Water is a finite and precious resource and one that we can’t take for granted in South Australia. We’re famously the driest state on the driest inhabited continent on Earth. At Kaesler Wines in South Australia’s premier wine growing region – Barossa Valley – we take this very seriously indeed. And with almost all things wine related, it starts with the soil.
“Here on our Kaesler site we are lucky enough to have some really beautiful soil,” says Nigel Van der Zande, Kaesler’s vineyard manager. “Essentially we’ve got a really nice sandy loam over a wonderful layer of red clay which I think is the secret really, to being able to grow our vines with very little water.”
Careful analysis and tight record keeping ensure that reliance on water is carefully managed.
“We know where all this water movement comes from because we have water monitoring devices, with over 15 years of history now,” Nigel says.
But once upon a time, the soil in the Kaesler land parcels was severely damaged, with salinity levels at an all-time high.
“These soils used to barren, effectively,” says chief winemaker, Reid Bosward. “If you looked at the vineyard in 1999, many of the leaves had a brown singe around them. That’s a deadly sign – that means salt.” The vineyard had been previously irrigated with around a million litres of water every year. Which brought up the yield – but at a cost.
“A million litres of water from our bore was equivalent to two tonnes of salt per hectare. So it was actually slowly killing the vineyard.” Farming practices inherited from the estate’s original owners – Silesian migrants – that were 200 years old added to the soil woes. “The first thing we did was to cease irrigation and then we started doing things that were more prosperous for the soil.”
This includes a number of sustainable management techniques that yield long-term results – like planting native grasses in between the rows and limiting the use of insecticides. But by far the most important aspect is responsible water management, including mitigated irrigation.
“Our soil types (in a way) determine our irrigation strategies, which can vary immensely on a year-to-year basis,” Nigel says, allowing that a deep connection and knowledge of the land and weather is vital. “We really try and work with mother nature on filling in the holes that she sometimes leaves us with. If we get a really dry winter, for example, we’ll use irrigation quite early in the piece as that’s when the vine needs it, early on – to get the canopy established. Once we’ve got that canopy established, we can just let things dry out like they naturally do through the rest of the summer.”
This is part of Kaesler’s overall green ethos, being observant with the micro-ecosystem that makes up their vineyards.
“It’s often a bit of an overlooked part of what we do,” says Nigel. Particularly when it comes to water management. “It’s really easy to just turn a tap on and imagine the water is coming from somewhere. We think very carefully every time we turn the taps. I know that every time I turn the tap on, it’s coming from the River Murray – so I want to make sure, again, that we don’t deplete that resource and use it responsibly. It’s a good way for us to manage our water and I think we get the best results from it in our wines.”
That’s an ethos we can all drink to. If you’d like to learn more about the Kaesler vines, pop by our cellar door and working winery in Nuriootpa, Barossa Valley and book a vineyard tour. Discover the sustainable practices that ensure our vines planted in 1893 maintain their award-winning flavour and famous Barossa terroir.
Kaesler Wines cellar door is open for tastings seven days a week from 11am to 5pm.