Slow road to organic vineyard

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Nets protecting the ripening grapes, Pennon Hill on the Mornington Peninsula

Nets protecting the ripening grapes, Pennon Hill on the Mornington Peninsula

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Andrew Hickinbotham, Hickinbotham of Dromana, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©VisitVineyards.com]

For Mornington Peninsula winemaker Andrew Hickinbotham it's taken 15 years to produce a pinot he can be proud of, and he's still working on his other goal to create a fully organic vineyard.

"Both myself and my wife are botanists. We met at University and were doing the same degree in botany, and one of our first challenges was to create an organic vineyard. Fifteen years later we still haven’t got there, simply because we are so close to the sea here, humidity levels are so high, it’s almost an impossibility to be organic fully," he says.

However, many organic principles have been adopted, such as treating winery waste by composting it into mulch and then spreading it back on the vines. "That’s been a very successful practice that we’ve introduced because not only does it maintain the waste on site, a principle of sustainability you would have to say, it also helps reduce weeds by smothering them underneath the vine. And it also helps to increase the organic matter of the soil and the whole ecology of the vineyard. Driving a monoculture is a difficult thing to do in an organic philosophy."

The Hickinbotham family originally leased a vineyard at Aneke, near Geelong. "My brother was just back from Bordeaux University and he made some Rieslings over at Aneke which were just unbelievable. In those days a bottle of wine was selling for about $3.00 to $4.00 and he released a Riesling at $13.00. It sold out straight away; it was quite memorable.

"That lead to me getting an interest in it because I did enjoy the wines that he made and we needed vineyard help. We knew very little about cool climate viticulture so we got our heads together and decided that I would be the vineyard person and I went over to Europe and studied at Dijon University. I studied Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which are the Burgundy varieties, and we decided that those were going to be the future of cool climate southern Victoria viticulture, and about 20 years later we are right. It takes 20 years to create a change in the industry."

When Andrew returned from Europe he worked as a contractor on the Mornington Peninsula, commuting from Aneke to help establish some of the earlier vineyards, such as Stoniers, some of the Paringa Estate vineyards.

"I introduced the Pinot Noir clones and the Chardonnay clones that the Mornington Peninsula hasn’t really looked back from. For example, last year Stoniers won the best Chardonnay in the world, and that’s a pretty significant achievement. And the kudos for that obviously rubs off with every grape grower on the Mornington Peninsula. I think after 15 years we are really only just beginning to see what’s possible down here," he says.

From his early work the family decided the Peninsula was the place where the Victorian viticultural phenomenon was going to happen. "Prior to that we made wines from all over Australia - Tasmania, Ballarat, Mafro, Gippsland, and many, many Mornington Peninsula wines. We decided this was where it’s going to be and in 1988 we purchased this block of land [in Dromana] that we are on now.

"In 1995 we built the winery and cellar door, and it's taken from 1988 to the year 2002 to create a Pinot Noir which I could confidently say is a fantastic wine," he says.

Andrew says people come to Hickinbotham’s for the experience of talking to people in the industry. "Discussing the wine with the winemaker makes a very big difference. The ambience and the atmosphere of the cellar door is also very positive. It’s not a threatening ambience, we are children friendly for example, people even bring their dogs here. So they come for the experience of talking to the winemaker, tasting the wines, and often we have entertainment on the weekends as well."

As well as being one of Australia's best wine making regions, Andrew says the Mornington Peninsula is one fo the best places on earth to live.

"We have a very strong local community. It’s interesting because we hosted David Bellamy a couple of years ago; we brought him out from London to address some 100 people here at the winery, and at that time the principle he lived by was what he calls the green renaissance. The green renaissance is about doing things in your own backyard which then will affect the next door neighbour’s backyard and so on and so forth. And that’s the only way he sees of making any significant change to the world that we live in.

"I think it’s a great philosophy. I live by it every day."

Regions

  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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