The basis for any solid solution.. start at the root of the problem and work your way up. This is the exact approach of the Crittenden family who have found fruit in their holistic approach to vine health.
After 25 years of “conventional” farming – relying on the use of synthetic chemicals to manage the vineyard – started to take its toll of the quality of their grapes they found themselves digging in the dirt for a more traditional approach.
By the early 2000’s the Crittenden family, with viticulturalist father Garry at the helm had noticed a year on year increase in the amount of time on the vine that their grapes needed to achieve flavour ripeness. All the while the grapes were gaining excessive sugar and dropping vital acidity, which threatened to throw their resulting wines out of balance. Vines of increasing age are usually prized as they can often produce lower quantities of higher flavour concentrated, better quality fruit. However at the vineyard, just outside Dromana, the reverse was becoming apparent.
Faced with this paradox they started researching alternative methods to promote the health of their vines. And so began the journey underground, using organic viticulture techniques, which represented a return to the traditional way of doing things before farming became concerned with quick and easy chemical solutions. By 2008 the philosophy became about eradicating synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers in favour of natural preparations to deter pests, and also having home produced compost, made using winery waste.
Crittenden Estate now finds itself at the forefront of soil health in viticulture in Australia. This may sound like proverbial horse poo but that’s actually, in reality, only very small part of it. The winery produces about 60 tonnes of “marc” every year as a by-product of winemaking. Simply put marc is the sticky mixture of grape skins and seeds that’s left after pressing. One tonne of grapes can provide between 200-250kg of marc, so for a winery like Crittenden Estate – who process between 200-250 tonnes of fruit a year – it represents a pretty significant quantity of waste material. However this by- product is also rich in nitrogen, magnesium and other elements that are essential to organic farming, so a huge component of high quality fertiliser is already on-site. While most wineries will pay to have it taken away, the Crittenden family are reaping the rewards of working with this nutrient rich residue, so much so that they have started taking it from other local wineries as well.
The marc is collected straight from the presses in the winery and tipped into a skip on site; once filled, the skip is then moved to another part of the property where it is mixed with locally sourced horse manure and straw or wood chips. This pile is turned once a month by a digger, aerating it to promote the ferment of good bacteria. Winemaker Rollo Crittenden knows that there’s no way they’d ever be able to buy in this amount of compost (the amount of marc they now receive is the result of some 1000 tonnes of processed grapes in total) but that it has now become a vital ingredient in the surge in soil and resultant vine health in the vineyard.
The steps involved have without doubt increased the work load on the estate. There is the capturing, turning and then finally spreading of the manure on the eleven acre vineyard block on the property but Rollo says it has become a race to the top rather than to the bottom. “We feel that this is an investment in the future. It does mean that the cost of our production goes up but so does the quality, and that’s where the investment is”. The steps towards soil health also involve growing more diverse plant life than just grapes in the vineyard. Cover crops such as peas, oats and broad beans are planted between the rows as they help fix nitrogen in the soil and increase its bio mass. For the hotter summer months this is then rolled flat to trap moisture in the soil, and as it dies off, it renourishes the growing environment in the ground below.
In an endeavor to map the leaps in quality of vineyard health, Crittenden Estate are now heavily involved in researching and quantifying the positive effects that the compost and cover crops introduce, and are an internationally recognised forerunner in this field. If the technical details are tough to digest, there is one simple takeout from all of this that’s easily understood, and that’s the enormous environmental benefit. In a time when everyone is thinking local, Crittenden Estate are not only protecting their immediate ecosystem by ditching chemical farming but they are giving back to the very earth that grows their grapes. What’s more these healthy soils require a fraction of the irrigation they once did. The accolades are steadily stacking up for the Estate’s wines and there can be no doubt that this is due in no small part to the radical shift back to these traditional farming techniques.
Sustainability beats at the heart of modern wine trends and the evidence shines in the quality of producers such as Crittenden Estate. They are a 5 red star Halliday rated winery and in 2017 received the trophy for best white wine in show at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. The proof is on paper but to see for yourself head down to the wine centre, which is open seven days a week for tastings from 10:30 – 4:30. Don’t be deterred from all the mentioning of manure, the compost and cellar door are at opposite ends of the property
… or so Rollo says.
This article is reproduced from Peninsula Essence Magazine, February Edition, 2019
Jancis, a footnote to your column last Friday about the dilemma facing the Mornington Peninsula.
In September 1982 I planted five acres of vines on my property at Dromana: four of Cabernet, half an acre of Merlot and a quarter each of Pinot and Chardonnay. In so doing I doubled the aggregated plantings of all the vineyard area on the Peninsula at the time from five to 10 acres. (Today there are 2,500 acres.)
They were collectively made up predominantly of Cabernet with a little Chardonnay at Baillieu Myer's Elgee Park, Nat White's Main Ridge (which also had a little Pinot), George Kefford's (Nina Caplan's uncle, I seem to recall) Merricks Estate and Brian Stonier's Stoniers.
I chose to plant Cabernet in particular because of the Cabernets I had seen made by the short-lived but legendary Stephen Hickinbotham from Elgee Park fruit, but also when I did a homoclime study for my location from nearby long-recorded climatic data it clearly said 'Bordeaux', reinforced by the maritime climate as distinct from a Burgundian continental one.
All went along swimmingly, with James Halliday even choosing my second harvest 2005 Cabernet (with no Merlot blended in) to represent Australia in the Qantas Cup, a three-way competition between California, Australia and South Africa, where it performed admirably.
It's worth noting that I had chosen my site at 150 feet elevation based on a long assessment of Peninsula soils, elevations and aspects.
As the years passed and Peninsula plantings increased somewhat randomly, they gravitated towards the higher, cooler elevations where deep red volcanic soils predominate. But still people planted Cabernet, with Pinot just beginning to make some headway. The Cabernets from these locations were routinely picked, of necessity, under-ripe with aggressive tomato leaf and green capsicum characters brought about by the compound methoxypyrazine. This was due to being considerably cooler than the lowlands but also because of the shading of fruit in the canopy caused by uncontrolled vegetal growth.
Not surprisingly the wines were dismissed by the market and even a luminary such as James Halliday said the Peninsula is, quote: 'unsuited to Cabernet'. WHAT??
Our Cabernet sales gradually declined as a result of this mantra but we persevered until our last vintage in 2009, aptly labelled Les Adieux. Back label below.
We are now predominantly planted with Pinot and Chardonnay along with with the rogue Albarino/Savagnin and have just grafted the last of our Arneis to Chardonnay as well – but that's another story (told here). And don't get me wrong, happy to be so, but unsure what the long-term effects of global warming hold.
I still delight in pulling out the occasional masked Cabernet from the 1990s for visiting wine trade and commentators only to be told. 'it's very kind of you to pour an old Bordeaux for us but were really here to see what you make from your own vineyard.'
Say no more.
Last week I pulled from my cellar a 2001 Shiraz I made from fruit from a nearby vineyard. Bloody delicious even if I do say so myself.
A couple of other non-related comments.
- In the days when I was a viticultural consultant I was approached by Rob Kirby of Village Roadshow asking if I knew of a suitable property he might purchase to grow grapes on the Peninsula. Oddly enough a 100-acre block almost entirely plantable had just come on the market to be auctioned. I had coveted this acreage for years even before I purchased my own modest farm 37 years ago and had long seen it as possibly the best block for grape growing down here. I told Rob about it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Welcome Yabby Lake.
- When I was on the board of Domaine Chandon I would occasionally be in Épernay and on one such occasion Richard Geoffroy asked if I would like to meet Dom Pérignon. I was escorted to the inner sanctum where the monk himself sat behind his desk in a cloistered room – a wax effigy that is. Richard took my photo with my arm around the Dom. Even to this day people ask me which one is DP and which one is me.
This was Garry's response to Jancis Robinson MW article, Mornington - the two trick pony
In 1992 I made my first pilgrimage to Piemonte in Northern Italy in search of the Holy Grail [aka Nebbiolo] along with the lesser luminaries Barbera and Dolcetto.I’d also heard and read about a white wine variety local to the region called arneis but I’d never seen or tasted one in Australia.
While there, I was delighted to taste many fine examples of the 3 reds but try as I might, couldn’t locate the elusive arneis.
The repeated response to my enquires was a sort of blank indifference with the advice “you want to try our Piemonte white wine then look for cortese”
Late in my 7 day visit I did locate a bottle in a restaurant in La Morra. I recall enjoying it then forgetting about it; that was that.
Fast forward three years…
In the spring of 1995 I was invited to present our range of Italian varietals at a tasting for the Wine Science students in Adelaide University.
As I was leaving the tasting I was approached by a middle aged man who said “I’m not a student [ obviously ] but I heard you were coming to town so I gate crashed the party”
“I’m the manager of the vine improvement society at Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley; have you ever heard of an Italian variety called arneis?” I said I had, to which he asked if I had a home for 500 vines.
It turned out that about 3 years earlier he had been approached by a local [ Barossa ] grower who requested he import, quarantine then supply him with arneis stock.
This he duly did.
When he contacted the grower in 1995 to say his vines were ready the grower sheepishly told him he had planted the patch with something else, and no longer needed them.
How there could be such a glaringly poor communication trail I don’t know.
On the spur of the moment I agreed to buy all 500 vines which were duly shipped over to Dromana beautifully uniform and about a metre high trained and staked up in 6 inch pots.
I planted them out and got a small first crop in 1997. At the time we claimed to be the first people in Australia and maybe even the Southern Hemisphere to plant the variety.
We made arneis for nigh on 20 years with varying degrees of success in sales and marketing, but time and seeming indifference to this lovely wine have worn us down.
We have grafted the bulk over to Chardonnay and I personally have made what will be our last vintage in 2018.
Open and read Garry's 'Endangered' wine a family project which tells the story of “ENDANGERED” : our arneis and turtle colonies along Australia’s East coast, a loose connection I agree.
This is mainly a human interest story more to do with the passion of a child on a mission, but that said the wine is bloody nice as well.
We have only 80 dozen for sale primarily at cellar door, so if you’re interested in trying the last of my arneis, I suggest not waiting too long
It would be fair to assume that Italian grape varieties and sea turtles don't have a lot in common. But for Garry's latest wine 'Endangered' this is not the case.
In 1995 when he saw Italy's Arneis becoming forgotten, he planted the Piemontese variety on the estate, the first vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere to do so we believe. 2018 is tthe final vintage of his Arneis as the vines are now grafted to Chardonnay.
Fast forward a little from 1995..While Garry and his grandson Oscar were watching a video "Straw no More"(Google Molly Steer), Oscar decided to help the sea turtles by campaigning to abolish the use of plastic straws; even writing to McDonalds to fight for the cause.
Oscar had given Garry a picture of the turtles he'd drawn at school. Seeing synergies between the two plights, Garry decided to use Oscar's picture as the label for his latest, and final, Arneis release. A lovely culmination between the two projects.
To further support Oscar's cause, Garry is personally donating $20 for every case of Endangered wine sold to a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in Cairns.
Garry's 'Endangered' Arneis is available for tasting and purchase in our wine centre, however with only a small quantity produced, we suggest not waiting too long...
Images supplied my Mornington Peninsula Essence Magazine, images by Yanni
Looking for the perfect aperitif before your next dinner with friends? Bring a touch of Spain to your dinner and get everyone talking..
This Crittenden Family recipe is a great way to use our Saludos. We served it to guests at our recent Pre Vintage BBQ and it was a huge hit.
So here’s the recipe...
Pour into a glass:
100mls 2017 Los Hermanos Saludos
30mls Aperol (about a shot)
Build on Ice
Top with a little tonic water and garnish with a sprig of mint and slice of orange. Perfect.
The Saludos Spritzers were a definite success at our Pre-Vintage BBQ event, empty glasses everywhere!
The Crittenden Estate Wine Centre was recently awarded Silver at the Victorian Tourism Awards in the category of Tourism Wineries, Distilleries and Breweries.
For a business that prides itself on not only high-quality wines but a high-quality visitor experience as well, we were thrilled to win silver at these state awards.
The Crittenden team were proud to be amongst an amazing array of businesses in this category including Bright Brewery, a very deserving winner of the gold, and Mornington Peninsula Brewery who were awarded Bronze. Special mention of course to the other finalists in the category, Little Creatures Geelong and Sedona Estate.
Reflecting the complete visitor experience at Crittenden Estate, it was a wonderful achievement that our Lakeside Villas at Crittenden Estate were also awarded Silver in the category of Self Contained Accommodation.
The Victorian Tourism Awards represent an industry framework for peer recognition which fosters a culture for business development excellence and innovation.
They present an invaluable benchmarking opportunity, looking at all elements of a business from Marketing, Sustainability, Business and Community engagement.
The award is a credit to the Crittenden Estate team and the amazing work that they do not only within the Wine Centre but with the broader wine industry, tourism industry and community as a whole.
The Crittenden Wine Centre is open 7 days per week, 10.30 - 4.30pm providing seated wine tastings for guests to enjoy.
Each year the Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism legend award recognises the outstanding contribution by an individual to the Mornington Peninsula tourism industry.
Last night we were honoured to learn it had been awarded to Garry Crittenden.
Announced at Moonah Links golf course by last year’s recipient, Max Paganoni from Max’s at Red Hill Estate, the award was presented to Garry in front of industry colleagues and the State Minister for Tourism, The Hon John Eren MP.
Over the years Garry has served on many industry and tourism bodies at a regional, state and federal level, always taking a broad view of the importance of industry cooperation.
A major driver and strategist for tourism growth for over 25 years, he played a lead role in the very first umbrella-peninsula tourism group when he headed up the Mornington Peninsula Tourism Forum. “It’s fair to say that in the years that MPTF was in place, it catapulted us from a sleepy backwater of holiday homes for the rich, to a must visit year-round destination, helped in no small part by the burgeoning wine industry.” Garry said.
Garry has always recognised the importance of tourism and engaging the customer. It was 1992, when we opened our first official cellar door and with it the first winery café on the Peninsula. It was early days, but Garry and Margaret recognised the importance of pairing a food and wine experience and helping to promote the Peninsula as a food and wine destination.
Garry said, “It’s wonderful to see how the destination has grown and evolved over those years The Mornington Peninsula is now recognised nationally as a premium food and wine destination.”
In his acceptance speech, Garry acknowledged the work and innovation of his wife Margaret in establishing the restaurant and Cellar Door at Crittenden Estate, “While I was at a wine tasting event in London for Australia Day, showcasing Australian wine, unbeknown to me, Margaret was at home working with draftsman and creating the concept for what our food and wine experience was to become. This award is a reflection of Margaret’s contribution, just as much as it is mine.”
In 2012, Garry was inducted as a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Legend. This was recognising his pioneering work introducing new Italian grape varietals to Victoria, for his commitment to the development of the Mornington Peninsula wine region and inspiring many Australian winemakers.
They say all things happen for a reason, which is perhaps why one of the Australian wine industry’s biggest mix ups, has led to one of Crittenden Estate’s most celebrated successes.
At the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show held on November 8 - 11, Crittenden Estate’s 2013 Cri de Coeur Savagnin won the trophy for best French Varietal and then went on to win the trophy for best White Wine of show.
Regarded by the industry as one of the best wine show’s in the country, The Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) is a forum for wines that fall outside the mainstream. The show had more than 800 wines entered, made by 226 different producers, grown in 66 unique wine regions. Throughout the event, over 100 different grape varieties were tasted.
So how did this success come to be?
In 2008 many Australian vignerons, including Crittenden Estate, inadvertently planted Savagnin in the belief they were planting the Spanish variety Albarińo. However, upon a visit by France’s top vine identifier, Jean-Michael Boursiquot, the mistake was realised.
Whilst many winemakers attempted to graft vines, or even rip them out altogether, Crittenden Estate turned its focus to the home of Savagnin, the Jura region in France, and began ageing their tiny production under a yeast flor or ‘voile’ to add a nutty, oxidative quality to the wine. And so began a journey of education, perspiration and frustration, which has ultimately resulted in this highly acclaimed wine. A Cri De Coeur (cry of the heart) if ever there was one!
With the first vintage produced in 2011, Winemaker Rollo Crittenden has continued to evolve the wine making technique of this Jura style wine for the 2013 vintage.
Rollo said, “We never could have hoped to make such a highly regarded and now awarded wine when we embarked on this project. At first, we were just trying to salvage a bad situation and have a little fun along the way. It goes without saying that I am delighted to receive these awards for a wine that ultimately started as a viticultural mistake – especially from a wine show that I hold in such high regard.”
Apart from these AAVWS awards, industry experts have also shared their praises for Crittenden Estate’s 2013 Savagnin
“This wine is a triumph. A few Australian winemakers have attempted the style but Crittenden Estate has absolutely nailed it… it is one of the most intriguing and captivating wines I’ve tried this year”. Dave Brookes, The Adelaide Review, August 7th 2017
“The second release of this vin jaune-inspired white wine - savagnin aged for years in barrel under a layer of flor yeast - is even more outstanding than the first: gorgeous nuttiness and tangy complexity.” Max Allen, Gourmet Traveller, June 2017
"This has been so anticipated by me I nearly wet my pants opening the carton. Then it got lost in a blind line up of ‘other whites’ but so easily found. Smelling it makes me want to take a big gulp of it. Crittenden are the only people in Australia really, truly, taking their bounty of savagnin for table wines seriously". Mike Bennie, winefront.com.au, 17 May 2017
Crittenden Estate recently hosted it's annual Wine Alliance Spring Garden Party. An event exclusively for our Wine Alliance Club members, guests were able to enjoy a wide range of Crittenden Wines beautifully paired with Indonesian fare from Andrew Grinter's new venture Social in Blairgowrie.
Thank you to all who joined us and we look forward to doing it all again next year!
Here is a little video from the day