Darshan Back Story

This is the summary from my presentation to the Victorian Pinot Noir Workshop in November 2019 detailing the establishment of our Darshan high density vineyard. It is sourced from these photos and records documenting and explaining the nature of the works.

Pictured is a bloody big bulldozer, but this Cat had no idea…….

You really would think that when driving a powerful D6 dozer the driver would know exactly where they were headed before the gripping and ripping began. But on this day this Cat was all over this park….all over the Darshan vineyard site. To the operator’s defence, this was the first time he’d deep ripped such narrow vineyard sites. After much head scratching and cursing the driver, vineyard surveyor and technology agent eventually got their collective minds around the software alignment and the big Cat got purring. That day they burned plenty of their time and diesel and they burned a lot of our money!

The big Cat was here in May 2013 as we established the Darshan site by deep ripping twice to a depth of 1m for 1.1m wide rows for 11,000+ vines per hectare. After working in vineyards and making vintages in Europe in the 1990s it could be perceived that these new Bindi works were based on those inspiring experiences and places, and in part they were. With domestic pride and no cultural cringe, it is important to understand the establishment practices commenced in 2012 and implemented through 2013 to 2016 were fundamentally local. There was no specialised equipment or imported technique used to establish the vines until the third season, which then saw different equipment doing similar work to that already being done in the wide rows. How parochial, Oi, Oi Oi!

This explanation of establishment practices is not a DIY user guide (though it could be a starting point) but a documentation of the plans, timing and practical works undertaken to get to the crop of 2017.

In 2013 it was dry end to the summer and the D6 was able to fracture and open the ground to prepare the site. This opening of the soil at significant depth was a continuation and bettering of the establishment practices starting with the 1988 Original Vineyard through to the 2001 Kaye. It literally set the ground work in place to give the vines the best start possible. This work required more accuracy than we had previously implemented and the set up of the technology was of great importance. Ripping in this narrower way had quite a different effect compared to those 1988 rows which are 3m wide. With rows just 1.1m wide this ripping created a more consistent underground landscape as the deep fracturing occurred very close together.

This site was surveyed in 2012 with magnetic imaging then explorative pits were excavated to confirm their relationship with the existing plantings. The findings of this work were in clear evidence by the roar of the dozer and the billowing plumes as the ripping hit areas containing resistant quartz and sandstone outcrops. In contrast, the softer volcanic and clay areas allowed the D6 to complete its work more gently. It was fascinating to watch a bulldozer tell of terroir. It might sound a bit like earthy overkill but having established vines in these soils over the decades it was known that the site benefits greatly from opening for ease of deep and rapid root development. The deeper the roots the less hydric stress, giving the vines a head start by taking the time.

A D6 is a bloody big beast to have crawling and compacting over your precious vineyard site. In 2008, during the Global Financial Crisis, the government was offering significant depreciation write offs so, with these new plantings in mind, we purchased the Fix Rehabilitator plough. It is fabricated outside nearby Daylesford in a rustic shed by the creative engineer Mike Fix and the design was influenced by Alex Podolinsky, father of Bio Dynamics in Australia. Darshan had soil conditioner prepared BD500 and compost applied three times prior to planting. The plough aerates the ground exceptionally well down to 600mm and incorporates organic matter. The Rehabilitator produces worked ground that sits higher than the surrounding unworked area as the soil has been aerated and lifted. It’s quite a wonderful tool that was used several times over 18 months to work the soil before planting.

In very wet winters and, more particularly, in wet springs the ground can be prone to waterlogging so in the 1988 plantings underground agi-drains were retro-trenched to pick up the excess water at the sodic clay layer, about 700mm down. Vines don’t enjoy ‘wet feet’ and the saturated ground deters deeper root development. Having learned from those previous works in similar soils, in the new block three equidistant 1m deep trenches were dug falling across the contour and filled with agi-drains and scoria. They collect the excess water and run to pits outside the vineyard where we can observe their effectiveness. They are running now after this particularly damp winter. In such a narrow vineyard this had to be done pre planting.

Clonal selection is of fundamental importance as there are many fabulous small berry and intensely flavoured clones but also there are some lower quality simple clones of Pinot Noir. The Darshan clonal mix was determined in 2012 and nods to old Australia with the focus on MV6, a clone believed to have come to Australia in 1831 with James Busby (it’s about as Australian as it gets when it comes to vine material). MV6 has proven to be an excellent clone for small bunches and small berries and both Block 5 and Original Vineyard are 100% MV6. After success in the 2001 Kaye vineyard there was a proven confidence with the more recent arrival Dijon 115 clone. What else to plant? From the Pinot Noir Workshop’s blind tastings of southern Victorian producers a belief formed as to the value of clones 777, Pommard and Abel. In Darshan we went with Pommard and 777 then added some Abel into the next planting, Block 8. The Darshan ratio is 50% MV6 with 115, 777 and Pommard in equal proportions.

Ah, the vexed question of irrigation! Over the years we have fine tuned irrigation and fertigation with soil moisture logging adding increasing strategy to our applications; we had no hesitation establishing the vines with irrigation installed. High Density vineyards have a greater ability for the whole vineyard profile to be drip irrigated as the rows are so close. The water meets up mid row beneath the surface so there is equal encouragement for root dispersion, particularly in friable soil. Establishing the vines in this environment in 2014 helped them explore down quite quickly. We were then able to target specific depths as we monitored the root develop. This was particularly significant work in the first couple of years and today, after four years of consistent crops and further root development, it is of less relevance but remains an important tool. Pleasingly, with closer rows comes more summer soil shading and wind buffering and with small crops per plant Darshan requires less irrigation.

Baring your soul and baring your soil; the young vineyard was worked for bare earth quite vigorously to remove competition from the establishing vines. Under older vines we like to see various plants growing for periods outside of spring but in new plantings we work hard to keep competition at bay to allow the shallow rooted vines the chance to establish strongly. The weed work was done by hand and rotary hoe; Darshan was established for several years by manual grind (backpack spraying). The stand-up-backwards-ploughing Niko track machine was purchased for our first cropping season, 2017 (this was the first time new equipment or practices were used in Darshan). During these establishment years of hard labour our undervine cultivation works were fine tuned in the older wider plantings using the Braun knife and disc on the old farm tractor. Cutting the soil and superficial roots and turning the soil over proved to be a slow but effective undervine management practice which was then incorporated into Darshan. After trialling straw mulch then undervine mowing, from 2005 to 2012, the old vineyards responded well to the cutting and turning so it was with confidence the knife and disc method began in the narrow rows in the 2016/17 season.

The rapid root development was mimicked by the canopy with excellent and consistent growth that required frequent copper and sulphur spraying to keep the establishing vines in leaf for as long as possible to in turn drive the roots to explore deeper. At establishment in 1988 the training wheels were firmly on and the posts had too few foliage wires and minimal clip positions. As time went by a much more intensive practice with significantly more clips and wires for training the foliage in a more detailed way was adopted. This system was used in the new plantings and managed the impressive growth in the narrow environment to encourage a thin and airy canopy that is less prone to mildews and botrytis.

The Darshan and Block 8 plantings were able to be committed to with confidence having proved the case by establishing vineyards and growing and making of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of well received quality for 25 years. It would have been impossible for us to confidently dive into density without this belief from the basis of proven quality and farming practices. There is ground work and there is groundwork. The decades before of wine community shared learnings and experiences gave ballast from which we could comfortably experiment. We now look forward to the market embracing the outcome in 2022, ten years after the surveying and digging and ripping and……..

Darshan is a personal vineyard and label for Dad, and for us. He used to counsel that getting the most basic things right first is the key; open soil, water, nutrients, lack of weed competition and healthy leaves. Another encouragement of his was patience; the establishment of a vineyard is not when it’s planted, the methodical works done before are fundamentally important.

The labels don’t reference high density or these establishment practicalities. As the family of labels has done for decades, they focus on the uniqueness of site and the special people who have inspired these wines.

I shouldn’t be excessively patriotic. Darshan is an Indian name for a wine made from a French variety. It is processed with Italian winemaking equipment then matured in French barrels. It comes from ancient First Nation’s land managed for 40,000 years. The vines are farmed by Australians of various descent (Indian, British and Vietnamese) utilising Japanese, American, French, Australian and German equipment. The lucky country, the lucky land, is multicultural Australia.