Derice McDonald, the wine-maker’s wife, reflects on 30 years on country and looks to the future as their newest vineyard is planted out.
Ross and I are establishing Macquariedale Organic Wines, one of the highest vineyards in Australia in the Towac Valley on the side of Mount Canobolas, Orange. As we grapple with the many challenges of starting a vineyard from scratch – why do we do it? – it has brought back memories of when we established our first vineyard in the Hunter Valley.
Then, we were as green as possible, not the tree-hugging green that came later, although we always had deep roots in the soil. Ross made wine in his bedroom as a teenager and planted a few rows of vines on his auntie’s farm, which was called Macquariedale. As a child, I wandered through my grandparents’ vineyard, tasting the grapes as they ripened.
The year we first planted in the Hunter Valley, 1993, was as wet as this year has been. But this year has definitely topped 1993. A different location brings new challenges, and one of the many on our new farm is rocks! Mount Canobolas is an extinct volcano with rich soil, filled with worms and rocks from smaller than a baby’s hand to sizes that can only be handled by a Bobcat. But rocks have positives – providing great minerals to the soil and being in a cool climate; when the land warms, so do the rocks holding the heat in the soil, which is beneficial for the vines.
It’s been thirty years since we began our wine journey, and it has taken us along paths we hadn’t anticipated or planned for. Ross’s background is as a chemical engineer, which is very beneficial in understanding soil science and winemaking. He brings his knowledge and experience with a big heart. My skills are more in the creative and intuitive areas. I could see the vision and hold it even when we didn’t have the answers.
Many times, a leap of faith was required. We both embraced sustainability – it came naturally and made sense to us. We were the first vineyard in the Hunter Valley to become Certified Organic/Biodynamic. It put us outside most of the wine community then, but we passionately believed in farming and living holistically. We wanted to one day leave the land we cared for in a better condition than when we took guardianship of it.
We also believe that we are responsible to our customers as whatever we put on the land and vines will eventually end up in the bottle of wine. So we must face our customers with a clear conscience of how we farm in the vineyard, the vegetable gardens, olive trees, garlic, orchard and house gardens. We also believe we have a responsibility to future generations. So we didn’t want to be cursed for what we had done.
When I walk the land, I feel and hear Her. I’m not Aboriginal, but I understand their love of country and how important being on country is to their well-being.
The wine reflects the land and the people that care for Her. Every vintage, we strive to make the best possible wine from the grapes grown that season. We love how this is reflected in the bottle, the story it tells whether it was hot and dry, cool and wet, or a perfect season with the right amount of sun, heat and rain – if only that happened every vintage.
We take a minimal intervention approach in the winery to allow the grapes and the season to do the talking. The fullness of flavour and cleanness on the palette tells the sustainable story.
Thirty years on, we establish our new vineyard with memories of the excitement of harvesting the first grapes from those vines, tasting the grapes through the growing and winemaking, and the anticipation of a beautiful, well-balanced wine when we pour it from the bottle for the first time. With the future in mind, we’ve just planted the Pinot Noir, and now we have a few years to wait.
In the meantime, we will travel through the seasons with the vines, nurturing them as we did to our growing family with love and encouragement to be the best they can be, reaching for the sky, and adapting to life’s challenges. As we see this in the lives and on the faces of our adult children, we will taste it when we pour it into glasses to share with family and friends.