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Breaking Ground for Innovation

The Hunter Valley is a region that has built its reputation around relatively traditional winemaking, signature varieties, family values and in general, doing what’s been perceived as “what the Hunter does best” for over a century. Fast forward to the 2020’s, some 150 years after the region’s inception, there are some exciting developments, some new entrants to the market, some traditionalists challenging the norm, and some young blood bringing more responsible farming and winemaking practices into their businesses and worldly experiences into practice back in their valley.

Take Ollie and Alessa Margan as an example, born and bred to winemaking family Andrew & Lisa Margan of Margan Wines & Restaurant fame. The brother and sister duo spent their formative years in and around the family winery learning the ways of their parents. They both fled the coup in their early twenties, gathering education, experience and life lessons before returning to work in the family business as young adults, bringing with them a whole new perspective it seems.


Alessa with a particular penchant for leaving the land in better condition than which they found it, focussed her studies on sustainable faming and Ollie on sustainable and as he calls it “gentle” winemaking practices. Together firmly back in the family business they are busy implementing both important sustainability initiatives as well as taking their family’s pioneering approach to alternative varietals and styles even further into the brand’s product mix.


Ask Ollie Margan what his position on the direction of Margan into the future “Without eschewing traditional regional styles/varieties completely, an evolving climate has presented the opportunity for us to look at different ways in which we approach viticulture and winemaking. Barbera and Albarino are varieties that for us, have proven resilience in challenging vintages. Additionally, they have presented great winemaking opportunities to think about texture and aromatics; whole bunch fermentation, skin contact, and concrete tanks are some of the techniques used with these varieties to create as compelling and quality wines as possible.”


With a strong focus on regenerative agriculture and well into the process of becoming Certified Organic, the Margan estate is a certified Sustainable Winegrower, farming in a way that does not deplete natural resources or compromise the land for future generations.

It was perhaps Tamburlaine that led the way in the region for organic winemaking practices, providing a benchmark for Hunter Valley organic viticulture, and maintaining a very enviably position in the market well ahead of its time.

First certified organic in 2003 under the fortuitous guidance of Mark Davidson, ongoing trials with various organic inputs and methodologies has proven their belief in contemporary organics to be valid. An underlying belief in regenerative and sustainable farming also led to them reducing their reliance on chemical and systemic inputs.


“A holistic approach to vineyard management has been evolving and improving, and as new techniques, technologies and equipment, along with better, more targeted organic inputs come onto the market, and really meant for us that being organic was a no brainer’’ says Mark Davidson.


Tamburlaine has been responsible for many ‘firsts’ in organic winemaking over the years, and in fact, since 1988 has been improving methods to reduce and recycle winery solid and water waste, and have an ongoing commitment to reduce packaging, use energy more efficiently, and achieve carbon neutrality. To meet market demands for less sulphur in wine, Tamburlaine launched a No Added Sulphurpreservative free range in 2013 which has proven incredibly popular. It also undertook the rather arduous role of trialing all available vegan products on the market to officially switch to 100% vegan fining agents in 2017. 

Most recently, the brand has added a new range of Pet-Nat wines - Petillant Natural, Petillant Rouge and Piquette – a range of curated wines appealing to the natural or minimal intervention wine lovers. A triple treat of organic, vegan, no added sulphur, minimal intervention winemaking!

Over at De Iuliis, where tradition has played a significant role in its formative years, sustainability has long played on Chief Winemaker Mike De Iuliis’s mind and he admits that their viticultural and farming practices are intrinsically linked to a long-term generational mindset.  But where Mike will argue that he differs, is that there is a genuine need to ensure the environment is adequately cared for in this lifetime and for future generations.

For the last five years we’ve been using biochar across our vineyards. Biochar has the capacity to be an immediate solution to reducing the global impact of farming. It’s fascinating that biochar can store the carbon produced by burning pruning material and the natural decomposition of agricultural matter in the ground, thus allowing for significant reduction in Greenhouse gas levels. It’s also proven that its presence in the vineyard can improve water quality and increase soil fertility.

Our family vineyards are a mixture of iconic Hunter varieties and alternate varieties that we’ve planted in more recent years. We’ve picked the alternative varieties, including Pecorino, Touriga and Montepulciano, as they are more suitable to the changes in extreme weather patterns. As the climate change continues to increase our warmer summers, these varieties thrive in a warm, Mediterranean climate like the Hunter has. By choosing to grow varieties that are suited to the climate we can minimise the risk of disease and struggle in the growing season, which helps eliminate the need for harsh chemical sprays. 


With a firm belief that great wine starts in the vineyard, De Iuliis have eliminated the use of herbicides by using an undervine cultivator, composting grapeskins in between rows, using fine lime to replenish microbial eco-system and deep-rooted cover crops to aerate soil.  In the winery where there is a heavy reliance on water and power, they’ve invested in solar panels and tanks for water storage. A hefty upgrade of the refrigeration plant and wastewater system has seen the energy consumption reduce by 50% and 30% respectively.


The cellar door which was built more than 20 years ago by architect Lionel Glendenning, even then had sustainability in mind. Its double glazed windows are positioned to capture sunlight and reflective heat for winter and to avoid the glaring sun in summer. We only use Australian produce and Australian made cleaning products within our cellar door.

Mike notes that “while there is still work to be done, the next achievement on our sustainability journey will be certification for our vineyards and winery through Sustainable Winegrowers Australia. We are committed to our ongoing sustainability journey and always open to new innovations at De Iuliis.”

Its great to see these brands doing their bit for the environment.

Image Credit: Chris Elfes 


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