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Tellurian, Heathcote Tobias Ansted

Top Vineyards

Ian Hopkins was drawn to Heathcote by a love for the style of shiraz that was being wrought there from the ancient Cambrian soils. A piece of red dirt on the Mount Camel Range was acquired, and the first vines – shiraz, of course – for his own venture were planted in 2002. That vineyard has now expanded to around 30 hectares. Drought-tolerant varieties like nero d’avola, fiano and carignan, and Rhône stars like grenache and mourvèdre, have now joined the roster, with some planted at high density and others as bush vines. Tobias Ansted holds both the winemaking and viticulture reins, with the farming certified organic but forever being pushed to exceed those standards.

Ian Hopkins’ Tellurian vineyard has been progressively established, beginning in 2002, with the most recent vines added in 2019. The vineyard was first planted to shiraz, and Heathcote’s most celebrated variety still holds sway today, occupying 21 hectares of the 33 hectares under vine. Grenache, mourvèdre, carignan, nero d’avola, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, grenache gris, riesling and fiano make up the balance.

In that mix, varieties like nero d’avola, fiano and carignan have been planted by winemaker and viticulturist Tobias Ansted with a firm eye to the future. “There is no doubt our biggest challenge is dealing with climate change,” he says, “and choosing new varieties that are able to cope into the future is fundamental to our long-term sustainability.

And though that localised focus on soil and vine health is critical, the broader picture is just as important. “We also need to look at our own contribution to global carbon emissions to become part of the solution and not the problem,” says Ansted, noting that their new cellar door and dining room – which are a part of their economic sustainability plan – take advantage of Heathcote’s abundant sunshine for their energy needs via solar panels.

“We are working on ways to adapt to and mitigate the effects of a hotter, drier climate. Improving soil health has been an important part of improving vineyard health. A soil that is alive regulates water availability better and also encourages beneficial soil bacteria and fungi that can help vines access the nutrients they need.”

And though that localised focus on soil and vine health is critical, the broader picture is just as important. “We also need to look at our own contribution to global carbon emissions to become part of the solution and not the problem,” says Ansted, noting that their new cellar door and dining room – which are a part of their economic sustainability plan – take advantage of Heathcote’s abundant sunshine for their energy needs via solar panels.

“Sustainability is about protecting and nurturing our ecosystem and doing things in a way that minimises our impact on the environment. This is all an on-going process that started with our conversion to organic vineyard management.”

“We don’t want to stop at organic certification," says Tobias Ansted. "Organics have been an important first step but really only tells us what not to do. Organic viticulture has helped to make our vines as robust and healthy as possible, and that helps them to withstand climate variables, such as heat spikes in warmer years and less reliable rainfall. But we are changing the way we manage our canopy as well, reducing the vigour to reduce water use and to slow ripening.”

While Ansted was not there to plant the establishing vines, he was hired by Hopkins two years before Tellurian’s first commercial harvest in 2008. “Any good winemaker recognises the primacy of the vineyard in producing great wine,” he says. “That’s why when I first became involved with Tellurian in 2006, I got respected viticulturist Tim Brown on board. Tim’s experience and expertise has been invaluable.”

In 2015, they began converting the vineyard to organic management, with certification (ACO) coming in 2018. For Ansted, though, being certified organic was not an end point. “We don’t want to stop at organic certification. Organics have been an important first step but really only tells us what not to do. Organic viticulture has helped to make our vines as robust and healthy as possible, and that helps them to withstand climate variables, such as heat spikes in warmer years and less reliable rainfall. But we are changing the way we manage our canopy as well, reducing the vigour to reduce water use and to slow ripening.”

That push beyond organics is a bold one, with Ansted abandoning copper and sulphur sprays due to their “toxicity”. The use of those applications is the bedrock of organic disease management, but it is one that is coming under increasing criticism. “It’s about finding practices that are not harmful to our people, or to the beneficial insects, microbes and fungi that are an essential part of creating a healthier, more biodiverse vineyard.”

“We were impressed by the wines coming from steep, close-planted sites in Saint-Joseph and Hermitage,” says Ansted. “I am really happy with the fruit that is now coming off a high-density shiraz block at 8,888 vines per hectare. Tasting the fruit that from those vines, we think the density of planting, combined with soil, aspect and elevation, is showing outstanding promise.”

A trip to the Northern Rhône in 2014 was the lynchpin to convince Hopkins and Ansted not only to convert to organics, with many of the great sites they visited under long-term organic management, but also to improve wine quality by establishing close-planted blocks, a project that is now showing results.

“We were impressed by the wines coming from steep, close-planted sites in Saint-Joseph and Hermitage,” says Ansted. “I am really happy with the fruit that is now coming off a high-density shiraz block at 8,888 vines per hectare. Tasting the fruit that from those vines, we think the density of planting, combined with soil, aspect and elevation, is showing outstanding promise.”

In addition to those plantings, bush vine blocks of grenache and carignan have been established as an investigation into the most appropriate setup for their site. “We are looking at growing grapes in different ways,” says Ansted. “We hope to improve vine performance by reducing disease pressure, better protecting the fruit from heat and sun and reducing overall water usage, with the ultimate aim of improving fruit and therefore wine quality.”

This investigation into innovative practices runs deep at Tellurian, both onsite and amongst the winegrowing community. “We are a close-knit winemaking community in Heathcote,” says Ansted. “We share ideas about new ways of doing things both in the vineyard and in the winery. We have a weather station project that is collecting data from twelve stations spread across the region that will help to identify sub-regional differences… Sharing experiences speeds up the learning process and is a benefit to all involved.”