Voyager Estate – V9Y Vineyard Glen Ryan

Top Vineyards

First planted in the late 1970s, Voyager Estate is one of Margaret River’s oldest vineyards. Located in the Stevens Valley in the subregion of Wallcliffe, the vineyard now occupies over 100 hectares, but it is a recently planted 1.2-hectare block of cabernet sauvignon that is causing considerable excitement amongst the team. That section, called V9Y, was propagated from the original vines and is one day destined for the flagship cabernet, or perhaps a solo bottling. As with the whole estate, the vineyard is certified organic and managed by Glen Ryan, who has worked at Voyager for over two decades.

“The location of Old Block and V9Y is pretty special – it’s right at the entrance gate on the right as you enter the estate,” says Ryan. “You feel like you’re walking into an expansive garden of vines, which sits on the original dirt planted by the Gherardi family in 1978. The soils hold the perfect amount of moisture and gravel loam for growing exceptional cabernet. Those blocks are an important part of our history and legacy, while also being a reminder of our deep commitment to innovation.”

Those young vines were propagated from a massale selection from the old vines, but the rigour of selecting which plants were going to provide the best material was unusually thorough in arriving at ten options. “We applied numerous tests to our vines and eliminated the weaker candidates,” recalls Ryan. “The final test was the most important – taste. This involved hand-harvesting the grape bunches from our short-listed vines and making individual wines from each of them.”

Those wines were tasted blind. “Interestingly, there was consensus among the assessors which vines were the ‘best of the best’,” notes Ryan. Three vines made the cut and were propagated and raised in the nursery until ready to plant next to those original vines in the same gravelly loam soil. “We deep ripped the site to help the new vines explore the soil profile, then seeded a complex cover crop of grasses, clover, peas and daikon, and installed railway-iron posts,” adds Ryan.

The intention of the project was to create an elite block, but also to establish the best material for other plantings and replanting. “Just like the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School, we’re training the best of the best to refine their elite flying skills!” jokes Ryan. “This inspired the code names for our three shortlisted vines: Goose, Maverick and Slider… Clones usually have quite scientific names that don’t mean much to anyone. So, we decided to have a bit of fun with it. …Maverick seems to be the strongest ‘pilot’ so far! A strange coincidence? We think not…”

Like the rest of Voyager Estate, V9Y is certified organic, which is a process that began with the old vines in 2004 as an experiment. “The transition to becoming certified organic started over a kicking the dirt conversation with our proprietor, Alexandra Burt, back in 2015,” recalls Ryan. “I spoke candidly about what was working and not working where I had been experimenting – persevering really – with organic principles for years. Alex asked me what was stopping us from taking the next step. I don’t want to say she gave us permission to fail because that sounds odd, but she wasn’t scared about things not being perfect. …Although there have been challenges, we haven’t looked back.”

That approach has a natural extension into a deep and long-running commitment to sustainability. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve put the health of our environment and soils front and centre… from organics to using beneficial bugs to combat pests, turning our grape marc and kitchen scraps into mounds of beautiful compost, and having an advanced telemetry-controlled irrigation system that conserves our water resources. We also engage with philosophically aligned partners and suppliers – we scaled up our composting efforts in 2021, with a leading-practice facility to produce a certified organic product.”

The commitment also extends to the non-vineyard land. “Over 15 years ago, we recognised the need to protect and improve the health of Boodjidup Brook, which runs through our estate. Maintenance of the areas where the water meets the land is vital to prevent erosion, increase biodiversity and ensure water quality. We implemented recommendations to enhance and restore the area including building fences, weed management and the installation of vegetation buffers with local species, among other initiatives.”

That revegetation project has seen more than 60,000 natives planted across the property. “It’s an achievement we’re very proud of,” says Ryan. “We’ve created lots of native vegetation corridors through Voyager Estate, with significant increases in biodiversity, stabilising watercourses and natural habitats for beneficial flora and fauna. It’s a complex and ongoing effort. Our community involvement also extends to our ongoing maintenance of the Boodjidup section of the Cape to Cape Track.”

The same year that V9Y was planted, they also started looking more closely at the management of the farmland surrounding the vineyards. “The Landsmith Home Farm will bring the principles of regenerative agriculture to the fore, grazing animals in ways that mimic nature as much as possible, farming in ways that improve soil, continuing our planting efforts with agroforestry projects and setting up an organically managed market garden.”

That project will supply produce to their acclaimed restaurant, but their commitment extends well beyond the fence line. Voyager joined International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) in December 2021, which is a global organisation dedicated to preserving the world’s wine heritage in the face of climate change. “Our acceptance requires us to meet some very ambitious targets, including net zero emissions by 2050, with an interim 2030 target of reducing emissions by at least 35 per cent,” says Ryan.

“This journey involves reducing our direct emissions from production and operations, including vineyard management. We’ve installed a 30kW solar energy system in the vineyard, which will bring our total renewable energy capacity to about 25 per cent of our current use. We’ll also be looking at potential electrification of vehicles and how we can radically reduce our waste to landfill. Soil health will also remain a focus, which includes continuing to grow our resident family of ducks that are doing a great job of controlling pests and returning life back into the ground.”

That extra life in the ground, with close monitoring of the V9Y soil, is showing a consistent uptick in organic matter and carbon sequestration. “This is significant because increased biology in the soil builds resilience and allows the vineyard to become more self-sustaining,” notes Ryan. “From the initial tastings we’ve done, we can say things are looking very promising! We are incredibly excited about the fruit, and we don’t doubt that in time it will produce fruit for our MJW Cabernet Sauvignon – the ultimate expression of our Stevens Valley soils.”

And though Ryan notes organic management has many challenges, with less tools to control pest and disease pressures, the upside goes far beyond wine quality. “Although it hasn’t always been easy, organics is just a beautiful and more empathetic way to farm. The soil is bursting with nutrients and the vines are singing. Everything just feels more alive. That’s why I love working on this site, and at Voyager Estate in general. We may be one small business, but we are part of a greater whole, testing solutions toward a low-emissions future that is safe and healthy for future generations.”

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