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Vineyard rows in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Vineyard rows in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales [©Tourism New South Wales]

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Mark Davidson, Winemaker, Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Hunter Valley, NSW [©]

Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Hunter Valley, NSW [©]


Mark Davidson, Chief  Winemaker at Tamburlaine Organic Wines in the Hunter Valley, remembers that in the 1970s in Australia wine was rather a novelty and certainly not something you talked about that much.

At that time wine wasn't a big part of the Australian culture but rather a cheap alcoholic beverage. "It began in the 70’s as a wine drinking, wine swilling student I suppose. We started to see a little bit of something interesting happening in the wine industry and I ended up deciding that this might be worth pursuing."

In the 1970s there weren't too many prestigious wine districts. "There were the Hunter Valley and one or two in South Australia emerging, one or two in Western Australia, and maybe Rutherglen we used to talk about." Living in Newcastle, Mark had his introduction to the wine industry by visiting the few winemakers who resided in the Hunter Valley at the time.  

"Tamburlaine’s been here for 40 years, it’s a veteran really of the modern era. It’s a winery that began as many wineries that we now know in Australia began as almost personal hobbies for people who were just wine lovers. They could see something interesting happening about the quality of Australian wine and they wanted to be in it.

"So this was planted back 40 years ago by a local doctor who thought that it would be a nice thing to grow grapes. And so I bought the vineyard from him. The vineyard operated conventionally from what I would have called, local and conventional wisdom, from 1985 when I came here and bought the place, until about 10 years ago. It was managed in a what you’d call a conventional modern agricultural method.

"We were getting reasonable results but the vineyard was ageing. It’s not the most fertile country so it was degrading a little bit from over cultivation and a few things. So it got my mind starting to turn over on alternative ways to keep soil alive and therefore provide to underwrite the quality of future harvests, and that’s how I really got to organics.

"They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well I looked at all the modern agrichemical solutions as they would be put to modern farmers or viticulturalists and I couldn’t see them working. You know, I couldn’t see them working in a long term. I couldn’t see them really being highly successful in any regard or indeed really curing the problems that occur in any vineyard in any season. So over the last 10 years I’ve evolved confidence with what you’d call now back to the future and an old organic management system which works really well.

"I make a point of not introducing artificial chemicals in any form to the vineyard. I am sure that you know, herbicides are out. Pesticides are out, fungicides are out, although there are lots of naturally occurring extracts, supplements, etc, resources that a modern organic farmer has at their disposal to manage the challenges of seasonal variation. But it’s basically to keep the artificials out and to encourage the optimum natural health of the environment.

"It’s not something that just in one season you automatically see a difference. It’s an evolutionary thing. But yes, obviously it’s designed to grow better fruit and make better wine. I mean that’s why I’m here. I’m not here simply to trial some alternative thinking. It’s all about growing the best wine that we possibly can.

"The commercial results that you need I think can be put to one side in an area like the Hunter Valley and at least in Orange where I also grow grapes of course where we really don’t want more than 3 or 4 ton to the acre to grow the best possible wine. We are not after masses and masses of crops so we are not after huge amounts of fertiliser, huge amounts of growth and so on. We are really wanting to control that and to run as low a natural balance as we possibly can in terms of the productive capacity of any one site; to work harmoniously with the resources that are there naturally to allow it to do the job.

"Well the wines now are focused on the group of grape varieties in the Hunter Valley which you know are well known to be the backbone of the Hunter Valley. We all make semillon; I’m not exactly sure that the public are all going to fall desperately in love with semillon to start with but it’s a lovely old wine. It’s a great home for verdelho as well, and chardonnay can be outstanding as well from time to time. Shiraz obviously does well here and a couple of experimental grapes particularly chambourcin handles these conditions very well and grows a particularly reliable flavorsome, good coloured, consistent wine from year to year.

"What people should expect here is low preservatives in the wine, and plenty of varietal characteristics. If I’m going to show you a wine, it’s a verdelho alongside a chardonnay semillon. I want them to be varietally distinctive so that you know you’ve got something completely different in the glass. I don’t like merging the styles.

Mark likes to make wine with very distinct flavours so that the average person can get to taste and compare his version of varietal verdelho, semillon and chardonnay. As it's a relatively small winery many of the people working with Mark have also been there for a long time and visitors to the cellar door can get a good insight into wine styles, history and the environmental practices that are in place. Then, there's the dam, the good old Australian dam!

"It’s our six megalitre storage pond, pre-irrigation for the vineyard, but it has an aesthetic appeal. It’s most important when you have a winery of the size that we do that the wastewater doesn't run down the river system [leaving] the property in some potentially polluted form. We actually have an entire wastewater recycling system. I’ve been here long enough to value water. The efforts we’ve made here to entirely recycle our water seems to me to be environmentally and just commercially sound.

"It suits me being here. Having been born in the city but lived here for over 20 years now, I guess I’d feel a bit crowded in the city. It’s still a very peaceful place and so I’m very happy here. My family have grown up here. I am particularly pleased when I look around because 20 years of my life has gone into creating the environment that we have here which I’ve got to say is vastly different to that which I inherited. So I guess there’s a satisfaction, just to be away from the maddening crowds and out in the country and looking at vines and drinking wine.

"Well we’re in it for the long term, however long my term is, but somebody’s going to inherit this property after I’m gone, I hope. And they’d be very pleased that I haven’t treated the environment with disregard. There’s a satisfaction about working with the cycles of nature. Every season is different, wines are different for subtle reasons, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing."


  • Hunter Valley (NSW)

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February 05th, 2010
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