moderating any potential issues. “We think biodynamics offers a buffer because it encourages deep root systems and builds carbon in the soil that acts like a blanket, keeping the soil cool in summer and warming it up with the air it holds over winter,” he says. “Natural grape acid is in abundance, and we detect no change in precision or transparency [from climate change] in the finished wines. We have no complaints.”

That precision of expression is something that Lubiana notes has only increased with biodynamics, and that it has likely been the biggest change since conversion. “In our wines, we see obvious varietal characters, transparency between layers of fruit flavour, balanced natural acid and superior elegance on the finish,” he says. “No quick, harsh stop. A soft gentle ending to each mouthful! In other words. Our wine makes itself. Rarely is an adjustment required and because we slow wine-make, filtering is more or less done by gravity.”

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