Introducing Greg and Emma Koch from Redden Bridge Wines in Wrattonbully, South Australia. Greg and Emma manage their Wrattonbully vineyard using Organic and Biological techniques, to ensure the health of their family as well as that of the soil and vines. Their story is the 51st I have featured this year in celebration of the Australian Year of the Farmer.
Summary of your farming enterprise
We are an Organic, Biodynamic and Biological Vineyard in Wrattonbully wine region in the Limestone Coast of South Australia. We manage vineyards for absentee land owners and we have a wine label Redden Bridge Wines that is named for the beautiful 50’s style bridge we use to access the vineyard. We also run a small farm with Dorper sheep, cattle and cropping.
We chose to operate organically after the loss of my Brother to Cancer. It was a devastating time. We had two young daughters at the time and the third on the way. With the house in the vineyard, we were conscious of chemical use and drift that could affect the children and wanted no part of it. There are strong links between chemicals and cancers; we didn’t want to test any of them!
The farm and vineyard is a blend of both our passions with the principle focus being on sustainability and soil strength. You can ask strong soils to do anything! The Biggest mistake people make when going organic or biological, is to just treat the plant. It takes years to re-strengthen the soils first, then the plant has a chance of fighting diseases, in weakened soils the plant can not survive with out its synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.
We didn’t Certify the vineyard as Organic until we had been operating biologically for 6 years. This is how long it took to a) correct and strengthen the soils and b) to trust our skills enough to control vineyard pests and diseases organically. It takes three years to gain full organic certification, so by the time we then make the wine and age it, it is a Long process! If you break the rules or fail an Organic Audit, you have to go back to the beginning. You need to be very confident you can manage your vineyard or farm organically before committing to the certification process! We have had to wear some big losses in the vineyard with a nasty outbreak of Downy Mildew in the 2011 vintage. But it was a tough year for all vineyards, we are glad we didn’t surrender to using a ‘non allowable chemical’ to perhaps have saved the vineyard, but loose our Organic Status. A lot of the conventional vineyards that year didn’t fare any better than ours anyway. It’s just a part of the game of Agriculture.
Certifying is a very expensive process but I believe all farms should be audited for ‘Best Practice’ as it is all about proving to the consumer that you have done what you claim to have done. All farms should be made to show that they have managed to ‘give back to the soil’ each year. This would help validate claims of sustainability, animal husbandry etc to all consumers and help to strengthen trust and communication between the farm and the plate.
What is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
All farmers love that they are OUTSIDE all the time! The work isn’t always fun and things definitely don’t always go smoothly, but we are not stuck inside much arguing with technology! ( we are under a tractor arguing with the mechanics!)
I love that the season dictates the work program in the vineyard. There is a peaceful pace in the winter as the vines are dormant and Pruning is a steady process. Spring brings on ALL the action with everything going on at once. Summer, if the season is kind, is another steady time with the vines’ shady canopies nurturing the grapes through the hot days, windy days and wet days. The autumn is like Christmas or a Birthday with the ‘fruits of your labors’ literally coming home to roost! Vintage is chaotic as you combine the growing routine with the harvesting workload, but there is a buzz in the air as the whole district is up nights and its quite social! Stressful, but social! I love to see the whole region working together to get each others fruit off before rain or disease beats us. Then, if it all goes well, the place falls slowly back in to its dormant faze and there is time to relax and celebrate. I always think Australians should have Christmas at the end of Harvest! All the Grain farmers are finished in February and the Grapes in March so there is time to reflect and catch-up. December 25th in a very inconvenient time for Australian farmers! With shearing, harvesting, spraying and drenching for diseases, what was Santa thinking?!…
Biggest Short Term Problems?
Problems; there are plenty! But in agriculture, especially Family owned and operated farms, they all have to be faced and handled by you. There isn’t a Human resources division or an Accounts department and at no point do you clock off and go home to handle the family or your personal life. It’s all in together! Luckily if you love it (and even when you don’t!), your work is your play and your play is your work, and you don’t really differentiate between the two!
Biggest Long term Problems?
Farmers are price takers. There is no security in Farming, every season is a gamble or a new throw of the dice. The weather, is more and more unpredictable, wages are so expensive and the costs of producing the food go up each year so the whole cycle is a bit heart in mouth. Family owned and operated farms are a breed of entrepreneur that go easily unnoticed!
So what do I wish the Public knew about us?
Most important I think, is that essentially family owned and operated farms want to provide Australians with good food. We are close to the food chain here, so I would love the City people to look at rural newspapers and think, ‘Look at these guys they are doing a great job against crazy odds!’
What message would I put on a billboard on Collins Street?
I love the Michael Pollan Quote: “The wonderful thing about food is you get THREE votes a day! Every one of them has the potential to change the world.”
So guys! Choose the Australian option EVERY DAY, not once a month at the Farmers Market, we can’t live on that much of your money! Support your local Butcher, Fruit & Veg shop and Farmers Market. Watch out for the middle man. Meat may be worth $25/kg in the supermarket, but the farmer only sees $1.80 of that (gross!). Milk may be worth $1/Ltr in the supermarket but the farmer only got .20c . (Gross!). The system isn’t perfect but while we have the choice, we should exercise it!
Consumer Loyalty is critical to the survival of the Australian Farmer, and it is OUR PLEASURE to grow it for you!
FB: Redden Bridge
T: Redden Bridge Wines