Questions & Answers – Interview

How long have you been operating Harris Organic Winery?

We invited Duncan Harris to give some questions and answers about his venture into winemaking.  He purchased the property in 1998. He has always grown organic grapes and made organic wine, however, only became certified in 2006. Prior to him purchasing the property the land had 13 years of rest as the vines were removed in 1985. The Baskerville property was sold by the original owners who held it from the 1920s in approximately 1985.

Obviously, you grow organic grapes, do you grow anything else or are you a mono-crop?

I grow lupins, sour sobs, turnip, radish, vetch and grasses of varying kinds between the 30 rows of vines. I use these plants to create green manure. That is there’s a lot of goodness in the plants, I chop it up and turn it into the soil which provides nutrients to the soil. In the summertime, I grow watermelons and pumpkins. I also have olives and oranges growing in the orchard.

Swan Valley Natural Wine maker
Natural Winemaker – Duncan Harris

Do you do companion planting?

Yes and No. I plant lupins which produce nitrogen for the soil. There are nodules on their roots which are released to the soil microbes and plant roots to use. I grow it and harvest the seed for the following year. The plants take in carbon dioxide and produce cellulose, a carbon-based material, which in turn returns carbon to the soil. There are no companion plants in the literature regarding grapevines, however rowing green manure crops, like lupins improve the soil and help the soil fungi feed the roots of the vines.

Do you sell anything other than wine?

Yes, certified organic vodka and an un-oaked brandy I call eau de vie and three and 10-year-old wood-aged vintage brandy.

Have you ever had a year of wine where you didn’t have any grapes to harvest? No, the Swan Valley is a most friendly place to grow grapes.

Swan Valley vines
Organic vineyard

How long does it take to create wine from beginning to end?

From the planting of the grapes, it takes 7 years for the best vintage wines. You can get a crop of grapes in 18 months but it’s not very good for high-quality wine.

The process of creating wine from beginning to end can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the type of wine and the winemaking techniques used.

Here are the general steps involved in creating wine and the estimated time frames for each step:

  1. Harvesting the grapes: This is typically done in the late summer or early fall, depending on the grape variety and the climate. It takes about 1-2 days to harvest the grapes.
  2. Crushing and pressing: This step involves separating the juice from the grape skins and stems. It usually takes 1-2 days to complete.
  3. Fermentation: This is the process of converting grape juice into wine by adding yeast to the juice. The fermentation process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the desired style of wine.
  4. Aging: After fermentation, the wine is typically aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks for several months to several years, depending on the type of wine and the winemaker’s preference.
  5. Bottling: Once the wine has aged to the winemaker’s desired taste, it is bottled and labelled. This step typically takes a few days to a few weeks, depending on the size of the winery and the amount of wine being bottled.

Overall, the winemaking process can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the style of wine and the winemaker’s preferences.

What do you do to manage pests?

I employ a variety of techniques. Chickens, known as chooks in Australia, help to manage the weevils and other soil-based bugs, usually the larva of such and we love the spiders in our vineyard – they eat some of the bugs and some of the bugs eat them! They also catch lots of different flies.

What are some sprays a conventional grower could use on their crops? Any known side effects? There are many sprays available to conventional farmers. Ask Monsanto about herbicide resistance and residue levels in domestic animals and humans!

Would you personally ever drink conventional wine?

I can tell you that there is no right or wrong answer to whether someone should drink conventional wine. It ultimately comes down to personal preference, and some people may prefer conventional wine over organic or biodynamic wine, while others may prefer the opposite.

It’s important to note that conventional wine production methods may contain synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that can have negative impacts on the environment and human health. Organic and biodynamic winemaking practices, on the other hand, use natural and sustainable methods that are better for the environment and often result in healthier wines.

However, organic and biodynamic wines may be more expensive and harder to find than conventional wines. Ultimately, the decision of whether to drink conventional or organic wine is a personal one based on individual preferences and priorities.

There are lots of conventional wines I have tried. This gives a good basis to understand what good wines are available in particular styles. All are part of a good education!

What kind of nasties can you find in there? Heavy Metals?

See our page on additives:
Wine Additives and the mean residual level in the grapes can be found here: Some of the greatest users of chemicals in the table grape industry.  Poisons are used in vineyards.

What do you use to preserve the wine? There are natural preservatives in wine, they being alcohol, tannin and sulphur dioxide (SO2). SO2 is added to keep the wine fresh, clean and clear appearance in the bottle and give it longevity.  The organic standards allow up to 150 ppm SO2 even more in dessert wines.

Question: Do you have any preservative free wine?

What does this entail?

I have some small quantities of “pet nat wines”. Pet nat stands for petillant naturel. An ancient way of making a fresh preservative-free sparkling wine.

Question: Have you seen much growth in the organic wine market?

The organic industry continues to grow, promoted by the number of exports to other countries, including the USA and EU.  You are able to import our organic wines to the US, Asia, EU and the UK. For oversea shipments, we use Get Freighted.

Question: If you turn back time would you do anything differently?

No, just keep learning from my mistakes.