Article written by Louise Hurren
© Gilbert & Gaillard magazine: Wine Grower Portrait Johnathan Grieve
Avondale proprietor Johnathan Grieve has a unique “bio-logical” approach to making organic wine in the Klein Drakenstein area.
With his fine arts background and a fascination for the interaction between science and nature, 34 year old South African Johnathan Grieve is no ordinary wine producer. Applying a knowledge of organic and biodynamic farming principles at Avondale, he crafts a range of nature-friendly wines that have earned him respect, both locally and abroad.
Growing up on a smallholding near Cape Town, Johnathan started farming at an early age, planting and growing vegetables that he sold to friends and family. He spent his holidays working at the family health food business founded by his grandparents, and developed an interest in a balanced approach to life.
He spent four years studying fine art (his sculptures and paintings decorate the main buildings), but when his parents bought Avondale in 1996, Johnathan jumped in and began working as an apprentice viticulturist. He felt that the conventional farming methods employed at the estate until that time were inadequate – the land was simply not alive enough to encourage great wines – and so he began experimenting with different farming methods. This led to the development of Avondale’s unique “bio-logic” farming approach, combining organic and biodynamic principles with modern science to put life back into the soil.
All aspects of the natural environment are taken into account, from the tiniest microbes in the soil to the position of specific star clusters in the night sky; the entire farm is viewed as a living system that has to be in total equilibrium to support and produce balanced vines, grapes and wine. No chemicals are used. Pests and diseases are addressed using natural remedies such as ladybugs and natural bacteria’s, while snails are kept in check by a squad of Peking ducks: “we want nature to do the work for us,” says Johnathan, whose estate has been certified organic since 2001.
Avondale’s motto, Terra Est Vita, means “soil is life”: it encapsulates Johnathan’s view of his estate as a dynamic living system where soil, water and energy, plants, animals and people are all part of a complex network of relationships, interconnected and interdependent. “For the land and the business to thrive, every aspect of our living system must also thrive; in everything we do, we uphold the key principle of life, to constantly create conditions conducive to more life,” he explains; “it’s been two years now that everything at Avondale is in harmony.
This harmony is evident: visitors are greeted by a riot of colour provided by a stunning variety of ultra-healthy plants, shrubs, bushes and flowers grown around the attractive farm buildings. The vineyards are home to cover crops such as lupins, wild sage and clover, while 20 pairs of barn owls (important for keeping down snakes and rodents) breed in houses made from old barrels, situated around the vineyards amongst the eucalyptus trees .
The estate’s 100 hectares of vines are planted in one-hectare blocks, matching soil types to grapes varieties, and every block is managed individually, then vinified separately and slowly (6-8 months fermentation is standard) in an ultra-modern, 500-ton capacity cellar built deep in a dry riverbed, where gravity flow ensures that grapes are moved with minimum mechanical intervention. Finally, the individual parts are brought together at blending stage to create Avondale’s unique range of wines that are low in sulphur (less than half the norm), but full of vitality and energy.
To learn more about Johnathan’s vision, visit his blog at www.biologicwine.co.za