Vinteloper Vineyard, Adelaide Hills David Bowley

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Originally working only with sourced fruit, David Bowley’s Vinteloper found a home vineyard in the Adelaide Hills only for it to be savaged by fire in 2019. Restoring those lost vines is a demanding project, but it goes hand in hand with his process of regenerative agriculture of both vineyard and non-vineyard land. Extensive planting of native flora, a considered water management strategy and solar power for all electricity needs are all part of Bowley’s approach that is tilted to sustainability on both a local and larger scale, while constantly pushing for quality gains. The site is responsible for the ‘Home’ Shiraz and a pinot noir, shiraz and pinot gris in the Vinteloper ‘White Label’ range.

“Without doubt the Adelaide Hills is a premium cool climate wine region,” says Bowley. “Anyone who has stood in the vineyard on a freezing July morning to prune would never dispute that. When our vineyard was planned back in the late 1990s, a lot of thought was put into varietal and site selection. That planning is paying off now. Our shiraz is perfectly positioned to deliver an uncharacteristic but beautiful cool climate wine. The west-facing aspect and elevated position provides exposure to the warmer afternoon sun for flavour and anthocyanin [colour] development.”

That shiraz took a big hit, however, when the Cudlee Creek bushfire ripped through the Hills in 2019, destroying vineyards, orchards and native bushland. Across the Vinteloper vineyard, many of the vines were lost to the flames, while the season had to be abandoned. It was a devastating loss, and Bowley says that it made a wine that they had maturing in barrel that bit more special.

“That wine can never truly be repeated. From the extremely low-yielding 2019 harvest, we selected a section of vines for their concentrated yield to produce a small-batch, super-high-quality and age-worthy shiraz. Little did we know that bushfire would wipe out those vines as we knew them… So, immediately that wine became even more special.”

The challenges created by that bushfire still constitute the biggest challenges for the Vinteloper team, says Bowley. “We lost 20–30 per cent of vines in each block, so replacing those with an extensive layering program is our focus. It’s labour intensive, but the best overall course of action. To manage it, you need day by day focus and attention to both the mother vine and the layer. Each one is unique and needs an educated set of eyes and hands.”


That education is not just broader experience, but very much tuned into place. “Knowing your vineyard is the essential ingredient to making great wine,” declares Bowley. “At a micro-level, interactions between flora and fauna have a very real impact on the outcome. We don’t see it as managing a vineyard, we are managing an ecosystem where our vines are the priority species.”

Pesticides are not used on the property, with Bowley quoting American biologist, ecologist and agricultural entomologist Carl Huffaker: “When we kill off the natural enemies of a pest, we inherit their work.” It’s a neat summary of a progressive approach to IPM (integrated pest management) strategies, where attracting beneficial insects is typically an integral plank. Pesticides create a reliance on pesticides, where biodiversity creates a natural balance of predation.

“Going a little deeper,” Bowley continues, “ecosystems with high biodiversity are more resilient. Seasonal conditions always change populations of flora and fauna, but the more complex the system, the tougher it is. Bursaria spinosa (Christmas bush) and Leptospermum continentale (prickly tea-tree) are two key vineyard-supporting native species planted to bolster biodiversity and provide habitat for predatory arthropods.”

That planting has seen over 2,000 natives introduced across the property, with those key species attracting predators of light brown apple moth, a major vine pest. Amongst the vines, selective grazing of sheep is employed to combat weeds. In turn, the manure helps to improve the soil, while reduced tractor passes reduces soil compaction and diesel use. That decrease in fossil fuel use is furthered with a 30 kilowatt solar array that fulfills all electricity needs, with surplus to feed back into the grid.

“When we kill off the natural enemies of a pest, we inherit their work.”
“Ecosystems with high biodiversity are more resilient,” says Bowley. “Bursaria spinosa (Christmas bush) and Leptospermum continentale (prickly tea-tree) are two key vineyard-supporting native species planted to bolster biodiversity and provide habitat for predatory arthropods.”

The solar also runs a new state-of-the-art irrigation system, with an estimated 50 per cent reduction in power use and a 33 per cent reduction in water. That water supply is fed by 100,000 litres of rainwater storage, displacing reliance on the underground aquifers. And there’s much more that Bowley would like to initiate. “I wish we could integrate new technologies much faster,” he muses. “I hope that within five years we can make vineyard nets obsolete and replace them with smart drones to keep birds away.”

That forward thinking has also seen new vines planted to manage some of the threats of climate change. “There would not be a single climate change denier in the wine industry,” says Bowley. “Grape-growers and winemakers alike know that as harvest creeps earlier and earlier we have a real challenge to overcome. At Vinteloper, we’re taking small steps to help ourselves, but the reality is we can’t control it all.

“In our new plantings of chardonnay, we’ve been specific about site and location to protect those vines from the hottest part of the day. Sheltered from the west and in a gully where the cooler air settles.” It’s an adaption that Bowley says is one of many that grape-growers must make on an ongoing basis. “Every single day we get challenged in a different way. It reminds you that mother nature is undefeated.”

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