Amid the verdant hills, ancient eucalyptus and rocky granite outcrops, there is a little slice of Spain in central Victoria. Cupped between the McHarg and McIvor Ranges, the charming town of Heathcote was established in the 1850s during the goldrush, but nowadays the region is known for another kind of treasure found above the ground – grapes.
Traditionally known for its rich and earthy shiraz, winemakers in the region have been increasingly turning to Spanish varietals such tempranillo, monastrell and grenache, as these grapes are particularly suited to the warm, dry climate. But what makes this region especially exciting for wine lovers is how local winemakers are prioritising the environmental sustainability of their vineyards.
Evan Pritchard and Wendy Johnstone own Three Dams Estate, an off-grid boutique vineyard and winery specialising in sustainably-produced Spanish wine varietals. The 20-acre property generates enough solar power to run the vineyard as well as the couple’s home on the property.
“Climate change made us start thinking about which varietals could handle temperature increases and the importance of being sustainable,” says Evan. “We harvest rain water and use dam water in the vineyard, have very little waste and use recycled materials whenever we can.”
While their wines are not certified organic, Evan says the estate maintains organic practices. “We don’t use pesticides or anything that isn’t natural,” he says. People who visit the cellar door are usually interested to hear how an off-grid vineyard runs and the couple have plans to capitalise on the public’s curiosity.
“There are so many wine producers out there that you have to find your niche,” says Wendy. “We are working on the idea of weekend workshops so people can be involved and learn how to produce wine. We even have plans for off-grid cabins for accommodation, so people can have a true regional winemaking experience.”
At Silver Spoon Estate, Tracie and Peter Young also run an off-grid winery. “Peter and I have been living and working off-grid for 12 years so we almost take it for granted,” Tracie says, “but many people come to the winery specifically to see our solar system and learn how we run a sustainable winery.”
All the grape skins and seeds at the estate are composted and deposited back to the earth and Peter notes that the property is not only 100 per cent off grid, but that it’s 100 per cent dry grown. “We have the largest dry grown vineyard in Heathcote,” he says. “This means we don’t water our grapes through irrigation, but rely entirely on what falls from the sky.”
Tracie adds: “More and more people want to understand where their food and wine comes from and they want to meet the people who are making their products. I love helping people understand the vine to bottle experience, and I feel proud that we’re also making a difference to the environment.”
In a gastronomic region renowned for its wine, it can be difficult to make your mark. But with their focus on environmental sustainability, the winemakers at Three Dams and Silver Spoon Estate have managed to tap into the culinary zeitgeist – making exceptional wines that are good for the earth and the environment.
Words by Lindy Alexander