Labour of Lovering still hanging on the vines
GARRY and Gael Lovering are Kangaroo Island veterans. Gael, a relative newcomer, arrived in 1954 while Garry’s grandfather, armed with an axe, opened up virgin forest in the early 1900s. They describe themselves as mixed farmers, with sheep, cattle and 200ha of cereal crop on their 1000ha South Australian property.
In 1998, helped only by viticulturist Di Davidson’s book AGuidetoGrowing WinegrapesinAustralia , they began preparations for a small vineyard, ripping the planting lines and working in layers of fertiliser, gypsum and lime. The best part of a year was spent preparing the soil before planting 1.8ha of vines.
As there was little history on the island to guide them, they adopted a shotgun approach, with cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, merlot, riesling and shiraz, adding sangiovese in 2000.
They now have 8.4ha, mainly devoted to cabernet sauvignon (3.6ha) and shiraz (1.6ha), with small amounts of tempranillo, saperavi and chardonnay added to the original mix under the Rookery label.
‘‘ Without complaining, the farming side has been just as difficult as starting the vineyard,’’ they say. ‘‘ There has been very little surplus cash flow in this area.’’
For obvious reasons, they have done the physical work alone in establishing and running the vineyard.
It was not until 2000 that they retained viticultural consultants Ben Robinson and David Paxton to look at what they had done and give recommendations for the future. The Loverings do not say so, but my feeling is they received an A rating for their work.
In 2002 and 2003, they sold most of their grapes to South Australian wineries, but the tightening market, especially for cabernet sauvignon, meant they could no longer rely on selling their grapes to cover their costs, let alone make a profit.
In the vernacular, Garry Lovering did not muck around. He completed small winemaker and basic wine analysis courses at TAFE while retaining the services of Geoff Weaver as winemaking consultant and Prudence Honner of Scholefield Robinson Horticultural Services to help with any problems in the vineyard.
In 2004, half the wines were made on the island and half in the Barossa Valley, Weaver selecting the oak and blending the wines for bottling. The 2005 wines were made at McLaren Vale under Weaver’s eagle eye. Having read his consulting reports, there is no doubt they will be very good wines.
So far, so good. Well, not quite. In succinct terms, Lovering notes of the following vintages: ‘‘ ’ 06 wines. No cabernet picked because of high stock volume. Shiraz, petit verdot and sangiovese picked. To be bottled in next couple of weeks [late May]. ’ 07 wines. No water, no subsoil. We, along with other wineries, picked no red grapes.’’
Not a hint of complaint, and the Loverings are persevering with the construction of a 50-tonne winery for the 2008 vintage.
Lovering says: ‘‘ The first year I will need to have either a fully fledged wine student or winemaker and I will be the ‘ rat’ [cellar hand]. The second year I would be fully confident to go alone, with someone else as the rat.’’
Why build a winery, adding further capital cost? Again, the answers are crisp. There are no viable contract winemaking facilities on the island; it costs $100 a tonne to send grapes to the mainland for crushing; return freight costs $100 a pallet; skilled contract makers with high profiles are not interested in small parcels of unknown wines.
Weaver is adamant Kangaroo Island is ideally suited to cabernet sauvignon: it performs best in a maritime climate; the island is warmer than Coonawarra and cooler than Margaret River; and the maritime influence (and heat summation) is similar to Bordeaux. One taste of the Rookery wines will tell you why he has such faith.