13 Million Years in the Making
by Warrumbungle Wines
Warrumbungle Wines, deliberately or otherwise, has always been unconventional. We pick by hand at night. We don't irrigate. We don't spray toxic chemicals on our vines. We cellar age our wines 5-10 years before release. We chose an unconventional location, unconventional wine styles, unconventional varieties… and an unconventional name. BLOWFLY is about challenging the concept of taste and luring the avid wine drinker down our unconventional rabbit hole.
a Trickey proposition
In 1997, the Trickey family bought South Burloo, a 1600 acre grazing farm with a stunning vista of the Warrumbungles over the town of Coonabarabran. But it wasn't just the view that caught our eye. Staring back at us from 45km away was Siding Spring Observatory, housing one of the largest telescopes in the southern hemisphere. And many of the factors influencing the initial location of that telescope could be used to justify the establishment of a vineyard. High altitude, clear skies, low pollution and low humidity were all plusses when trying to grow high quality wine grapes.
And then there was the fact that the observatory sits on top of a volcano. The Warrumbungle Mountains are remnants of volcanic activity that ended some 13 million years ago. The volcano emerged from what had been an inland lake, and the resulting soils found on the top of the hill at South Burloo farm were of a decayed red basalt /sandstone composition—a gritty red clay loam soil. Not the best for pasture, but perfect for a vineyard.
going for old
There’s a reason wines made in cooler climates are different. Cool evenings in summer enable vines to slow down and rest—and maintain acid and sugar levels. A longer growing season also means that by the time harvest comes around, grapes are being picked in perfect conditions.
At over 660 metres above sea level on a free-standing hill, it was evident that there was potential for the establishment of a unique vineyard. The local continental climate ensured warm summer days would be relieved by sometimes very chilly nights.
This not only often meant donning beanies and fleece on Australia Day evenings, but also resulted in harvests in sub 10ºC temperatures. We pick by hand at night starting around 2am, and this ensures that the grapes arrive in pristine condition at the winery—with no unwanted fermentation or MOG in the grape bins.
The cold winters also kill off unwanted pests, and the vines emerge refreshed in September after a period of deep dormancy. It was subsequently realised that in spite of initial fears, frost would never be a factor for us. The air movement (occasional howling winds) around the South Burloo hill meant that frost only settled on a few days in July and August. This resulted in tomato plants in our vegetable garden reaching several years in age, and explained the thriving jacaranda and avocado trees.
Wedged between the Warrumbungles to the west and the Pilliga Forest to the north, the area enjoys annual rainfall that is significantly higher than the surrounding region (so much so that we turned off the irrigation permanently in 2007). Situated in a continental climate, humidity is very low and so disease pressures are minimal. This facilitated the introduction of organic practices into the vineyard as there was little need to spray toxic fungicides.
And since we never used insecticides, insects thrived— especially ladybirds. In spring it would not be uncommon to find 20-30 ladybirds huddled under a single leaf! And they did a far better job of helping keep the bug world in balance than any spray ever could.
Against the advice of viticulturists we turned our backs on bare earth, pristine vineyard rows, and selectively used weeds to put organic matter back into the soils as well as cool the soil and soak up excess moisture around harvest time.
We also introduced some guinea fowl early on, and they set about rummaging around for bugs and grubs (and the odd grape). The local bird population were a more serious threat to fruit, though. Around harvest time, currawongs and honeyeaters would gather in surrounding trees and could prove devastating if not kept in check by nets. However, a surprise side effect of the sodium bicarbonate we used to counteract powdery mildew in wetter years was that it seemed to deter birds from eating fruit. We stowed the nets and never used them again.
All this has since been labelled Minimal Intervention practice. But for us it's just been common sense.
blind man & the visionary
Two wine makers, two vastly different approaches.
CP Lin, blind since he was two years old is a veritable sensory freak. Often jokingly said to have a better sense of smell than his guide dog, CP possesses a vision of wine that is quite something to behold. Having created an almost cult following at Waipara's Mountford Estate (amongst critics as well as consumers), CP helped summon an identity for our wines.
Ken Borchardt of Red Earth Estate has Barossa in his blood and is inspirational in his dedication to precision and endeavour. Ken single handedly built a state-of-the-art winery in a town not reputed for wine production and set about pushing boundaries and changing peoples minds.
These two—an engineer and a magician—combined magic and physics to produce wines of truly unique personalities, bred to age and evolve... challenge and enchant.
digging holes and planting sticks
A paddock of posts
Let's plant some grapes here
Way to bog a dozer—in a spring on the highest spot in the vineyard
Planting little sticks
fly by night
After three years of training the young vines, it came time to harvest in earnest. To take full advantage of our cool night time temperatures, we decided to pick at night. However, we were also determined to pick by hand, since this would be the only way to make sure we picked the best berries—and only berries. And so it was we set about devising a way to handpick at night.
The average pick would start around 2am, and we would pick by the light of our headlamps until around 10am. In this way we were able to harvest when the vines were least stressed and ensure that only selected grapes reached the winery... and in perfect condition.
It took a few years and a lot of band-aids to work out the best strategy for working efficiently in the dark on only a few hours sleep, but we feel it has certainly paid divends in the winery. We were also able to perform 'paddock sorting'—if we didn't like the taste of the fruit we were picking, it stayed on the vine (as did the leaves, bugs, lizards etc).