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Our beginnings

We planted our first pinot noir in 1991. The deep, red volcanic ‘spud’ soils are rich in iron and other minerals, giving our wines a ‘robustness’ of flavour and colour. We’ve never irrigated, nor have we used fertilisers and have always maintained ‘naturalist’ and ‘biodynamic’ principles since our inception. We use these techniques to help grow better grapes. Sadly, ‘biodynamic’ has become a marketing term more than anything else, so, to keep you awake I’ll not refer to it again.

In 1992, my wife Maree and I planted nebbiolo. We used the three available ‘Mudgee’ clones: Borgu, Fino and Rosa; Rosa is over-cropped rubbish that may actually not be nebbiolo. Borgu is from Ghemme and is wonderful. Fino is good too. I have added to these plantings with Matt10, a Miguet/Lampia cross that ripens a little earlier. I’m optimistic about this on our site.

At first, I struggled to get the nebbiolo to ripeness – 2O12 was the first vintage it got through veraison. Thank fuck for global warming.

We run long canes on a single wire for the nebbiolo. Fruit does not appear from shoots on the first half-dozen nodes. We have two catch wires for lifting through spring and summer. This ‘vertical shoot positioning’ brings light and breeze into the canopy to assist fruit ripeness and to allow for optimal airflow around the fruit and foliage, reducing the potential for fungal diseases.

We also have small plantings of Picolit/Mendoza-clone Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Friulano. I hope to add Ribolla Giallo to this Oslavian-inspired fruit salad.

Picolit is the only female wine grape, so given my flirtation with growing Pinot Noir (Fin) from seed it seems a logical extension to add Picolit seedlings fertilised by its hermaphrodite bedfellows in Mendoza-clone Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Ribolla Giallo. In about fifty generations’ time I’ll have a vineyard full of vines that have evolved in their home terroir at Moondarra.

There are a few Petit Meslier vines just to preserve this ancient Champenoise vine in Australia. I hope to vine some Arbanne to keep it company.

Our winemaking has evolved over the years as we’ve ‘listened’ to the fruit telling us about its ‘terroir’.


The viticulture

Situated in the foothills of Mt Baw Baw, in the Gippsland wine region of Victoria, Moondarra comprises vineyards of grassroots viticulture and exceptional terroir, making –‘in our opinion – some of the best wine in the country.
Moondarra sits about 450 metres above sea level, on the south side of Victoria’s Great Dividing Range. Mount Baw Baw, Mount St Gwinear and Mount Erica all provide ample protection from Victoria’s nasty summer northerly winds. We are far enough to the east to get the gentle summer and autumn easterly breezes that roll down from the New South Wales cost, allowing for ideal ripening conditions throughout autumn.

Moondarra is just high enough to be up to 5 degrees cooler than the nearby LaTrobe Valley. There is occasional snow in winter, which puts the vines into proper dormancy without the need for hormone sprays. There is significant disease pressure in spring, with ample rainfall and humidity. Equinoctial gales mitigate this to a degree, but we do need to be vigilant. I spray copper and sulphur as a preventative when necessary.

I spread mulch under the vines as a physical barrier in the prevention of weeds. As for grass, I don’t believe in cultivation, so I mow between the rows, though leave the grass to grow as long as possible to take water out of the ground in spring. The continental nature of our site means cooler night-time temperatures, extending the time taken to reach ‘sugar’ ripeness but building flavour ripeness with the resultant ‘hang-time’.

Combating insects

  • Black Vine weevils – I use nematodes in spring and autumn, which eat the nematode larvae. I also occasionally use diatomaceous earth.
  • Snails – the copper and the diatomaceous earth fix them
  • Light Brown Apple Moth, Cabbage Moth and Vine Moths – I use Dipel, a bacteria that the caterpillars don’t like. 

I hope to introduce Guinea fowl and Wiltshire sheep into the vineyard in early 2018.


Kevin the vine

We planted a range of pinot noir clones. If I were planting a new vineyard, I’d plant 30 per cent MV6, 30 per cent Calera, 30 per cent Able, 10 per cent Bests and 10 per cent Pommard.

I have also successfully grown pinot fin from seed, at the suggestion of Bailey Carrodus. I’ve been distracted away from this, but plan to return to the project in spring 2O17.

I still have some G5V15, which crops a bit heavily, and some 115, which can become surmature overnight. Beba and Martini have been disappointing. Gm18 is extremely late ripening and holds its acidity beautifully. A brilliant clone for Méthode Champenoise, but not suited for dry red unless the site is warm – perhaps it would be good in the Yarra Valley or Mornington Peninsula. Our original plantings were 1 metre by 2. I am layering these vines so they are 500 mm by 2 metres and 330 mm by 2 metres. Typically, we have cropped at about ten bunches per vine, with average bunch weights of 35 to 50 grams.

We had struggled with ‘apical dominance’ in the pinot noir when using a single fruiting wire. The shoots furthest from the heart of the vine produce a hormone that suppresses growth in the shoots closer to the trunk. Arch pruning gives us more even budburst. We use two catch wires to lift the canopy through spring and summer and bring sunlight and breeze into the fruit zone. The sunlight on the fruit produces riper ‘cerise/morello’ fruit flavours in the grapes, rather than green herbal notes. The sun and airflow also reduce the likelihood of mould and mildew proliferating in the shade and humidity in the vine canopy.