Soil Health ~ Back to Basics

The shift from synthetics to organics

Over the last couple of years in the premium and ultra-premium segments of the wine industry, there’s been an undeniable shift (or return, rather) towards organic principles.

As the evidence of global warming becomes more and more prevalent, it makes a lot of sense. An increased consumer demand for natural and organic wines and transparent processes is helping to put the focus back on the vineyard.

Penley is committed to reducing its environmental footprint - not “from the ground up”, from the soil up. 

Luckily for Penley and our wines, our Viticulturist Hans Loder is also a Geologist, working professionally in geology for many years before making the move to viticulture. True to form, the the first thing Hans did when he arrived at Penley in 2017 was to complete a soil survey across the vineyard in order to understand precisely what was going on underground.

Hans’ background brings with it an elevated understanding of spatial science, statistics and the natural environment, meaning he can assess each of our beloved vines relative to the unique patch of earth in which they grow.

Compost and soil structure

Hans’ aim is to improve the 3 key measures for soil health: chemical, structural and biological. Get two of the three right and the third follows!

So as a starting point Hans changed the approach to under vine and mid-row management, increasing soil organic matter by encouraging a careful selection of grass species to grow in the area. This has created a biologically rich, multi species - organic living mulch and “continuous sward” across the vineyards, improving soil health and helping soils to retain water - naturally.

Simultaneous to this is a shift away from inorganic fertilisers to composts with high organic matter; this improving soil structure by binding aggregates, getting the soil chemistry right and lifting soil biology as the compost is integrated in the soil - naturally.

Further is that Penley have been early adopters of Platfarm technology. Known as precision-based farming, this approach to compost application combines technology and science. Using aerial imaging and the soil survey conducted by Hans in 2017, the 

Platfarm technology is able to facilitate a variable rate of compost distribution, improving - you guessed it - the precision of application, drawing attention to where compost is most needed – naturally!

Paying attention to key aspects of the vineyard’s soil health has resulted in happier vines with a healthy, sustainable trajectory.

Regenerative Organic 

This year the team are pleased to be taking the step to certify Penley as Regenerative Organic. Over the last few seasons, Hans has transitioned the vineyard to an organic production system, moving away from herbicides and using solely organic fungicide and pesticide options. 

He believes the mantra “Only spray when it counts!” is a fair response to most questions regarding spray methodology. By adopting this mantra and switching to organic fungicides, the focus has been redirected to the timing of application, reducing overall spraying and increasing its effectiveness. 

As we complete the switch to organic and refocus attention on the biology of the vineyard, Hans is watching the health of the soil and vines improve, displaying greater resilience and fruit quality.

For Penley, the possibilities created by utilising technology in our return to organics are exciting. We all believe that nurturing the soil benefits every facet of our viticultural and winemaking processes.

Employing precision technology in the vineyard gives us a greater understanding of each individual vine, ultimately leading to an upper hand in the winery. When conditions change throughout the year, Hans is able to make small changes in the vineyard to suit the style of wines Kate and Lauren hope to produce come vintage.

As our data accumulates year on year and we better understand the natural qualities of each unique vine, the opportunities in the winery become endless.

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