A decade or so ago, Greta Moon started to scratch around for a piece of land away from the Big Smoke; but her search, being for more than a mere tree-change, took in some specifics. Affordable and an easy drive would be on anyone’s list of course, but Greta also had a vision of growing grape vines organically; she “didn’t want to do a whole lot of tractor work”, so she hoped that low rainfall would help ease the pressure of diseases. Then again, she could see that some access to water would be a definite plus.
Her choices were therefore limited, but here her coping skills – being able to go with the flow – would come in handy. After searching around, Nagambie seemed to offer the best options. “It’s on the north side of the dividing range, so it’s a little drier, and is on the Goulburn River, so it’s got year-round water there,” she says. What she found was “just a paddock”, but 13 years later Greta’s Goulburn Terrace vineyard and winery has become a full-time job for her and partner Mike Boudry.
First things first, she planted some vines in 1993 – but says she never went into the venture with the full intention of making wine, or at least not at the outset. Wine was one of those “one day” ideas, and to get by in the meantime Greta contracted to Mitchelton to supply them with some fruit. “They wanted cabernet and chardonnay, so that’s what I started with,” Greta says. “I had wanted to grow shiraz, but they weren’t interested.” But having that initial financial back-up was essential at this stage of the venture. “To be self-funding at the outset, I did need to have the security of the contract … that’s just how it was,” she says.
Knowing what to do with the cards you are dealt is a life-skill more of us could learn – but it is the way you play these cards that can make the difference. So half way through this period – growing the vines and getting them established – she launched into a Bachelor of Applied Science correspondence course in wine science at Charles Sturt University. The intervening years were spent in more planting and establishing her earlier vines, but with the winemaking know-how under her belt Greta was able to get on with the next stage, and she turned her attention to the serious business of making great wine. Of course, had she gone with her first choice of which vines to plant, it would have proved to be a good one as her “paddock” is very well suited to the varieties she would have preferred.
Doing her own thing allowed Greta to grow the varieties she had originally intended – shiraz and marsanne – and a lot of her time at present is spent grafting her vines over to these. In a sort of passive vindication of her initial plan, Mitchelton is now also more focused on these varieties. “So now we’re grafting some vines over. Tahbilk has been very kind and let us use some of their old vines, and some of them are more than 80 years old. So that is a big help,” Greta says, “and really adds to the diversity of the genetic material that is available in the modern clonal selection.” And embracing this diversity has added to Goulburn Terrace’s potential.
But realising the potential of their property is one quality has been evident from the start, although Greta and Mike more modestly call their approach “realistic”. “The difference is that we try to be realistic about everything. We try to know our limitations and just present our wines accordingly,” she says. The Goulburn Terrace cellar door offers food, but Greta says, “I’m no chef. It’s more home-style food. Everything we do, we do just as we are … we understand our limitations.” But one person’s perceived limitation is another person’s attribute – in a palpable way, a vineyard can condense many of nature’s lessons. The now-accepted value of terroir is one of winemaking’s more salient examples.
The vineyard covers 18 acres, and output is only around 1000 cases all up every year, so the operation is very boutique. But as Greta says, the output can vary greatly. “Parts of it we crop very differently. If we’re growing for a bigger concern, we’ll do, say, four tonnes to the acre. But if we’re doing it for ourselves we’ll aim at about two tonnes to the acre.” The level of cropping can be determined to a great degree at pruning time, and although four tonnes to the acre is not high, it is adequate for a contract grower. As Greta concedes, the two tonnes to the acre level to make her own wine is not terribly viable in an economic sense. But again, doing things your own way means not being tied to the ledger book.
Water is supplemented when the climate is too dry for survival, as has been the case lately. They don’t put much on, but are fortunate to have that back-up. “Things could go horribly wrong if we didn’t have that. We haven’t had any decent rain here for six years.” So over these last few years, crops have been low anyway, without intervention. “And if that’s what’s happening naturally, you don’t fight that. You run with it,” Greta says. “That shapes the outcome anyway. And that’s our approach too – minimal intervention.”
The place where intervention does make sense, where nature is given a helping hand, is with the health of the soil. “We use a lot of organic compost, and try to improve the under-vine area by not using any herbicides for weeds.” Some shallow cultivation around the vines deals with the stronger pests.
Although not planted in the sense of a complementary system, the species of grasses and plants that are left to grow under the vines shows that a biodiversity has been encouraged by Greta’s efforts. “We’ve tried to improve the ground by having things that are going to add back to the soil,” she says, “like the clovers and such, rather than just have the mono-culture of grape vines.” One of the problems Greta perceived with growing grapes was that this imposed a concentration of one species of vegetation on the local environment. “So we’re trying to add as much diversity back as we can.”
Still, the results any winemaker gets is determined by a greater law than humankind has any say over – terroir at work, and an undeniable influence it is. Being in the area they are, shiraz is obviously a big variety to have. The winery produces two differently styled shiraz wines, determined by the different soils they grow on – one gravelly, one more clay – which influences the wines respectively into a more inky, savoury wine, and a chocolatey plum style.
One innovative approach, however, has been to take what nature provides and to tweak it up a little. This has resulted in Goulburn Terrace’s first release under its Moon label of a sparkling marsanne. This is a wine unique to Goulburn Terrace, and is evidence of the refreshingly left-field approach to winemaking that Greta and Mike take in their stride – a very Victorian answer to marsanne, as this magazine’s Ann Derham puts it. “Tahbilk has done really great things over a long time with marsanne, and we were mindful of that, but we wanted to do something different. It seemed complementary with what other people were doing in our area, but had that difference,” Greta says. “So it is unusual, and may even be the first sparkling marsanne in Australia. I’m very proud of it, and demand is wonderful.”
Demand, in fact, could see more vines dedicated to the Moon sparkling marsanne. “It will take time to do more,” Greta says. “It is a bit-by-bit approach – but that’s how wine is.”
Mike grew up in Australia but went to live in London for many years, where he found success in the field of digital imaging for the movie business – he even won an academy award for his work. But the call of “gum trees, blue sky and the sound of currawongs” became stronger and stronger. The world of wine also seemed to resonate with the direction of his thoughts. “In the film business I was working with engineers on the one hand and with artists and film-makers on the other, and I really enjoyed being at that interface,” Mike says. “The sciences and the arts came together and supported each other, and enabled something that neither on its own could do.”
Wine, Mike contends, is much the same – a great deal of art in it, but also a goodly dose of science to make it all work. He wanted to find out more, so signed up for the course at Charles Sturt, which is where he met Greta in 1998. “I thought I’d learn something about wine, then come back to Australia to look around for a suitable paddock,” he says. “Of course, always with an eye for the easy option, I ran into somebody who had already done all of that.”
Mike moved out to Australia, as he always intended to do, and he and Greta have been making wines ever since. “We have different abilities, but we agree about what we want to do,” he says. “I find my engineering background is very useful, and she is very skilled at working out flavours and deciding what we need to do about it.”
This article first appeared in Victorian Lifestyle Property magazine.