Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra
Agricultural love leads to sustainable farming and vineyard
A LOVE of agriculture from growing up in a winemaking family has led Lake Moodemere Estate’s vineyard and farm manager Joel Chambers on an incredible journey, seeing the 28-year-old earn sustainability certification for the vineyard - which is only one of 10 in Victoria.
The seventh generation family member with a passion for improving and nurturing the land with sustainable farming and agriculture practices and sharing his knowledge with industry colleagues, said an interest in viticulture began with his late grandfather, Peter Chambers.
“He taught me viticulture fundamentals,” Joel said.
“I started working with him when I was about eight years old during school holiday and that’s why I went down a viticulture path for the first two years after leaving school where I worked in Yarra Valley vineyards.
“It was a good eye opener and I learned a lot.”
Not being entirely sure about what he wanted to do for a career, Joel joined the army where he spent four years in the Royal Australian Regiment 7th Battalion in Adelaide and while there undertook a post to Afghanistan based at the airfields.
Returning to Australia in 2016, Joel had a clear idea of what he wanted to do.
“Being in the army was a big defining moment for me as I realised my love for agriculture and decided to put my life work into it, returning to the vineyard in May four years ago,” he said.
“Mum and dad have also been a huge inspiration with what they have achieved with the winery and restaurant and have been great support in allowing me to experiment with different sustainable techniques.
“The first two seasons I bunkered down was 2018-19 and being incredibly dry, it really hit a note with me that we needed a drought plan with a focus on sustaining our produce during dry years, and that’s when I started looking around at what we could do.”
With that in mind, Joel who jumps onto the Australian Wine Research Institute website frequently, discovered the Sustainable Wine Growing Australia (SWGA) website and its accreditation process.
“We joined SWGA as a member where we entered details and data such as fuel usage, energy output, pruning methods, acreage and harvest methods that benchmarks you against other wineries and regions,” he said.
“It was a really helpful step for us to see where we were sitting with our inputs and outputs, and a helpful marker for where you should be sitting, and there is an emphasis on carbon output too.”
Joel has heavily invested in carbon capture which is about plants absorbing carbon back into the soil as they grow, with mid rows between vines cover cropped.
“Carbon is like a glue that holds the soil together where it improves water holding capabilities and soil health and the microbiology of the soil significantly improves the high end of the carbon, and that’s a really big thing for us,” he said.
With a focus on cereal variety for cover cropping, sheep directly benefit from grazing through the vineyard where it helps with feed management as well as natural fertiliser with a reduction in the use of herbicides.
“We started with straw under vine and that’s a fantastic drought strategy,” Joel said.
“Now we have wheat and barley crop spread out to half a metre high and a metre across under vine where it breaks down and creates a very thick layer which protects against heat waves and really dry conditions.
“It reduces the temperature down to 13 or 14 degrees on a 40 degree day which is amazing.”
Joel said part of the sustainability plan is to double the number of sheep from 1000 head by sowing pastures instead of relying on natural grass and clover where more mouths will be sustained over dry years.
The hands-on vineyard and farm manager with a love of being outdoors every day, said while tractor work can be sometimes grinding, those times are exciting as he knows what is being sown for the growing season ahead.
“With my life heavily dominated by agriculture, I’ve been able to take viticulture ideas over to our broad acre cropping, and sheep and farming operation too, as well as vice-versa.
“It’s really rewarding seeing what you’re doing is working and once sustainability certified it’s a big leg up,” he said.
Besides drawing on extensive winemaking and viticulture experience from industry professionals around Rutherglen and several families who have been in the area for more than 150 years for advice, Joel suggests that people wanting to go down the sustainability certification path would find SWGA most supportive.
“I think the Australian wine research sector is world class where it is at the forefront and when it comes to the AWRI - they are international leaders in viticulture and wine.”
And Joel’s favourite wine?
“It would have to be durif as I love the heavier style of reds that we make here,” he said.
“We have a variety of wines with a heavy table focus and among them are the whites - Chardonnay, Riesling, Grenache Blanc, with reds Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz and Cinsaut, Durif and straight Shiraz and a Rose.”