Organic the natural way forward, say local vignerons

Windowrie's sales and marketing manager Petrina O'Dea said there's been increased consumer interest in their products, stemming from a growing awareness of where and how the products they consume are made.
Windowrie's sales and marketing manager Petrina O'Dea said there's been increased consumer interest in their products, stemming from a growing awareness of where and how the products they consume are made.

While the glut of organic wine on the market could fool one into thinking it's a new trend, Cowra's long-established organic wine industry believes they're well-placed to respond to the growing consumer demand.

Wine free from synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is a burgeoning market; opening up a lot of opportunities for smaller, organic vineyards.

Cowra vineyard Windowrie is marking 10 years since becoming organically certified.

The O'Dea family have been growing wine grapes on the property for almost 26 years and made the plunge into making organic wine when second generation viticulturalist Jason O'Dea began a family.

Mr O'Dea said organic viticulture is far more labour intensive than conventional viticulture, with lower yields.

He said their focus is on cultivating quality, not quantity.

"The organic and premium market is growing. It's not rapid growth but it's a lot harder to sell a $25 bottle of wine than a $10," Mr O'Dea said.

"Organic is not the selling point. First, you've got to get the wine right, it's got to be good value and then the bonus for the consumer is that it's organic. For us it's the way forward."

Windowrie's sales and marketing manager Petrina O'Dea said there's been increased consumer interest in their products, stemming from a growing awareness of where and how the products they consume are made.

"I think there's a social awareness and environmental consciousness where everybody is trying to look after where they live, trying to use better products that have less impact on the environment," Ms O'Dea said.

"I think it comes down to social responsibility. People are making the choice because they believe it will be better for their children, and their children's children."

The O'Dea family now practise minimal intervention across all of their vineyards, allowing natural grasses to sprout and sheep to graze around the vines in the wintertime.

Ms O'Dea said they've seen a dramatic increase in the quality of their wine as a result.

"We've been receiving some fantastic awards over the last couple of years, including Organic Wine of the Year this year," Ms O'Dea said.

"Quality wine comes from quality fruit. What you taste on the vine is what you're converting to the glass."

It hasn't been without a lot of hard work though.

Mr O'Dea said it's a hard slog to get organically certified and you can go many years without producing any quality fruit.

"There are a lot of chemicals used for protecting the vineyard in conventional viticulture that you can't use in organic," Mr O'Dea said.

"The really big one is herbicide. In a conventional vineyard, if you've got a problem with grass or weeds you spray them, but you can't in an organic vineyard. To spray a hectare of herbicide a conventional vineyard might take you an hour in a tractor whereas it might take you five hours manually.

"It's difficult to get naturally occurring fertilisers that are as effective as synthetic fertilisers. A bag of urea has about as much nitrogen as half a tonne of chicken manure, so to get the same amount of nitrogen you need to put on a tonne rather than 40 kilograms."

Rosnay Organic's Sam Statham said it's easier to grow organic wine grapes in the Cowra region than some of the other prominent wine growing regions in the state.

"Disease isn't too bad in Cowra, it's probably harder in Orange, Young and the Hunter. Cowra is the ideal climate," Mr Statham said.

Rosnay have been organic since they started out here 17 years ago.

Mr Statham said it was actually easier for their family to start out making organic wine, as they didn't know much about conventional viticulture.

"It's probably harder for someone who has been using chemicals for a long time to go organic rather than someone who's never done it," he said.

"We started out in wool on a property near Barraba that was mostly bush, rock and scrub, so we never used many chemicals anyway. When mum and dad moved down here they were very open-minded about going organic. I'd worked on organic vineyards in New Zealand and we went and studied how other viticulturalists did it."

He said an industry-wide move towards organic practices is "happening quietly but definitely happening".

"Organic feels better, especially the next day," Mr Statham said.

"More and more people are avoiding chemicals and are conscious of how what they buy fits into the bigger picture."