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.
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.
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 wine where you didn’t have any grapes to harvest? No, the Swan Valley is a most congenial place to grow grapes.
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. From the picking of the grapes to the bottling of the wine can take anything from nine months to ten years.
I grow 24 madeleine vines that produce delicious table grapes that go to organic retailers between Christmas and New Year. If you keep the grapes in your fridge they can last up to a month.
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?
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 part of a good education!
What kind of nasties can you find in there? Heavy Metals?
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.
Question: If you turn back time would you do anything differently?
No, just keep learning from my mistakes.