See Saw Wines owners Justin and Pip Jarrett moved to Orange from Young in 1991, and bought their first block of land. Prior to the move they had wanted to grow grapes, but before committing, they also considered growing apples and protea flowers. The plan was to become fully self-employed and create a product which they could add value to; something they could put on the table, have their name behind and tell you all about it. So, they decided to go ahead with vineyards.
Justin and Pip have built See Saw Wines into one of the leading sustainability vineyards in NSW. They grow their grapes organically, and will achieve full organic certification in 2020. Their vision for See Saw is for consumers to choose to buy their wines not only because they taste great, but also because they are supporting a producer who is doing the right thing for the planet.
Justin, who is also president of The Grape Growers Association in Orange, chatted to us over lunch and a tasting of his cool climate delicious wines.
Where does the name See Saw come from?
In 1995 we planted our first vineyard, in 1998 our second and in 2006 our third. So we ended up with vineyards at 700m, 800m, and 900m. We go up and down all day long between the three vineyards, just like a seesaw goes up and down all day long. So that’s where the name comes from.
The other part of the Sea Saw name is when you’re a kid there was that great moment when you sat on the see saw and you made it the other end, and you worked out where the point of balance was.
If you look at our farming philosophy, what we’ve always strived to do is find a point of balance, the balance between the economics, the social and the environmental needs to continue a business long term. This has been of high importance from day one, so See Saw just fits in perfectly as a straight statement about balance, and balance is our philosophy.
What do you hope to achieve for See Saw in the next 20 years?
We aim to continue to grow it, but not for the sake of growth. What we really want to try to do is convince people to buy See Saw Wines, or be part of the organic wine process, but more to the point to see that sustainability is so important in any business. We want to do our bit to be sustainable in the vineyard industry, but everyone should ask every business about their sustainability, and really ask them with a base of knowledge. So, in 20 years’ time, we’ll have a cellar door, there’ll be more production, there will be changing varieties, but what we would hope is that our carbon levels have gone up in soil so that the environment has more biodiversity. We also want to see less reliance on even organic chemicals, and that consumers say: I’m buying See Saw wine, because they’re doing the right thing for the planet.
Why is Orange attracting and becoming known for organic viticulture?
We’re a small community made up mostly of family based businesses. We’re looking at a generational process, so if you are looking at that, you have to think, well, the most important asset is the land and how do we most look after that, and organics is a way of saying we are trying our best at this point in time to look after the land as well as possible.
We’re also a young region and that is a point of difference. We are a tight-knit group of people, and we all talk about what we’re doing; there’s Tamburlaine, Ash Horner and us, plus a few others coming on board. We all work together to be noticed, and one of the ways to be noticed has to be organic.
The climate also helps; it’s not perfect and it can be challenging, but our harvest tends to be during a low rainfall period. March/April used to be our driest two months of the year, and we used to always get really good winter rain so that the vines could be able to have budburst and come up and get moving, and then come harvest it was very dry, making it really good conditions for organic growing.
What does a day working in your organically farmed vineyard entail?
Organic farming is massively more labour-intensive than conventional farming, but we use lots of technology to help with our farming activities and decision-making. We use modern tractors and modern spray equipment. We have weather stations on every farm and moisture probes in every block. We use highly sophisticated disease models to see when problems are going to occur. We go out all the time do what’s called IPM (Integrated Pest Management), where you do a whole lot of looking for bugs and diseases, and to work out what program we are going to use. We look at weather forecasts, using the Bureau of Meteorology, to adjust our pruning program based on that prediction.
How do you control disease in the vineyards?
When budburst occurs, seaweed and nitrogen go on, and we use sulphur to control powdery mildew, which is our number one disease problem. We shoot thin to allow air flow, which reduces the chances of powdery mildew. We only use copper when we can see a downy mildew event is coming. So, we don’t use it religiously; every spray we predict what’s going to happen and decide to spray or not and at what levels. You’re allowed to use eight kilos of copper per hectare. This year we used three; nowhere near the limit.
With organics, if you can prevent the disease coming in the first place, you’re so much further ahead. It’s about getting the vine to be happy by having the right soils and the right variety in the right soil top.
Why should we be drinking organic wine?
It taste’s better! You get more intense fruit flavours from organic production. And the reason is that we have lower yields smaller berries, and that all gives you more intense fruit flavours. Secondly, you should drink organic wine because the people producing it are having a real go at trying to make the planet a better place.
Drinking organic is also healthier. Thirdly, there are lower sulphur levels in any organic-certified wine. You generally have half the amount of sulphur. You are still drinking alcohol, so of course drink in moderation!
There are not many corporates who do organic production because they can’t handle the vagrancies of it. So, you are generally supporting a family doing it, which is really good for people and their communities as well.
The Orange Wine Region – vineyards must be grown above 600m + above sea level to be classified Orange. A cool growing season and dry autumn conditions make it ideal for organic grape growing. Well known for producing premium quality Chardonnay but suited to wide variety of grape varieties.
Hear the full interview with Justin on sustainability and organic farming on our soon to be launched podcast – Rebel Wine Chats