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Vineyards for the Future

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Since Ruston Prescott joined the S&K team in December 2013, we have seen an amazing transformation of our vineyards. When he started, the family encouraged Ruston to implement the latest technologies, vineyard practices and management skills he gained whilst working at highly regarded wineries Levantine Hill and Voyager Estates. 

It has taken many long days-and sometimes nights-but we are now almost a year into our long-term Vineyard Plan which will see the Estate producing not only premium grapes but also maintaining a high level of sustainable practices ready to tackle any environmental changes into the future.

Among some of the changes, Ruston has installed an advanced irrigation system across the Estate which will give him freedom to water particular varieties and blocks at different times and levels of water and ultimately, using this precious resource more wisely. For example, some blocks need early or late watering and some rows will need higher levels of watering compared to the vines/varieties planted next to it.

Last year’s frost left behind a trail of tears from us but with some careful pruning, we expect the vines to regain normal yield levels within two years. For us, the main aim was to get each individual vine back to top health. The trellising system has been overhauled in some vineyards with new posts installed and unified according to the Ballerina Canopy Management system. Some vines have been taken to with the chainsaw to remove old wood and open up the canopy to let in more light and promote growth.

There has been an intensive soil nutrition program of which the vines showed almost immediate improvement and with the growing season upon us, we are seeing really positive signs. Cover crops were planted between the vines to introduce nitrogen and oxygen to the soil which not only retains moisture levels in the ground but also helps their roots get the most out of the soils around them. The cover crops have now been mulched and piled under the vines to increase moisture retention for the coming summer months.

Above: The first spring rush of growth in one of our fortified blocks. The cover crop grew twice this size before it was mulched and spread under the vines.

One of Ruston’s biggest challenges was to tackle a worrying salinity issue we had near our vineyards. As many will know, salinity can be an extremely damaging environmental issue and very hard to eradicate. As a section of our property lies over an ancient aqueduct (discovered when our large dam was dug out and the excavator came across massive river boulders along with evidence of alluvial gold leads which run through our property and into town), in heavy rains we can get some sections which become very boggy and over time, the water table has risen. One solution is to plant deep rooted plants but many will not tolerate the high level of salt in the ground. That’s where ‘Old Man Saltbush’ comes in and we are almost finished planting 7000 seedlings. Ruston did a trial earlier in the year and these have grown very well. It is a long term solution to a long term problem but we are excited about the progress we have already made. A few years ago, some of the worst affected areas were just dirt with nothing growing but Ruston has ensured we have a healthy, lush spread of cover crop over the area.

Above: Four rows of salt bush next to our 'Jack's Block Muscat' with lush cover crops growing in soil previously barren of all vegetation.

Stanton and Killeen is well known for our Portuguese-style vintage port which uses varieties such as Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional and Souzão. These varieties love Rutherglen’s climate as it is similar to many regions in Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula. We have had great success growing these varieties since the 70s, 80s and 90s and are really excited to announce that S&K will continue this tradition by planting some new varieties, particularly whites.

Climate change is one of the wine industry’s most concerning issues and it is something we take very seriously. Over the last decade or so, especially during the ten year drought, we saw many of the French varieties suffering or changing in their growing habits. A lack of water is the main concern. So in choosing which varieties to plant, this was something we looked at very closely.

Above: Ruston Prescott explaining to the 'Port & Barrel Weekend' crowd the intricacies of building a new vineyard and why we chose the alternative varieties.

For white varieties, we will be planting Alvarinho (or Albarinho in Spanish) which is highly aromatic, and very versatile in what you can do with it. It maintains a high level of acidity and has delicious flavours of stone fruit, lemon and lychee and some floral characteristics.  Two other white varieties include Antão Vaz and Arinto which are terrific wines to blend. They make full bodied, structured whites and are suitable for barrel ageing. With refreshing acidity and vibrant, lively citrus and apple notes, they will be used in our white version of ‘The Prince’Antão Vaz is so new to Australia  that the vines are still in quarantine and as such, we will be among the first Australian wineries to plant this wonderful variety.

We will be planting several red grapes including Tinta Amarella and Aglianico (pronounce ah-lio-neeko; a powerful, bold Italian red) which will bolster our ‘alternative’ plantings. As with many things in the wine industry, there is an element of ‘lag’ between idea inception and fruition so we won’t be seeing the fruits of our labour so-to-speak for another five years or so.

Above: The new vineyard which will be home to Alvarinho and Aglianico. The photo with Ruston shows the same vineyard completed with wires and cover crops.

Stanton and Killeen is a seven generation, 140 year old family business and whilst we will continue to produce traditional wines and varieties such as our iconic fortifieds and red table wines like Shiraz, Durif, Cabernet and Merlot blends, we believe that the best way to continue strongly into the future is to combine the best of both traditional and contemporary philosophies. We aim for our 150 year anniversary in 2025 to mark a decade of improvements, innovation, implementing extensive sustainability measures, risk taking and providing to customers a range of wine from old favourites like Shiraz, Durif and Chardonnay to exciting, alternative wines like the ‘The Prince’ using a blend of Portuguese white grapes and savoury, flavoursome red table wines like Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. We look forward to sharing that journey with you.

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