Seresin finds the life in the land

LAND LIFE: Seresin Estate Manager Colin Ross sits in the organic vineyard where wild carrots grow under vines.

LAND LIFE: Seresin Estate Manager Colin Ross sits in the organic vineyard where wild carrots grow under vines.

Marlborough wine company Seresin Estate has hit a milestone - 20 years of organics. Wine reporter Chloe Winter catches up with  manager Colin Ross to see how far they have come.

From cow dung to egg shells, vegetable gardens to olive trees, it's fair to say Seresin Estate likes to do things a little differently.

While pigs dig up the ground in the vine rows, horses and cows graze the land and just metres away garlic is being hung from olive trees and lettuce is harvested from an estate vege patch.

"Organics, biodynamics and beyond," Seresin Estate manager Colin Ross said repeatedly as he explained life as an organic vineyard farmer.

It all began in 1992 when its founder, celebrated Kiwi cinematographer Michael Seresin, decided to plant vines in the largest grape-growing region in the country - Marlborough.

But it wasn't til four years later in 1996, after the company's first vintage, that Seresin turned to organics.

"It came from Michael Seresin, through his experiences in Europe. He thought we should embrace organic farming and from that point on we did," Ross said.

"At that time there weren't that many vineyards in Marlborough who were doing it and no-one really knew anything.

"At that time, we were still one of the only organic vineyards in Marlborough, now there are more than 1500 hectares. It's a common language now," he said.

Ross joined the team in 2006; by that time the company was already fully immersed in organic farming.

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All three Seresin vineyard sites - one in central Wairau Valley, one in the western Wairau Valley and one in the foothills of Omaka Valley - were organically certified by BioGro New Zealand in 2000 and the wine company was also well on their way to becoming biodynamically certified.

After practising organics, Seresin felt it was natural to progress to biodynamics, Ross said.

Their entire estate is now farmed biodynamically - the vineyards, the olive groves, the fruit trees as well as the native vegetation, pastoral land and vegetable gardens.

"It's been a 15-year journey for biodynamics . . . but for it to work, you've got to believe in what you are doing."

Biodynamics was a system and philosophy that recognised the soil and entire estate as a living organism, Ross said.

Through biodynamic practices, the estate had become almost self-sufficient, Ross said.

"There is lots of drive and life in the land and we keep finding all these different ways to make use of the land."

Which is why it did not stop there and they continued to go "beyond", Ross said.

"Going beyond is realising the land supports all other things too - not just grapes."

Seresin Estate is home to 16 beehives and even a few worm farms, which are tucked away in large containers full of soil. The oil from the worms is used as a spray for the vines.

"It's all about farming life."

More than 5000 olive trees and 20,000 native plants have been planted across all three vineyards. Compost is made from manure from the cows and horses, mixed with egg shells from the chickens' eggs.

"There is a uniqueness about this place. It's authentic and different and the wine styles that we have are reflective of our location."

For some, organic farming was a struggle and took more time and money than conventional farming, but for others, it was the only way to go, Ross said.

While they had been faced with their fair share of challenges, from irrigation to expectations of crop, they always pulled through, Ross said.

Farming organically had changed the way he thought about land.

"You can't say, 'yip, we've started something 20 years ago and that's it, we've done it'. It's about peeling back the layers and the vines growing and evolving and the wines growing and evolving and the people growing and evolving.

"There's no end point."

But does organic wine taste better than other wines?

"I don't believe it's a symbol for quality but it's a great starting point," Ross said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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