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Tamar Ridge – Kayena, Tasmania Ben Pietsch

Top Vineyards

A short drive from Launceston, Tamar Ridge’s Kayena Vineyard has over 130 hectares of vines, with a strong focus on pinot noir across almost two dozen clones. Viticulturist Ben Pietsch employs technology to optimise operations, from compost applications, to irrigation, to identifying underperforming blocks, but many of the solutions are far from technical, such as roaming poultry and insectary plantings to control pests. Fruit from the vineyard goes to making aromatic whites and pinot noir for the Tamar Ridge label, as well as sparkling wine under the Pirie brand.

The Kayena Vineyard, in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania’s north, was first planted in 1994, with many additions over the years to expand it to now stretch over 134 hectares. Most of the vines are on own roots, with 10 per cent on rootstock, but with no other grafting, and the varietal mix unsurprisingly focuses on the cool climate grapes that are the region’s strength.

“Kayena Vineyard is home to pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and riesling, with the last new plantings in 2018,” says Tamar Ridge viticulturist Ben Pietsch. “We have very good clonal diversity with 22 different clones of pinot noir across the vineyard.”

“We always keep each block and clone of pinot noir separate through the whole winemaking process, so it really gives us the opportunity to focus in on the way a certain clone interacts with its terroir. This can often be a difference in soil structure, aspect or age of vine. One wine that we really notice this in is the Tamar Ridge ‘Single Block’ Pinot Noir. Clone D4V2 Pinot Noir from only eight rows of twenty-year-old vines it is has a distinct white pepper intensity amongst incredible concentration, and it’s only made in very special years.”

All the vines are drip irrigated with water collected and stored onsite. “Winery wastewater is retained onsite and passed through seven gravity-feed ponds before reaching our main irrigation dam – this can then be used for vineyard irrigation,” says Pietsch, who utilises soil moisture tests and evapotranspiration (ETO) calculations to reduce water use and avoid overwatering. There is also a permanent mid-row sward, with ongoing soil testing carried out to assess sequestered carbon, organic matter and nutrients.

Pietsch spreads composted grape marc under the vines, with all applications made as per needs, rather than a blanket approach. This is determined via satellite imagery to assess the plant cell density (PCD), with this data then fed into the Platfarm app to direct the variable application from digital mapping platforms mounted in the tractors. That PCD data is also used to identify low-yielding sections of the vineyard that need specific attention.

Pietsch spreads composted grape marc under the vines, with all applications made as per needs, rather than a blanket approach.
Pietsch employs an integrated pest management plan. “The use of poultry to control snails and weevils has been both an integrated and novel solutions to pest control the natural way – with eggs as a great result!” he says.

“If suboptimal vigour is seen, we adjust the bud number,” says Pietsch, “or in cases of sustained underperformance in older spur-pruned blocks, they have been reworked to a two-cane configuration. We believe in optimal vine balance, with yield and vigour balanced, optimising fruit quality with wine quality outcomes.” This pursuit of balance also extends to leaf plucking after fruit set to optimise tannin and colour development in the cool site.

“We are a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia to assess and benchmark the sustainability of our management practices,” says Pietsch, who notes that while harnessing technology is a vital tool in monitoring and managing such a large site, solutions to problems are often humble ones.

Pietsch employs an integrated pest management plan, with environmentally sensitive practices employed to manage most issues, including the planting of native species to attract beneficial predatory insects. “The use of poultry to control snails and weevils has been both an integrated and novel solutions to pest control the natural way – with eggs as a great result!” he says.

Although at well over 100 hectares the Kayena Vineyard is a large site, Pietsch is acutely aware of the way nuances in geology and clone produce differing results, with a focus on identifying and separating individual parcels. “Over the years, we have become more attuned to individual blocks,” he says.

Pietsch also uses mechanical solutions to reduce the need to for chemical intervention. “We have introduced shaking of vines when the fruit is on vine to reduce leaf waste in the bunches, which reduces the botrytis potential,” he says. This process occurs before the berries grow to form a tight bunch, removing any “trash” being trapped between the grapes as they swell to ripeness.

Although at well over 100 hectares the Kayena Vineyard is a large site, Pietsch is acutely aware of the way nuances in geology and clone produce differing results, with a focus on identifying and separating individual parcels. “Over the years, we have become more attuned to individual blocks,” he says.

“We always keep each block and clone of pinot noir separate through the whole winemaking process, so it really gives us the opportunity to focus in on the way a certain clone interacts with its terroir. This can often be a difference in soil structure, aspect or age of vine. One wine that we really notice this in is the Tamar Ridge ‘Single Block’ Pinot Noir. Clone D4V2 Pinot Noir from only eight rows of twenty-year-old vines it is has a distinct white pepper intensity amongst incredible concentration, and it’s only made in very special years.”